Is there an end to this plight?

Libertatem Magazine - - Contents - by Sarthak Son­walkar

Ra­tio­nal Ig­no­rance has been de­fined as a con­cept where there is a cho­sen path to ig­nore some­thing be­cause the cost of knowl­edge out­weighs the po­ten­tial ben­e­fits. Of ev­ery­day events which oc­cur in a day in a city’s life, some qual­ify as the events of “na­tional im­por­tance” while oth­ers do not and end up be­ing mere fac­tual oc­cur­rences are events which are to be just let pass by. As a na­tion we are ea­ger to demon­strate our unity with the causes which we think are worth con­cern­ing enough to us, while we choose to dis­card many as ob­so­lete or ‘rou­tine’ which do not re­quire much of the ‘at­ten­tion’ and per­haps as a na­tion they do not seem to cause much dam­age. How­ever, the re­cent ag­i­ta­tion by Tamil Nadu farm­ers in New Delhi per­haps failed to grab the col­lec­tive con­scious­ness of the peo­ple of this na­tion and seemed to be passed on as yet an­other protest by some ag­grieved per­sons as it was made to seem an iso­lated event. The farm­ers from Tamil Nadu sat at Jan­tar Man­tar in the na­tional cap­i­tal protest­ing to waive off their loans taken from the na­tion­al­ized banks, be­sides de­mand­ing up set­ting up of Cau­very wa­ter management board to meet their ir­ri­ga­tion needs. Though the protests ended af­ter an as­sur­ance by the Chief Min­is­ter, the larger ques­tions per­tain­ing to the plight of an­na­data con­tinue to hover. The is­sue of farm­ers’ sui­cide is a strong mem­ory and a cur­rent event to ev­ery In­dian, a large num­ber of them be­ing re­ported ev­ery year across the coun­try. The Na­tional Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) re­port states that for the year 2015, Tamil Nadu, along with Ma­ha­rash­tra, Te­lan­gana, Mad­hya Pradesh, Ch­hat­tis­garh and Andhra Pradesh ac­counted for 87.5% of the to­tal sui­cides (11,026 out of 12,602) by the per­sons en­gaged in the farm­ing sec­tor. The re­port iden­ti­fies rea­sons such as bank­ruptcy, farm­ing, fam­ily is­sues, ill­ness, drug abuse, etc. to be the rea­sons be­hind the sui­cides, with ‘bank­ruptcy or in­debt­ness’ and ‘farm­ing re­lated is­sues’ lead­ing to ma­jor­ity of them. Fur­ther, as per the data, in Tamil Nadu, the ma­jor­ity of sui­cides had been com­mit­ted by the agri­cul­tural la­bor­ers. Though the of­fi­cial data for 2016 is not avail­able yet, but ac­cord­ing to some ex­perts, for the month of Jan­uary it­self, the num­bers stood at 100. All the pos­si­ble means had been em­ployed dur­ing the protests at Jan­tar Man­tar rang­ing from drink­ing of their own uri­nals, car­ry­ing out fu­ner­als, putting skulls ap­par­ently of the farm­ers who had com­mit­ted sui­cide, putting dead or alive rats into their mouths as ‘rat break­fast’, wear­ing sa­rees or wear­ing man­gal­su­tras (a sacred thread wore by a Hindu wo­man to sig­nify her mar­riage) and then cut­ting them off to demon­strate how life of a farmer’s wife is af­fected af­ter her hus­band com­mits sui­cide and that she is the one who suf­fers re­sul­tantly. Few of them even cut their hands to sig­nify ‘shed­ding of blood’ protest­ing against the ‘step­moth­erly’ at­ti­tude of the Cen­tral Govern­ment.

Their acts demon­strate the larger con­se­quences which fol­low when a house­hold loses its sole bread-earner and poignantly de­pict the grim con­di­tion of the farm­ers through­out the coun­try. The rea­sons for the protests em­anate from the drought con­di­tions pre­vail­ing in the re­gion, fail­ure of north-east mon­soon the pre­vi­ous year which re­plen­ishes Tamil Nadu be­tween Oc­to­ber and De­cem­ber re­sult­ing in the loss of samba (win­ter) crop and im­por­tantly the long un­set­tled Cau­very river dis­pute which last year re­sulted in the loss of ku­ru­vai (sum­mer) crop. When it comes to the con­sti­tu­tion of the Cau­very wa­ter management board, there is re­luc­tance on part of both Kar­nataka and Tamil Nadu as they fear loss of their cur­rent rights and pol­i­tics over the reser­voir re­sul­tantly. Though dur­ing the protests at Ma­rina Beach ear­lier this year as well the at­tempts had been made to garner the at­ten­tion but the ‘na­tional mood’ was then be­ing guided by the larger than life nar­ra­tive of Jal­likattu. How­ever, the sad both­er­ing re­al­ity is that the mat­ter was taken as of lit­tle concern by and large when it comes to the ‘na­tional pol­i­tics’ even though the imag­i­na­tion event was suf­fi­cient to send chills to one’s body and the en­tire idea of protests through the in­vo­ca­tion of biopolitic shows how vi­o­lable, help­less and vul­ner­a­ble the body is dur­ing the times of dis­tress where it has no re­course left, but to es­cape from the grim sit­u­a­tion. The larger idea of the protests how­ever tran­scends the life of the farm­ers and takes into ac­count the ones who sur­vive such as the farmer’s wife, which was done through wear­ing of sa­rees or man­gal­su­tras, sing­ing of fu­neral songs, et al. The catas­tro­phe sur­round­ing the sur­vival of mil­lions of mar­ginal and small scale farm­ers in the ru­ral ar­eas hardly seems to af­fect the ur­ban mid­dle class. To say the least, per­haps ow­ing to the hor­rid way in which the demon­stra­tions were made the protests man­aged to get some me­dia at­ten­tion. The in­dif­fer­ence faced by the farm­ers puts one in the colo­nial con­text where the famine codes and drought mea­sures had lit­tle re­gard or sym­pa­thy to­wards the cause of the de­prived, while the fo­cus was on caus­ing ‘min­i­mum’ cost to the ex­che­quer. Even af­ter the in­de­pen­dence the drought and the scarcity codes have re­tained their colo­nial struc­ture and they still aren’t ‘right-based’ in na­ture. Tamil Nadu’s drought Code was last amended in 1901 re­tain­ing its en­tire colo­nial struc­ture. Fur­ther the ab­sence of le­gal en­force­abil­ity in these Codes ren­ders them tooth­less. The con­text in which the no­tion of pro­vid­ing re­lief by the state oc­curs puts every­thing to the benev­o­lence of the state. While re­lief pack­ages and bail out mech­a­nisms are asked for, it is ul­ti­mately to the state to de­cide as to how much is “ap­pro­pri­ate” for the sit­u­a­tion and some­times also rest­ing on the fact that how grave the sit­u­a­tion is based upon the me­dia at­ten­tion and pub­lic ou­trage it faces. In this con­text it be­comes cru­cial that the pol­icy for­mu­la­tion by the ex­pert bod­ies and the Cen­tral Govern­ment’s think-tank NITI Aayog in­volve the key stake­holder, i.e., farm­ers so as to avoid the gap which oc­curs. Need­less to men­tion, fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tions are needed to strengthen their sup­port to the farm­ers, while also fo­cus­ing on schemes such as crop in­sur­ance, et al. For the na­tional nar­ra­tive and the so­cial me­dia, the farm­ers have only one ques­tion to ask: what does the coun­try want, a farmer with a dead morale and sub­se­quently on a fu­neral pyre, and a skull then or food. I am sure the peo­ple of this coun­try do not want the for­mer. But, the very first step is to ac­knowl­edge, be­lieve and com­pre­hend that there is a prob­lem and come out of the flow­ery pic­ture of lush green crops wav­ing right be­fore the har­vests. If there is an end to the plight of the famers, we don’t know. We how­ever know that every­thing can’t be put on the va­garies of the na­ture and the state and the cen­tral gov­ern­ments need to re­al­ize their re­spon­si­bil­ity, else the no­tion of ‘an­na­data’ is noth­ing more than a re­liev­ing con­cept to our mind, some­one who is self-suf­fi­cient and is noth­ing more than an iconic fig­ure to us. How in­dif­fer­ent we can be, is now-a-days easy to demon­strate if for once we think be­yond the cul­ture of ‘trend­ing’ and a col­lec­tive will to de­cide that what is and what is not con­cern­ing. How­ever, the im­agery of the macabre was no short of a pow­er­ful one and was it too much that they were ask­ing for?

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