The small Ajarpura co-operative office close to Amul headquarters in Gujarat’s Anand is a witness to change and women’s empowerment.
For the first time in 75 years, a woman is at the head of the dairy cooperative. Gayatri Patel is one of those ever-expanding tribes of women who have entered the dairy industry and can be seen extracting milk from the many cows she cares for.
In fact, at a recent seminar on dairy, Prime Minister Modi said that about 70% of the workforce in India’s dairy industry are women and that a third of cooperatives are headed by women. Ajarpura in Anand is one of them.
Gayatri tells News18: “Covid has helped me. I came up with new ways to invest, such as making crafts from cow dung. I have sold more than Rs 1 lakh in the past six months. I also think that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has put women in charge. I want to benefit from this just as much as help dairy farming.”
However, it is a catch-22 situation. While there is outrage at any nominal increase in the price of milk, women in the dairy industry suffer if prices are not raised. An Amul employee says: “We pay these women based on nutrition and fat content. If prices rise, they can earn more.”
As you enter Ajarpura, there are pictures of the father of the White Revolution, Verghese Kurien. But it’s the movie, Manthan, that dominates their lives. The 1976 Shyam Benegal film tells the story of a vet who arrives in a Gujarat village to set up a cooperative.
Asha Patel, who works on the same dairy farm now owned by Gayatri Patel, says: “It started as a men-led movement, but now I think more and more women are coming and taking the lead. We can do it and we must do it.”
There are two political reasons why the Modi government and the Prime Minister are pushing women in the dairy sector. First, with a turnover of Rs 8.5 lakh crore, dairy is now a bigger economic driver than wheat and rice. It is also now becoming an important source of rural economy and hopefully helps India to become one of the largest dairy centers in the world. The BJP, which has been mostly targeting rural areas lately, hopes pushing for the dairy trade will help them make great progress in rural Gujarat where the Congress was strong and now Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is targeting geared towards making a breakthrough.
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But more importantly, the number of female voters has increased by more than 4% compared to 2017 and a push for Nari Shakti is part of the BJP’s grand agenda not only in the state but also nationally for the 2024 Lok Sabha polls.
I am delighted to visit @banasdairy1969 once again. I had last visited the Dairy in 2016 when a range of products from the Dairy was launched. In 2013 I had also been to the Dairy. Here are some glimpses of both programs. pic.twitter.com/J8xlTPHT6e— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) April 19, 2022
For those like Gayatri and Asha, the push has helped them reach positions of power and acceptance. “No one stares at us anymore when we milk the cows and carry the milk cans on our heads. It’s a crown we wear,” says Gayatri with a grin before running off to nurse a new calf.
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In July, the prime minister opened more than Rs 1,000 crore worth of milk and dairy projects in Sabarkantha. The Sukanya Samriddhi plan to benefit the girl child was also part of this.
Focusing on tribal and rural areas, dairies and women’s empowerment, the BJP calculated that “lucky women” like Gayatri Patel can be the swing factor.
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