Farmers: The endangered Species- Economic Imprisonment Results in suicides

Pradeep Gawande
  Kheti kare so Mare, India Today( March7, 2001).The swelling ‘Register of Deaths,The Hindu (December 29, 2005)Farmers to sell kidneys to raise capital, The Times of India (Feb 2006) Media carries the tragic tales of two different entities namely India and Bharat. These different entities are otherwise heterogeneously yoked together in the name of patriotism and unity in diversity.   However, in terms of social and economic justice, national income distribution they are poles apart.
                Farmer’s leader Sharad Joshi who used to plough a coloumn in ToI titled ‘Bharat Speaks’ finds thousands of farmers speaking through their tale- telling   suicides. .Addressing a mahila rally at Amravati Joshi admitted that his state of mind being as confused as that of Arjuna on the battlefield of Kurukshetra and prayed  goddess Durga   for strength and vision. 
Son of soil, agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar ended his tour of district in Feb promising nothing serious except the age – old lip service.   Pitching agriculture into cricket and playing cricket into agriculture is something nothing less of Nero who was playing fiddle when Rome was burning.
Prior to Pawar’s tour his party poster-boy R. R. Patil appealed farmers here addressing rallies not to pay back loans borrowed from private moneylenders and instead trash them nicely.   Shiv – Sena – BJP combine took a out a rally – of – course a ‘ Mahamorcha ‘ ventilating vitriol against ruling government and exploiting the issue for political mileage and demanding nothing special.  
All said and done, the exercise does not go beyond the superficial dressing.   No serious treatment of the chronic disease is prescribed nor any operation for relief and cure.
                It was Royal Commissions’ observation that Indian farmers are born in poverty live in poverty and die in poverty.   This bitter truth was further confirmed by historic support of thousands of farmers to Shetkari Sanghatana and other farmers’ movements all over the nation.   However, as the spate of globalization began and winds of liberalization began to blow, Shetkari Sanghatana version changed.  The exaggeration of the brief for globalization went to extent of creating illusions such as that a remote village farmer Soanbai could sell her Jowar in global market and see the dollars dancing her homeward.   This is just a sample.  In short, globalization was stated to be the panacea for all ills of farmers.
                Three consequent years of drought and results are unending tale of farmer’s suicides. There appears no concern for the natural calamity as a collective responsibility even a state responsibility. Once upon a time it was khalistan movement that made daily news without fail.   Now its farmers that make news almost daily without fail by killing themselves. 
We have a government at center that has been graced by farmers with power dethroning the defaulter devotees of tortured Lord Rama. Yet the apathy for farmers remains the same.  
We are world’s largest democracy.  The full – fledged three-act-play ( nautanki) of democracy runs well.  Thanks to the farmers who unlike the urban   comfort – zone – dwellers take pains to cast their votes.   On the contrary comfort-zone-dwellers just remain at their sweet homes enjoying the holiday on polling day watching cricket match highlights on television or make it to their farmhouses at hill stations to realize the heaven upon earth. They believe in democracy however they don’t believe in taking pains for casting votes.   Strangely enough, yet they are ensured all that they deserve and even what they don’t deserve!  The robbed and helpless farmer gets pushed back ward from where he stood.   Compare his lot in last four five decades.  We would find that years back his lot was comparatively better. He was comparatively happy and healthy.  
Today we find the Farmers nothing but the endangered species caught in the inescapable cell of economic imprisonment.   He is not poor.  He has wealth in the form of land.  He has milk yet he cannot consume it.   In strict economic terms, it is the state of moneylessness. Money adequate enough to enjoy economic freedom does not reach him.  This is the crux.   He grows crops, sells them, pays debts and again borrows new debt.  The vicious circle continues denying him even a little freedom.  No breather.   Thus it is just a life sentence of economic imprisonment.  A vernacular proverb goes that you can act anything but not money ( sab soung chalata hai per paise ka soung nahi chalata ).   This is the basic reason that he is helplessly committing suicide,
                Varsity campuses are on record to have organized workshops on farmers’ suicides.   The comfort- zone-dwellers have their own prejudices and derive sadistic pleasure in analyzing and categorizing farmers’ suicides.  They classify them such as-debt-ridden, family worries, incurable chronic diseases, alcoholism and what not! Nobody bothers to compare farmers’ incomes, nutrition level and the quality of life.   Nobody wants to talk about his affected health, life expectancy. Under the burden of economic and multiple worries a 40-year farmer looks fifty five year old. The UGC is reported to have approved proposals and sanctioned money for so-called researches on farmer’s suicides. Paradoxically nothing comes the endangered farmers way. Son of soil Sharad Pawar finds cricket dearer and soothing than ugly agriculture and shabby farmers. Glamour has an edge over hunger.
The Raj looked down upon the native as a white man’s burden. A farmer is a parallel eyesore, a perfect equivalent of white man’s burden in independent India. Thus cricket is nothing but Sharad Pawar’s escapism rather than the identity crisis. Why does he not spare the portfolio to Sharad Joshi who holds it so dear and has all the way been struggling at the cost of his family and health and what not?
                Some intellectuals take trips to villages to satisfy their cacoethes – lonquendi in the guise of social reformers and prescribe farmers do and dont’s, moral and ethical lessons. Either a dose of spiritualism or an over dose of atheism, according to schools of thought they belong to.   They heap advices on farmers’ such as not to burst crackers in Diwali Period.  The fun is, it is the urban lot that burst crackers after every single four or six is driven or wicket is a claimed in cricket matches by their heroes.   Watching cricket matches is not a pass time or hobby, its a disease now.  And Sharad Pawar wants to spread it further into epidemics by building stadia. Needless to mention, bursting crackers these days is a distant dream for farmers. It’s long that they have forgotten such privileged luxuries. It can well be established from the statistics of sales in weekly markets at taluka places.   The same parameters can be applied to sales of liquor in villages. Farmers exploitation and undelivered due of economic justices is skillfully sidetracked.
                Our Prime Minister has over again reiterated the old story of equitable development and human face to it.  Thank god! Farmers don’t understand English language or else they would go mad with a humour called – Harshavayu.  He himself drove to his office on day one in an imported luxury car.  The advice to party men about code of ethics and simplicity from none other than Soniaji came much later.   Anyway, we should take our Prime Minister for granted for not only being a good economist but a kind-hearted human being too. Our last Prime Minister Atalaji was Carlyle’s Hero as Poet. However, his poetic insight did not reach the plight of farmers.   He found India was shining. The media black-magic did not work. To his great surprise the following election mandate was dazzling. We can expect Sardar Manmohan Singhji to know the ground realities and the seamy side and act before it is too late.
                The object of this paper is to play an eye opener for those at the helm of affairs and act as a communication gap bridge between the urban average middle class and farmers so that the prejudices can be shed mutually as it has unnecessarily been motivated as – salaried class vs farmers.   The shedding of prejudices on the part of urban intellectuals and shedding envy on the part robbed and hence poor farmer as he naturally compares his painful lot with the creature comforts and security they enjoy. This mutual bond of understanding will help throw the ball in court of those who are in planning process over the years.   Farmers don’t want PSU’s to be sold to private parties to ruin the workers.  But it’s the urban happy brother who should forward the hand for handshake.   In short, the trouble lies in planning.  And let me assert that the farmers are not committing suicides because middle class gets a fifth pay scale or a Collector gets chauffer driven car. The trouble is somewhere else.   And this is where communication is required.
                Farmer is victim of defective and visionless planning.  I have local metaphor for that.  I term it as milk cooker planning and milk cooker economy.   Years back there prevailed a popular trend of presenting a neither useful nor or ornamental pot called milk cooker.  It was so popular a trend that a wedding couple used to get even a couple of dozen milk cookers.   They were absolutely useless.  Hence landed even in latrines and finally in scrap.  For long the useless pot played its economic role.   Nobody except the manufactures of the pot benefited.   The closed sugar mills in Vidarbha where sugarcane can’t be grown and closed spinning mills at Daryapur in Amravati district and at Akot in Akola district are the glaring examples of milk-cooker economy and economic planning and vision.   The nearly 400 crore unwanted flyover at Amravati also is a glaring example of visionless planning.  This huge sum of money could well be used for some really necessary work.   Why haven’t those shouting for the back-log of Vidarbha struck it out so that the money could well be diverted to irrigation and water management. These instances are fairly reflective of the overall lack of vision and priorities in planning.   Today we are passing through a phase of- de – construct the old, re – built new and earn as much as possible.  This is the order of the day.   In short, India is under re-construction. You can’t build a strong nation by merely bringing up concrete jungles.
                Farmers have made this nation self – sufficient on food front. We can feed over a hundred crore population.  Yet millions starve. This has exposed all intellectuals. They are out of their pants.
There are several economic aspects of this issue that shall be dealt with in the course of time. The immediate object of this eassay is to express wearer best knows where the shoe pinches account of the first hand experience of the problem as I am a debt-ridden farmer having no other income source other than agriculture. I am a landlord hence not poor. However, I don’t have money. This is thus a farmer’s FIR.
Thus to define poverty we will have to get away from traditional parameters of economics. It is nothing but moneylessness.   And as money doesn’t reach farmer’s hands he is caught in the dark tunnel of economic imprisonment. And economic untouchability is another thing that he finds himself rejected as a leper. This is the reason that he is kissing death by committing suicide.
Money is the magnet that pulls goods around it.   Commodity does not travel from one place to another by means of transport. The magnet called money pulls it.
There are wonderful arguments about there being no money. For instance, the World Bank finances projects such as construction of nullah. The fun is, cement and steel required for constructions is produced in our nation, sand is ‘ours’, Water required for mortar is neither imported nor mineral. Labours are very much Indians.   The nullah is ‘ours own’, but we can’t undertake the work because we don’t have money and money finally comes from great grandmother -in law – WORLD BANK, great grand father in law IMF and the good Samaritan Uncle Sam.
                It would take some time to digest this maxim and interpretation, as it is new.  It is not absolutely new. Economists Milton Friedman, even Barbara Ward (in her book, Poor Nations) has a great deal spelt it out quite explicitly.   However, in Indian context where as the hold of tradition is much too fast, the openness to accept it would come taking its own time.  But it will come because ultimately it is India that has historically accepted many things that even the west would have found hard to accept and digest.   It is not socialism or communism but decentralization of capitalism. It is as simple as empowering the grampanchayat.  The farmer should be monetarily empowered to liberate him from the present economic imprisonment. Let him breath the fresh air of being a consumer so that Industry will grow. The goods won’t require to be sold in ‘ SALE ‘ after they get shop-soiled and old.   Even Bata footwears remain unsold and get offered in ‘SALE’ in less than an year with 50 % discount.  This is because farmer has no buying power.   Let us hope that our kind hearted Prime Minister Sardar Manmohan Singh and lawful economic Minister will cast look at villages through their bifocal glasses and do justice to farming community.
                We produce peerless mangoes such as hapus and other varieties but we don’t have money to consume them. Thus the Americans consume them because they have money. Isn’t this something funny? All quality fruits, food grain, dry-fruits are meant for Americans.   
                It simply wonderful that cotton fabric and garments are in fashion.  The prices of cotton clothes have gone up almost five to ten times compared to raw cotton prices.   However, besides the rise in demand raw cotton prices have come down.  Who will explain this?  Will the mainstream economist try to be sensible? Unfortunately trespassing their territory, they are busy prescribing condoms to their growing children. ( Swaminomics – in ToI )
                The phenomenon of SALE economy and sale market is the result of denying farmers power to purchase and his right to be a consumer.  Perverted consumerism of Amway genre at the cost of consumer’s health and environment is a bad thing.   However, the lopsided growth of it is deadly for the natural and healthy growth of market economy and ultimately industry.  In short, farmer stands as an economic untouchable in market economy, almost a leper.   Hence   suicides. The  advocates of globalization will find no bush on the sea shore to hide behind and put the clothes on. The ” Buddha of Welfare economics” perhaps deserves another Nobel for the art of euphemism and intellectual blackmail.
                I have long back underlined all this in my paper, “From Mahad Lake to Mineral Water : Economic Untouchability in  21st Century” (Oct 2000).   To do justice to the farmer we will have to alter the course from Jai Jawan Jai Kisan to Jai Kisan Jai Jawan for he is the breadwinner of the Nation in strict economic dimension and not emotional. Stop the, emotional blackmail, in the name of annadata and act. Enough is enough.
Published- Farmers’ Forum—VOL-6 No- July-    2006
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