It has been more than a couple of days since the Maharashtra Chief Minister made the stunning announcement that he had asked Deepika Padukone to help farmers deal with stress. I am still to recover from the sense of shock and disbelief.
One reads about the plight of farmers and turns a blind eye to it. One hears about their suffering and chooses to pay no attention. One takes no action whatsoever —-minor or significant —to ameliorate their suffering. One does not even spare a fleeting thought for the farmer ‘s misery when one sits down at a food laden table or throws away a half eaten pizza. One decides that one is dealing with enough stress living a fast paced metropolitan life to bother about farmers’ issues, and in any case, one is doing one’s bit by talking about corruption and planting trees and composting organic waste at home and volunteering money or time to schools for under privileged children etc etc.
Or one does talk about farm policy —— perhaps in social media —— and refers to the need to rapidly industrialize so that farmers can make the transition from being impoverished, monsoon and subsidy dependent “entities” to those integrated in the industrialized economy. One does not delve into the question whether such integration is indeed possible for the huge numbers of small and marginal farmers and farm labour that we are grappling with. One does not look at the statistics which reveal that our so called growth story is all about GDP growth, and bereft of growth in employment opportunities. Or the statistics which say that the job opportunities have arisen only in the unorganised, services sector so that when a distressed farmer migrates to a city, he finds a job only as a construction site worker or a security guard or a delivery boy, with no safeguards regarding conditions or benefits of work. One forgets that when a farmer migrates, he leaves his family behind, and lives a lonely and loveless life. If he brings his family along, they struggle to survive in an alien environment , are over whelmed by an entirely different culture which makes them feel small and under values their traditional knowledge and skills and mocks at their values. One forgets that migration in large numbers invariably results in a very material loss to the culture, dialect and way of life that perhaps had been sustained by agriculture for centuries, including loss of crop and animal varieties, traditional remedies for illnesses, folk lore, stories and ballads passed down through oral tradition etc.
Perhaps the ignorance of city dwellers is forgivable, or one might take the view that they ought to make more effort to educate themselves since they have the time and the resources —-the farmer is, after all, more important than the chap who builds your cars or the one who arranges your foreign vacations.
What is completely unforgivable is a statement from a Chief Minister, ascribing farmer suicides to an inability to cope with stress, and doling out a Bollywood actress as the antidote. The statement makes a trifle of the myriad challenges that farmers face, none of which are of their own making. It mocks at their inability to get loans at reasonable rates ( while multi billionaires happily walk away with write offs of bad loans which loans had been extended at easy terms) and their consequent dependence on money lenders. It mocks at their inability to get fair prices for their produce because the government ensures that food prices are kept low. It mocks at their inability to switch to crops more suited to the topography because the little institutional support that is forthcoming is targeted at crops that benefit not the farmer but the traders and mill owners. It mocks at their inability to question why the government has not drought proofed agriculture despite thousands of crores having ostensibly been spent on irrigation facilities.
What does the Chief Minister envisage? A helpline that an impoverished farmer will call when a sudden hailstorm destroys his crops? A letter to Deepika Padukone when strong winds lay flat a crop ready to harvest ? A text message when the money lender knocks at his door? A Facebook post when he can no longer feed his family or educate his children? A tweet when the monetary compensation that the government had promised fails to arrive or is such a paltry sum as to make him despair? And Deepika Padukone will graciously give some Zen like answers, soothe frayed nerves, make the problem momentarily disappear so that the farmer forgets that he is in dire financial straits and postpones death by suicide to another day ?
I would laugh at the Chief Minister’s proposed solution if the fate of the Indian farmer were not so tragic.
If this is the manner in which the political establishment is treating our annadaata, do you not agree that it is time that we, the privileged middle class, took up cudgels on behalf of our beleaguered brethren? Is it not time that we educated ourselves as to what ails Indian agriculture and what the solutions are? Is it not time that we succumbed to a twinge of conscience when we sit down thrice a day at tables heavy with nutritious, life giving food that has been grown, perhaps, at the cost of someone’s life?