Revolution, or the talk of it, is in vogue now. Everyone’s talking about the counter currents that are sweeping through India’s hinterlands. Film makers these days are busy imagining and creating their own Robinhoods for the big screen. As a mark of wide acceptance, they find a huge audience among the urban middle class, whose understanding of the hinterland revolts often gets restricted by (sometimes mired in) the designer fittings that this messiah wears, his existential dilemmas in a conflict zone, so on and so forth.
The two hour stint at the cinema, more often than not, would leave them with a certain sense of admiration for the rebels and the causes that they are fighting for. It’s all romantic. Add to this the stories of the cultural revolution of 70’s (that my generation grew up listening to) and you have just created a cocktail topic for this Saturday night. Now hold on there. Don’t lift your beer bottles yet.
The funny part in all this is that, we are often not allowed to imagine. We are not allowed to imagine a day when a few thousand, or maybe a few hundred thousand people, storm our cities seething with anger and carrying all kinds of weapons with them. We are not allowed to imagine that day. If at all some of us do end up creating those scenes in our heads, we often try to place ourselves among the revolting populace. We don’t consider ourselves as the bad guys. We would never consider ourselves as ‘the class’ towards whom these few million strong crowds are marching, with a single intent to eliminate. Well, we can live in that denial as long as we please. After-all nobody’s bad.
My prayer is that this kind of revolution never comes; because if she decides to hit my city, I will be one of those who will have to lay his head for those angry swords. Not for what I did, but for what I didn’t; and for all that I chose to ignore while I made money in the last two decades. And then to demand civility in that war will be futile. Because when people are angry, they don’t listen, they don’t care. They would only have revenge on their minds and they would violate everything that comes their way — man, woman, child, dogs, cats, cars, all of them. That’s the danger. Revolution is bloody.
As I stood among the 600 odd farmers who assembled in the capital to discuss about agrarian crisis and the spate of suicides that the country has witnessed since the mid-nineties, I was imagining this ‘march of the millions’ in my head and I was repeating that prayer in my mind. I was wondering that if these guys and their people back home, a 400 million peasant farmer population of India, fall into the wrong hands tomorrow,it’s so easy to manipulate their anger into an act of vengeance. If that happens, then it’s a human tsunami that’s going to hit us. Because these guys are angry, sad and desperate they can be easily exploited and aligned to any extremist theories. In misery, enemy’s enemy is a friend. Mind that.
Over 270,000 farmers have committed suicide in the last 15 years because the state decided to withdraw all kinds of support to them. It’s as simple and cruel as that. Call it the capital influence or aid politics or corporate control; the truth is that over 400 million peasant farmers in India today, are facing unemployment and the natural state of starvation that comes with it. And as one among the privileged class, I was sorry for them, wanted to hold them and tell them that it will all be right. But that wouldn’t have worked. Two decades of soapy tears and solidarity has only left them with a noose to hang. Here is why.
Look at this table. 67% of the farming population of India earn less than Rs.2000 a month.That’s more than 250 Million of them. And all these 67% people have a monthly expenditure that’s about 50% more than their income. That’s the story every month. And as days go by, the debt accumulates till a point where they can’t take it anymore. That’s when one or all of the family members commit suicide.
In the last 15 years, as the country liberalised itself to the open markets and as me and my friends hopped from one IT job to the other, we lost over 250,000 farmers to this cruel joke.
The food on our table is the trickiest thing in this business. We all like it when it’s cheap and easily available. The most we care is about how much we end up paying for these food at the super markets. We don’t care about the politics behind it as long as they are served to us in a platter at a rate that’s acceptable. But here is why we should care. Because if don’t, one day that food will never be served.
The most hyped point in India’s agricultural history is the period of the Green Revolution. That was a time when the celebrated economists of this country decided to open up our farm lands to the rules of the Industry; A glorified time in history, when synthetic fertilizers and chemical pesticides entered the Indian market in its full might. They promised a large scale production of any one variety of crops over a short period of time. They promised to make our farmers rich overnight. Advertising is a funny business. All of us fall for it most of the times. So disregarding its environmental impact and other side effects, India also embraced the Green revolution. In the short run, the production shot up. Everybody was happy. Grass for the first time was greener on our side, or so many felt, till a few years passed.
There is a common rule in agriculture that the farmer in your neighborhood will vouch for any day. It is the culture of multiple crops. The farm land is not meant to grow the same kind of crops all the time. So usually we plant about 3-4 varieties of crops over a period of 1 year, depending on the season to maintain the fertility of the soil and other factors. What Green revolution did was to flout this fundamental rule of crop rotation. That killed fertility. On top of that, It also made agriculture way too dependent on costly inputs like pesticides and fertilizers owned by private corporations, with only profit in their minds. Punjab is often touted as the shining example of the success of this Green revolution. An independent study across the state in the year 2011 has revealed that 40% of the agricultural laborers have committed suicide — that’s even worse than Vidarbha. It’s a story that you will never hear, because it points its fingers straight at the proponents of Capital farming like Cargill and Monsanto and WalMart who also has friends in mainstream media.
The latest stunt on the part of the government is to redefine suicide. They have coined a new term these days — “Genuine Farmer Suicide”. So if you are a farmer and you have committed suicide, it could be because your son has failed in his class V exams or that your daughter has threatened to marry someone outside your caste, but it can never be the debt. That’s too unlike a farmer. The National Crime Records Bureau might tell you that over 2000 farmers committed suicide in AP but they can go to hell. The government would only stand by a much lower number — 141.
That’s what they call genuine farmer suicides, which to my mind makes the rest of the forms of suicides fraudulent maybe? It’s worse if you are a woman. In India, it’s difficult for a woman to find acceptance as a ‘farmer’, even when she spends double the amount of time in the field as opposed to her male counterparts.Now on top of all this if you commit suicide, it can only be because your husband has been an alcoholic, sex-holic or some kind of a maniac. It can never be debt. Debt and women don’t go hand in hand. Depression and women do. So over 42,000 women farmers who committed suicides in the last 15 years have to now rise from their graves and explain to the living, on why should their death be considered genuine farmer suicides and not some inexplicable vagaries of a few mad women. We play strange games with the dead don’t we? I call it the politics of the noose.
At this point in time, as we report fervently about freedom of speech on Facebook or India’s loss to England or about the new Ford car that has hit the market; we must also listen to the cries of a quarter million populations. It’s a cry for attention first and action second. What they are asking is not the impossible. All they need is the state to support them with a minimum assured price so that their incomes don’t hover around the Rs. 2000 mark forever. All that they want is a comprehensive relief and rehabilitation package that would certainly reach the needy, a widow pension scheme and a link to some of the schemes like NREGA pensions etc.. None of these are outrageous demands. These are exactly those demands, or as logical and rightful as the ones we make to our employers when we hop between our high flying jobs.
If we don’t listen to those cries now, many years later when that much romanticized version of revolution finally comes, we might find ourselves on the wrong side and any call for sanity and order at that point in time will mean nothing to anyone. Anger is a savage. He can be ruthless.
Lash is the editor of www.that70sradio.com, a personal blog on past and contemporary events. This article has been originally published there on the 29th Of November 2012. He also consults for an International Non-Profit Organisation involved in the issue of land & livelihood rights.