It has been 100 years since Gandhi crusaded for the welfare and rights of farmers who were crushed under the British regime. The indigo cultivators of Champaran got back the money that was illegally extorted from them by the British, due to Gandhi’s investigation into the matter. In fact, he made an irrefutable case for the abolishment of the teen kathia system prevalent in Champaran.
Furthermore, Gandhi went on a hunger strike in Ahmedabad, which forced the mill owners to award a 35% raise in the salaries of the workers in the plague-ridden region. Gandhi’s third intervention was in the Kheda district, where he told peasants to fight unto death against the tyranny which ruled over them. Due to the perpetual tussle with the peasants, the government was finally forced to recover land revenue, only from those who could pay it.
Gandhi’s activities in Champaran, Ahmedabad and Kheda introduced a style of politics that would eventually bring the British Raj to its knees. It also set a template for action in multiple geographical and historical contexts in the future.
But today, Gandhi’s politics of non-violence and civil disobedience against authorities may well be ineffective. Farmers today are subjected to horrendous conditions, without any helping hands.
In 2014, the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) of India reported 5,650 farmer suicides. The figure spiked to 8,007 in 2015. Activists and scholars have offered a number of reasons for farmer suicides, such as failure of the monsoons, high debt burdens, government policies and other personal issues. They do not earn much from agriculture to meet their basic expenditures – leave alone expenditures on education and healthcare!
The Tamil Nadu drought of 2016-2017 has been a disaster for the farming community. As per the Indian Meteorological Department, the state has now seen the worst-ever monsoon since 1876.
Hopeless and dejected farmers have travelled all the way from southern India to Delhi’s Jantar Mantar, with live rats in their mouths and the skulls of their kin in hands. Their heart-wrenching protest has entered its third week, but the authorities have taken no steps to provide relief for them.
On April 7, 2017, five of them cut their hands, saying that they have shed their blood to highlight the miseries and inhuman conditions that they are being forced to live in. On April 10, 2017, they stripped in front of the Prime Minister’s Office.
This is the collective failure of our society, which has done nothing in the interests of the farmers who provide us with food. All the boasting about our 7% GDP, improved literacy rates and foreign direct investments are of no use if farmers are relegated to the status of beggars.
The insensitivity shown by the media here also needs to be highly condemned. They were only interested in the affairs of Tamil Nadu, during the cremation of Jayalalitha and the split between VK Sasikala and O Panneerselvam.
The BJP’s promise to double farm earnings by 2022 seems to be a distant dream right now. Farm loan waivers, initiated by the Uttar Pradesh government, may well heal the wounds of many. However, if we dig deeper, it becomes apparent that such a measure can only have palliative effects.
The government should make investments that will boost the productivity and incomes of farmers in the long run. The crop insurance scheme, Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana, needs to be implemented all across India. Moreover, a minimum support price should be provided to farmers for every crop. The direct benefit transfer scheme should also be implemented to minimise leakages.
Undoubtedly, agriculture is an important asset of our country which employs a majority of India’s population. Our motto of ‘sabka saath, sabka vikas (development of all, with everybody’s support)‘ should be inclusive of India’s farmers as well.