Why Khaat pe charcha is news, not tales of death and desperation from rural India

Anand Kochukudy
Anand KochukudySep 07, 2016 | 21:57

Why Khaat pe charcha is news, not tales of death and desperation from rural India

Rahul Gandhi kicked off his 2,500km rally spanning a month and covering more than 225 constituencies with a “Khaat” rally in Eastern Uttar radesh’s Deoria district. People came to attend in large numbers and the Congress VP unveiled massive welfare schemes including halving the electricity tarrifs of farmers and waiving off their loans, should the Congress were to be voted to power.


But what actually turned out to be the key takeaway, and literally so, for people who had turned up to catch a glimpse of the Gandhi scion were the brand new “Khaatiyas”(charpoys) assembled at the venue. While the programme has been rated as a success and a good beginning, it was also an eye-opener for the urban elite and the thriving middle class, which play a huge part in influencing policies and setting agendas.

Rahul Gandhi kicked off his 2,500km rally spanning a month on September 6.

While waiving off loans played some part in the UPA’s comeback in 2009, sceptics and economists point out that the fiscal health of the state of Uttar Pradesh would come in the way of this mammoth measure. Though it makes economic sense not to do so, it makes eminent political sense to act on it. But beyond economics and politics, what about the moral obligation of the government to the citizens?

The 2014 general elections saw the victory of aspirations against a government that spent money on social schemes, but could check neither inflation nor corruption. While that surge was championed by the middle class, the rural population, including the poorer sections, were part of it.

It was also about the hope for better prospects and the promise of good days (Achhe Din) that drove it. Though promises like keeping the inflation down to targeted levels have been met partially owing to the fall in oil prices and commodities worldwide, it is the urban middle class that has reaped the benefits, leaving India's farmers high and dry.


The promise to return to the farmer at least 50 per cent profit over their cost of production - a key part of the "Achhe Din" package - was never brought up after the victory.

While the unemployment figures are staggering, the government has come up with flagship schemes like "Make in India" and " Skill India" to try and create more jobs. But there is another section of people who are losing their jobs/livelihoods in this country on a daily basis.

Farmer suicides have become so common that we have almost become passive to headlines that cite death tolls. With successive droughts breaking the will of the most resilient farmer, and with no light at the end of the tunnel, more and more families are being pushed to the brink by the day.

While a section of farmers is still bravely trying to eke out a livelihood on their meagre land holdings, others have sold off their marginal holdings to migrate to cities in search of livelihoods. Yet another section has demoted itself to add to the manual labour class in rural India.

Meanwhile, there is no shortage of horror stories from the hinterland on a daily basis. Some make headlines, while many others are relegated to small columns in the regional supplements of vernacular dailies. The plight of Dana Majhi from Kalahandi in Odisha, who had to carry his wife’s body for more than 10km before an ambulance was arranged through media intervention, was widely covered.


This was followed by an even more shocking report from Balasore in the same state the very next day, when a woman’s corpse was broken at the hip to carry her on a pole in the absence of a hearse. While people on social media outrage on such issues for a short while, an even more sinister and brutal horror story replaces the previous one to dominate the headlines.

Undeterred, politicians and the media carry on, looking to win more elections and gain more TRPs, respectively.

A week back, the chilling story of a woman whose toddler died in a state-run hospital in Meerut made news: she couldn’t manage to arrange Rs 10,000 for blood transfusion, and later sat through the night figuring how she would carry the body home 50km away.

This was followed by Samajwadi Party announcing a free smartphone scheme to get the people to vote them back to power.

When the government can’t provide even basic healthcare, what good can freebies like laptops and smartphones do?

While the rich farmer in Punjab and Haryana get free electricity apart from irrigation and government procurements to sustain them, who will speak for the farmers with small landholdings in Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Karnataka?

And while it makes fiscal sense to not give doles to people, how are the farmers expected to combat this attrition? Mr Gandhi pointed out the existence of 17 sugar mills in Deoria that remain shut in the ongoing crisis. The figures indicate that sugar mill owners owe more than Rs 13,000 crore to sugarcane farmers.

This crisis in rural India never comes up in living room conversation or even debates on English news channels. But if you spend an evening at the Old Delhi Railway station, you will come across many families, including small children, arriving from rural India looking for work. Middle class morality would judge a farmer who commits suicide as a coward. But isn’t he entitled to his honour just as we are?

It is time somebody spoke up for the farmers regardless of political motives.

Last updated: September 08, 2016 | 16:52
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