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Impoverished Men Sell Wives in Uttar Pradesh

September 10, 2009

The UK Independent and the AFP are reporting that, after drought-induced crop failures in Bundelkhand, Uttar Pradesh, some male farmers are selling their wives in order to pay back their debts. There are a few overlapping oppressions at work in this story, but let’s start with sexism. For a man to sell his wife requires that both he and the buyer view her as chattel, an object to be possessed rather than a full-fledged human subject with the right to determine her own destiny. The Independent article even makes it a point to inform readers that a woman’s price depends on her outward appearance.

Another issue here is poverty. According to the AFP

[a] social worker, Shailendra Sagar, said the situation of farmers in Bundelkhand, a region that spans the states of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, was “pathetic.”

“They are living in debt. Selling off one’s wife or daughters is the last resort.”

Even if you eliminated the sexism that allows these women to be sold, they would still be suffering. The sort of poverty that turns one year of failed crops into crushing debts is the sort of poverty that leads to sleeping or even working while hunger tugs at your stomach, that leads to counting food grain by grain in an effort at rationing. These women need economic justice as well as an end to sexism.

In addition, while it is impossible to definitively blame any particular weather system on global warming, it is worth remembering that as the climate changes, the world is going to see more bad growing seasons in places that have long been cultivated. It is for reasons such as this that the real environmental movement is fundamentally about the people of the world and is better named environmental justice.

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