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Why it took thousands of bleeding feet to walk 180km to make Indians wake up to farm crisis

Neither the uppity of the nouveau riche, nor the vile of the internet trolls can feed us three times a day.

 |  5-minute read |   13-03-2018
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Soon, images of the blistered feet and dehydrated farmers, circulating on social media, will be pushed into the oblivion of our collective conscience. Unlike the farmers from Tamil Nadu who failed to get an audience with the prime minister, and the farmers of Madhya Pradesh who were met with bullets, the farmers of Maharashtra were successful in getting the government to blink. With a written assurance given by the government, the protesting farmers called off their stir.

The assurance of the Maharashtra government, however, cannot be construed as an act of magnanimity, even though the supporters of the ruling party want us to believe so. If the Maharashtra government was indeed serious about addressing the grievances of the farmers, it would have sent an emissary to deliberate with them rather than wait for the farmers’ long march, which started on March 6 to culminate in Mumbai after walking 180km in the debilitating heat. The government, if it was really sensitive, would have acted when farmers emptied containers of milk and dumped vegetables on the roads in protest last year. 

Despite capturing the attention of the mainstream and social media, albeit after a few days, the urban folks still don’t seem to understand the magnitude of the agrarian crisis. People still rued that loan waivers was bad economics while others continued to suspect the march, ridiculously terming it a hidden agendum of the "urban naxalites". Most people also failed to realise that waiving off loans is only a respite and not the solution to the agrarian crisis.

Further, waiving off loans wasn’t the only demand of the protesting farmers. The farmers, among other things, also demanded that the recommendations of the MS Swaminathan Committee appointed by the UPA government be implemented, which envisions a system for food and nutrition security, sustainability in farming, and enhancing the quality and cost competitiveness of farm commodities.

The tragedy of the Indian media and middle classes is that our awareness of the agrarian crisis is close to zilch. The news channels seldom attempt to educate citizens about the causes that trigger and sustain the crisis of the Indian agricultural sector. Common citizens seldom deliberate about the lack of credit facilities for the farmers which makes them dependent on money lenders for loans at high interests. This increases the input costs and with a low procurement price (the price at which state governments purchase the produce from farmers), it makes farming an unfeasible activity.

With infrastructural bottlenecks, changing climate and a myopic government, the future looks bleak. Yet, given how the Maharashtra government responded to the farmers’ march, the best way to compel our governments to act is when as responsible citizens we deliberate upon the crisis and ruminate over the solutions in large numbers on social media, rather than indulging in meaningless whataboutery.

It is our collective ignorance and intellectual lassitude which gives room for governments to be inhumanely insensitive. For instance, it was recently reported that to coincide with the inauguration of the Sardar Sarovar Dam on September 17, 2017, (a few weeks ahead of the Assembly elections in Gujarat), the Madhya Pradesh government released an unusually high amount of water so that the reservoir looks full when the PM inaugurates it. Even as the concerned authorities state that it was a mere coincidence, the priorities of the government is under cloud. With half of India’s farms still dependent on rainfall due to a paucity of irrigation facilities, such recklessness is dangerously myopic on behalf of the government.

One of the main causes of the agrarian crisis is the non-availability of cultivable land. The land-man ratio is less than 0.2 hectares of cultivable land per head of the rural population. The MS Swaminathan Committee recommends that ceiling-surplus and waste lands be distributed to address this anomaly.

Thus, instead of being smitten by bullet trains and hyper-loops, urban India must realise that it is in our national interest to address the acute and chronic agrarian crisis.

Neither the uppity of the nouveau riche, nor the vile of the internet trolls can feed us three times a day. The more we ignore the agrarian crisis as a rural problem, that has nothing to do with us, the more culpable we become in destroying our growth prospects and jeopardising our future.

Also read: Farmers' long march to Mumbai: 5 things to know about the protest

 

Assembly Elections 2018
Assembly Elections 2018

Writer

Madhuri Danthala Madhuri Danthala @madhuism_

The author is a political analyst based out of Bengaluru.

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