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Is farmer Gajendra Singh Rajput’s death in vain? Time for Indian politicos to stop bickering and start listening

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By Gaurav Sharma

Every 30 minutes in India, a farmer takes his own life. With more than 60 per cent of the country, directly or indirectly dependant on agriculture, this should be a major cause of concern.

Alas, the problem has persisted, if not been exacerbated over the years.

Scores of farmers have succumbed to the perilous hands of death, in utter helplessness to the droughts that have crumpled their produce, the burden of colossal debts that have hunched their poor backs into resignation.

But more so, the farmers have perished to the menace of suicide because of the callous attitude of our politicians, who seem to be only interested in scoring brownie points, to draw political mileage from their fall.

There has been a significant spurt of around 26 per cent in the number of farmer suicides from last year’s death toll of 1109 .

In the latest episode of horror, Gajendra Singh Rajput, a farmer from Rajasthan’s Dausa district  hanged himself from a tree at Aam Aadmi Party’s rally at Jantar Mantar.

Perhaps Gajendra had a premonition that the address would be a false rhetoric of support?

No sooner did the suicide happen, than the blame-game erupted among the political parties.

While blaming the AAP for the death, BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra asked, “Why didn’t the AAP leaders stop the farmer from committing suicide?”

The AAP, however, shifted the onus on the Delhi Police, with Arvind Kejriwal saying, “We kept asking the police to bring him down. Police may not be in our control but at least there should be a semblance of humanity among them. I am rushing to the hospital with Manish Sisodia.”

Later in the day, in an expression of ‘grief and sympathy’, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi, Ajay Maken and Sachin Pilot also visited the hospital.

On his part, the Congress scion attacked the BJP for its anti-farmer policies saying, “I just want to tell the farmers we are with them and they should not feel scared at all. It is a very sad incident and so I have not come here to do politics. All this has happened because of the ordinance that has been brought by the BJP government.”

Eventually, a ‘probe’–the usual futile tactic in all such farmer suicide cases–was announced by Home Minister Rajnath Singh.

The passing of the buck from the BJP to the AAP to the Congress to the Police is like a merry-go round of avoiding responsibility, a first-aid measure to rid the conscience of the guilt that the death of the farmer entails on the souls of each party.

It only highlights the complicity of all political parties in the ‘murder’ of the farmer. The hands of the politicians are awash with the blood of the farmers.

The lack of seriousness with which politicians treat the lives of the farmers can be seen quite clearly when a leader like Akhilesh Yadav issues them compensation cheques which later bounce. Citing technical errors do not stem the rot. They only help in casting a dubious light on the intentions and the motives of such leaders.

As if that were not enough, our leaders constantly cry hoarse over the suicide figures that are released by the government data. Recently, Maharashtra’s Union agriculture minister Radhamohan Singh drew much flak from the media after he commented that only three farmers had committed suicide in the state.

The farmer suicides have become so ubiquitous that the situation has now snowballed into an epidemic. The green revolution, the genetically modified seeds or “miracle crops” had their moments for several years before they became counter-productive.

As the crop productivity declined and farmers became more indebted, they started taking their lives with the very pesticide that once protected their crops.

In response, the government announced relief packages and debt-waivers which have only been ineffective, short-sighted, misdirected and flawed because of the simple fact that they do not focus on productivity, but rather on loans and credit.

Instead of bickering and quarreling over who is responsible for the deaths, it would be wise for our leaders to understand that each one of us is directly or indirectly involved with the plight of the farmers.

It is but too obvious that it is only our ignorant arrogance that forces the farmers to take such a drastic step. Only when we accept our massive shortcomings in addressing such a vital issue, will we move towards taking cooperative remedial measures.

Even earlier today, when thousands of farmers gathered at the Jantar Mantar to express their concern and anger over the land bill, only a few were aware of the details. In their heart, only one fear was eating them out – what will they do when their piece of land, the only means to their livelihood–is acquired by the government?

While BJP says that the AAP rally was an attempt to divert attention from their internal problems, Gopal Rai, AAP minister, said that the “Delhi government won’t leave the farmers orphaned, like Modi government has.”

The war continues, but Gajendra’s suicide is a reminder that the farmers will be able to lead a dignified life only when the political parties stop treating them as vote banks to maximize political gains.

In essence, the root cause of farmer suicides is the failure to listen.

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  • Not so much the failure to listen but the lack of a proactive attitude. Our politicians do have ears but the problem lies in the fact that they do not act.

    Nevertheless a hard-hitting piece.

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India’s Farmer Protests Highlight Increasing Rural Distress

Political analysts also said the growing rural anger could erode support for Prime Minister Modi in the countryside ahead of next year's scheduled elections.

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Indian what reaches Afghanistan via Chabahar Port
FILE - Farmer sifts wheat crop at a farm on the outskirts of western Indian city of Ahmedabad. VOA

Vimla Yadav, a farmer from India’s Haryana state, says agriculture costs, such as fertilizers and seeds, have soared, yet produce prices have plunged, leaving her family of 10 with virtually no profit from their four-acre farm. “We don’t even get the fruits of the labor that the entire family puts in on the farm, although we slog day and night,” she laments.

Yadav is one of the tens of thousands of angry farmers from around the country who poured into the Indian capital recently, demanding a special session of parliament to discuss their demands: better prices for farm produce and a waiver by the government from repaying loans taken from banks.

The protest highlighted the deepening distress among the population in the countryside, where there is growing concern about diminishing agricultural profits because many are being driven into debt.

In a country where half the population of 1.3 billion depends on agriculture, low farm profits have long been a challenge and prompted promises by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to double rural incomes by 2022. But the growing disenchantment among the farming community could pose a challenge to Modi as he seeks re-election next year.

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Police try to stop farmers during a protest demanding a better price for their produce on the outskirts of New Delhi, India. VOA

According to the government, the average income of a farmer is about $100 a month. But many make less, said Yogendra Yadav, one of the main leaders of the protest and founder of the farmers group Jai Kisan Andolan. The Yadavs are not related.

“For a majority of them, the income is probably less than $50 a month. That is the level at which they survive. And one of the principal reasons for that is that they don’t get enough price for their crops,” Yogendra Yadav said.

Low prices for crops are not the only problem: increasingly erratic weather patterns pose a new challenge in a country where nearly half the farmers lack access to irrigation.

In eastern Orissa state, for example, back-to-back droughts over the past two years have brought widespread distress.

“There has been very little rain this year,” said Lakhyapati Sahu, a farmer who traveled from Orissa, one of India’s poorer states. “We face a massive problem due to successive droughts.”

According to various studies, nearly half of Indian farmers have said they want to quit working on the land but cannot do so because of a lack of alternate livelihoods.

Farmer protests, farmer
Police use water cannons to disperse farmers during a protest demanding better price for their produce on the outskirts of New Delhi, India. VOA

Despite the challenge of finding work, Parul Haldar, a farmer from West Bengal, said she wants to migrate with her entire family to the city. “I will give up farming and go to Kolkata and look for work to make a living. There is no money to be earned from the farm,” she added.

Although the rural crisis has been festering for many years, economists partly blame the deepening crisis on a sweeping currency ban that led to widespread cash shortages two years ago and affected their incomes.

“Many farmers lost working capital, they had to borrow money from the banks or from the local moneylenders at high interest rates, so their costs went up,” economist Arun Kumar said. “So if costs go up and revenue comes down, then income gets squeezed.”

Protests by farmers have intensified in the past two years as they try to draw attention to the usually forgotten countryside — their recent march was their fourth and largest to Delhi so far this year. They have also held marches in other cities like Kolkata and Mumbai. In June, farmers in several parts of the country threw their produce on the streets to highlight low prices. And last year, farmers from southern India protested in New Delhi with skulls to draw attention to suicides by farmers.

Farmer
The Farmer Portal provides all the relevant information and services to the farming community and private sector. Wikimedia Commons

“Farmers are saying enough is enough, now something needs to be done,” Yogendra Yadav said. “Both the economic and ecological crisis is leading to an existential crisis, farmers are committing suicide, they are quitting farming.”

Also Read: Millions Of Urban Children in Worse Condition Than Rural People: UNICEF

Political analysts also said the growing rural anger could erode support for Prime Minister Modi in the countryside ahead of next year’s scheduled elections. Farmers make up an important voting bloc.

“Opposition to Modi is growing. Unless you have rural support, no party can win on [the] basis of urban support only,” said Satish Misra, of the Observer Research Foundation in New Delhi. “The distress is real. The agriculture issue needs to be addressed in a very focused manner.” (VOA)