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Sunday, July 09, 2006

On Farmer's Suicides and a question in a newspaper as to whether we are doing enough to dissuade the farmers from committing suicide

A few years back I attended a meeting of an NGO among those invited to talk on the future direction of the organisation was a farmer from a distant village. During his talk, he mentioned that, ‘this invitation matters a lot back in my village, regardless of how significant a work we do, that we get invited to the city for a meeting, that perhaps some times our name appears on the newspapers or that a farmer has been interviewed on the radio or newspaper means a lot in the village, people will recognize me, my value goes up and many even listen to me in my village now’.

The agrarian crisis in which we find ourselves in is not merely about financial limitations or ‘access to credit’ as many would like to portray. It is the systemic indifference and ignorance of the farming community as being of any value to the larger society. Since long we have limited recognition of any person involved with farming in the larger society unless it is a scientist or a politician. M.S. Swaminathan and Sharad Pawar are not farmers, but, perhaps the most frequent faces associated with farmers in this country. The vast majority of farmers are unfortunately neither technology success stories nor politically aligned to anyone, nor can they access urban sanction as the farmer friend mentioned in the meeting. Majority of our farmers are happy to be left to do their job like many of us and till a few decades back it used to be a profession of pride, where a certain social status was guaranteed.  

Today the status is gone, the tough regulation of the government means that they are the only producers who cannot do a costing on actuals for their production in this country, technical ‘advances’ (many times failures on the field or leaving a long term negative impact) promoted reduce their knowledge on their own vocation to a negligible little, added to such an insult such technical advances being promoted by government (or well to do research establishments or private agencies) means that the access to credit is limited to embracing such time bomb technologies, market forces have now joined to dictate the prices for the produce based on its cosmetic features which would have been ridiculed only a decade ago. If these changes in their vocation has repeatedly abused and insulted them, there is the social pressure, educated children of farmers never want to enter the vocation and in many cases farmers agree with them, in many parts of the country it is difficult to find a bride for a young farmer or a farmer’s son, people of wary of the capacity of a farmer to manage a home successfully. A night watchman job outside   an ATM in the nearby town or the job of usherer in front of a restaurant, showroom or petrol station is considered lot more lucrative in many villages today.

As a nation we have failed to understand the psychic and social stress that is wrought on a significantly large percentage of our society, if anything our handling of this situation has been callous.

The mind of this country that makes decisions cannot any longer relate to its villages or villagers, it cannot particularly relate to the farmer. There are hardly any political, social (or even spiritual leaders) who live in villages, among ordinary farmers in this country. They have all migrated to the city or the place they dwell have become cities. The less said about bureaucrats the better, carrying the colonial dictat that the higher echelons of bureaucracy is mandated by knowledge of English and English education, getting urbanized is the only route to reach there and once having reached there it is impossible to relate to the farmer.  Our media too is urbanized and despite the inroads made by technology there is hardly any media that has a rural soul. Their dependency on commerce implies that they need to promote consumerist urban attitudes, lifestyle and jobs and thereby indirectly denying the value of a simple rural life or farming as a vocation. Attending to the immediate causes because of farmers suicides is a very short sighted approach at the policy level.

Many of us city folks who don’t care whether our rice comes from thiruvallur or Thailand, who don’t think that extra second before picking up ‘tropical’ fruits processed and packaged in countries far off from tropical countries, will not really care if tomorrow all of the Indian farmers commit suicide and die. In fact it would make for one less tragic news headlines and we would be happy about it, it doesn’t touch our lives enough for us to change our lives, to do something except write and give speech and perhaps be part of meaningless exchanges (including this one) that don’t add up to change things. We deserve a nation of less farmers or even no farmers, the farmers don’t deserve to live with insensitive folks like us, we are powerful they are not. So they die while we live. That is the bottomline.


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