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As Farmer Suicides Continue, There Is Something In The Land Bill That Might Actually Help Them

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By Jai Prakash Ojha:

As expected, political temperatures continue to soar throughout the country with both the BJP and the opposition divided over the provisions of the Land Acquisition Bill. Rahul Gandhi’s re-found missionary zeal in taking up the kisan cause, the death of a farmer during an AAP rally in New Delhi, opposition closing ranks to unite together on the land bill, and non-productive parliamentary sessions, are not making matters any easier for the ruling party. To add to the predicament is the increasing incidences of farmer suicides and the destruction of standing crops due to the onset of unseasonal rains in parts of northern India. Urban centres may be contributing to 60 percent of the GDP, but when it comes to politics, it is the rural countryside whose voice is louder, and any politician will commit hara-kiri if he is not attentive enough. Almost three lakh farmers have ended their lives since 1995. The figures for farmer suicides were around 12,000 in 2013, and 14,000 in 2012, according to NCRB.

final farmer suicide
Illustration by Maitri Dore

What Are The Reasons Behind The Suicides?

When we introspect over the problem, we find that most deaths have occurred in states like Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Gujarat, and there has been a plethora of reasons associated with this. Bulk of the suicides have occurred among cash crop farmers due to rising debts, high input costs, water pattern issues and acute price fluctuations or volatility. The shift of agriculture patterns from food crops like cereals, to cash/genetic crops like cotton, sugarcane, tobacco etc. are also raising food security concerns and threatening the livelihood of lakhs of marginal/subsistence level farmers, making us more dependent on imports. The destruction of crops due to rains in north India recently has also upped the ante in political circles with parties demanding fair compensation and procurement prices for the farmers who are in misery. The extended drought periods and unpredictability of the monsoons are also aggravating the problem.

What Is The Solution?

Rather than resorting to scoring political brownie points, the policy makers need to think why there has been a perceptible decline in public investment in agriculture. The fact that the Green Revolution succeeded due to massive state support should not have been lost sight of. Branding subsidy to agriculture as populist and anti growth and talk of smart cities & Make in India in glowing terms is going to result in skewed policy directions. Due to a lack of non-farm jobs in rural India, more than 50 percent of the small scale farmers have to find work in public funded programmes like MNREGA.

It is fashionable to talk about urbanisation induced growth in economy but what about the plight of migrants and those living in slums there? More than 50 percent of Mumbai’s population lives in slums. In 1951, the contribution of agriculture in our GDP was 51 percent; today it’s less than 15. More than 50 percent of our population is engaged in a sector that contributes just 15 percent of our GDP.

When we examine the pattern of development, we find that with increasing development, the share of the primary sector decreases in comparison to secondary and tertiary sectors. It’s time to pull more and more people out of agriculture and create work for them in industry. The brouhaha about the Land Acquisition Bill and shrill noises made against deletion of Consent Clause & Social Impact Assessment, and charges against the Modi led Government of acting at the behest of corporates are not going to bring relief to farmers.

It is widely accepted most of the land is owned by the politically dominant castes most of who are upper backward castes and upper castes and this rural elite power structure needs to be dismantled. Most of the extreme backward castes who make up for the working hands are landless and share a patron-client relationship with the land owning castes. 10 percent of the population has control over more than 60 percent land holdings. Public acquisition of land or acquisition for public purposes may create opportunities for these landless in countryside, better housing facilities etc. The regional parties making noises against the bill are championing the cause of the upper backwards/farming communities who have gained immense clout after the onset of Mandal. All the gains of Green Revolution and land reforms have accrued to powerful OBC castes leaving the Dalits and EBCs in the lurch. The Govt’s proposal seeks to break the rural feudal aristocracy, drawing sustenance from the so-called socialist Mandalites, who have always been detrimental to Dalit interests.

Social security coverage for the farmers and landless labourers and proper insurance schemes may help them to tide over unforeseen circumstances, apart from generation of demand in the economy on account of enhanced purchasing power, as predicted by ILO. Agro based industries, cottage industries and small scale industries that formed the backbone of rural economy during the time of lean agricultural seasons need to be revived to boost non-farm opportunities and become a supplementary income generating source for the rural folk.

At times, I do wonder about the concept of Smart Cities. But what if, instead of creating 100 smart cities, we think of creating 6 lakh smart villages, roping in private players to transform them. The cities will breathe easy as they won’t have to cope with the distress of migration. Giving compensation to farmers for losses or increase in procurement prices, though necessary, are short term measures. Subsidy can work to a certain limit to boost productivity but then, the targeting has to be accurate. The highly fragmented and unproductive agriculture system needs a revamp. A strong intent on the part of the Modi Govt is necessary to change the structure of rural economy and usher in land reforms as most of rural land remains locked for economy.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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