When farmers got tired of their bitter earth tales and leaders’ deaf ears

From November 1 to November 5, thousands and thousands of tillers rose up in protest against the Central and state governments’ anti-farmer policies. Here’s what they are saying

When farmers got tired of their bitter earth tales and leaders’ deaf ears

Ashutosh Sharma

The agrarian distress in India is not an overnight phenomenon. Climate change, falling water table, uneven distribution of resources, shortage of power, lack of financial support and increasing indebtedness have immobilised the farmer. Add to these inflation and demonetisation. Nearly 2 lakh farmers since 1997 have committed suicide. Thousands of farmers participated in a sit-in protest organised by the CPI-affiliated All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) from November 1 to 5, and raised their burning issues. Their demands were: implementation of the the Swaminathan Commission report; withdrawal of the 2014 Land Acquisition Bill; waiver of all loans with nationalised, cooperative and private banks; a monthly pension of `10,000 for all men and women, agricultural workers and rural artisans who are 60 and above; allotment of 8 decimal land to all homeless rural people; provision for quality seeds, fertilisers and pesticides at subsidised rates; remunerative prices for agriculture produce and creation of a separate fund to stabilise prices of agriculture products.

Answer: Why is farming discouraged?

Hanuman Singh (62), Farmer, Hisar, Haryana

In July this year, rains caused extensive damage to cotton, paddy and vegetables grown on thousands of acres in several villages of Hisar and Bhiwani in Haryana. The government has not offered any financial compensation to the affected farmers. Even the crop insurance agencies have refused to assess losses, claiming that crops were not insured under the Pradhan Mantri FasalBima Yojana.

When my father used to work on the land, it was said: “Uttamkheti, madhyamvyapar and neechnaukri” (best is farming, business is second best and servitude is the least desirable). Today, to serve someone else is commended, doing business is encouraged and farming is discouraged. This has devastated our social fabric and value systems. Today, every human relation has been monetised. It is evaluated on the criterion of profit and loss.

After my father divided the land among his four sons, I got just 12 kanals of land as my share. One can’t eke out a living by working on this small tract of land. My son holds an MEd degree. He has shunned farming and has chosen to be a teacher in a private school. I am growing weak and old. There will be no one left in my family after me to work as a farmer.

No other Prime Minister in the history of independent India has lied in public life as blatantly as Narendra Modi has. He is always in the election mode, making tall promises and then forgetting them. Does he know that thousands of crores of rupees from the tax payers’ money are spent on a Prime Minister on daily basis?

Remember the slogan “Jai Jawan Jai Kisan” given in 1965 by Lal Bahadur Shastri? People still remember him for his simplicity and honset conduct. Kabir said, “Patharpuje Hari mile, to main pujunGirirai, sabse to chakkibhali, pees peeskekhay (If worship of stone could attain God, I would have worshiped a mountain, it does not measure up to the stone grinder that can sustain me and feed others).

Modi is indifferent to farmers. In this year’s Independence Day speech, he said that he wants to build an India where the farmer can sleep without worry, (knowing) that they will earn double their current incomes by 2022. How will he achieve that if he’s spending crores on building statues? Has he taken any concrete steps to address farmers’ issues? No.

Our village Mandi Adampur in Hissar—where majority of people are engaged in agriculture, there is only one tube well for irrigation. The village has 1,000 voters.

The Haryana government’s law that bans cow slaughter is proving to be a bane for the farmers. The number of idle oxen is growing and they are wreaking havoc. Since farmers don’t have enough resources to feed and look after them, they release them anywhere. These bovines stray on to the farms and cause damage to the standing crops and vegetables. Due to fear of new law and Gau Raksha Dals, farmers can’t even sell the bovines.

But I am an incorrigible optimist. Udham Singh assassinated General Dwyer (Michael O’Dwyer, the former Lieutenant Governor of the Punjab in British India) in England and avenged the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre. Where will these politicians go? The youth of this country are not going to forgive them for destroying this country.

Eliminate: Sarpanch-bureaucrat-politician-arithiya nexus

Satish Singh (53), Agricultural Labourer, District Fazilika, Punjab

I own about 30 kanals of agricultural land. But it’s insufficient to sustain my family. So I’ve to do other menial jobs to earn additional income.

In my village of Mandi RoranWali, panchayat Halim Wala in Fazilka district, most of the small and marginal farmers cultivate rental land. But in the event of crop failure, drought or floods, we become jobless. The big farmers enjoy subsidy and economic compensation besides several other government welfare schemes. But farm labourers or those who cultivate rented land, don’t get any kind of support from the government.

The government implemented a welfare scheme, the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGA), for people like us several years ago. But only those people who oblige the Sarpanch in our panchayat get jobs and full wages. Most of the time, the Sarpanch assigns work on his own land. His supporters turn a blind eye to this and are repayed for loyalty with wages paid under NREGA. Genuine labourers have to bribe him to get even half of the wages released to them. Whoever raises voice against this corruption is victimised and, often, denied work. The administration does not care. This Sarpanch-bureaucrat-politician-nexus is killing us. Anyone who wields some power is running his own fiefdom. There is no accountability.

The money lender—usually an arthiya (agent) registered with the market board, who acts as middleman between farmers and purchasers—also enjoys political and bureaucratic clout. When a small farmer approaches him to avail loan, he gets money on a precondition. He is told to purchase seeds, fertilisers and pesticides from a certain shop. The market is flooded with spurious seeds, fertilisers and pesticides. Despite being fully aware, the helpless farmer purchases those spurious products. In spite of toil and sweat, it results in poor yield.

This is a vicious circle—created and protected by this corrupt and exploitative set up. Everyone in the power circle is getting and enjoying his pound of flesh. The poor farmers and agricultural labourers are suffering whereas the powerful are milking the resources of this country to the hilt.

If I lose my land, where will we go? How will we survive? These questions don’t let me sleep or live peacefully.

Plea: Give us land to cultivate

Shanta Bhai (55), Tenant farmer, Khopoli, Maharashtra

Do the state and central government really care for those who depend directly or indirectly on farming for their livelihood? If they do, then tenant farmers must also be recognised as farmers. Each family of landless peasants should be given a piece of land. We want to cultivate our own land and grow the food crops of our own choice. We also want to earn our livelihood with dignity.

My husband is physically challenged. A few years ago, both his hands became dysfunctional. My son has three daughters. All of them go to school. I, along with my son and daughter-in-law, work as farm labourers. We don’t have our own land. At times, we also work on construction sites besides doing several other odd jobs. The government keeps announcing welfare schemes for the poor but none of them reach us.

Write off: A 17-year-old debt burden

Befia Mosmat (55), Widow & Farmer, Sarbanga, Jharkhand

Many years ago, my husband availed a loan to buy a pair of oxen from a cooperative bank in village Dehrikitta in tehsil Sarbanga of Godda district in Jharkhand. He passed away 17 years ago.

When he died, I had to take care of our four children including two girls and two boys. I brought them up and married off both the daughters and the eldest son, who is now 22. He works as a labourer in another state. I live with my youngest son, who is 16.

Old age, poor health, diseases and years of back-breaking work has taken a toll on my health. Now, I hardly remember incidents from the recent past. I don’t even remember the amount I have to repay to the bank. What bothers me is that the amount that I have to give back is multiplying by the day.

To take care of my children and ensure them food and clothes, I ignored all my needs. I did not worry about my health, I worked in fields under the scorching sun. It has left my skin burnt. See, how it has turned black like a “tava.’’

Every year, the bank officials harass me to pay off the loan. But I don’t have the money. We are not in a position to arrange two square meals, let alone repay the loan. Now, village chowkidar MahendraHansda is threatening me to repay the loan, failing which, he says, the bank will evict me from my house and take possession of my agricultural land. The oxen are now dead, by the way.

Injustice: Financial compensation given to landowners

Sukumari (60), Agricultural Labourer, Darbhanga, Bihar

The heavy rains followed by floods that swept through our Panchobh village in Darbhanga district of Bihar in August this year has left us devastated.

Till recently, flood waters covered our farms, making it impossible for us to cultivate them. We are jobless since then and there are no alternative means of earning livelihood.

When the floods hit our village, we were shifted to a government school. After several protests, the local administration provided us Khichdi (a frugal meal made from rice and lentils) for four days. Thereafter, we were left to fend for ourselves.

Most of the people in the village, including me, are tenant farmers. We work as agricultural wage labourers or by leasing land from landlords. We bear the cost of cultivation and harvest. Then, if everything goes well, half of the total produce goes to the landowner. But if there is a crop failure then we have to bear the loss. The government pays financial compensation against the loss of standing crops in the event of natural calamity. But this is paid to landowners, not us.

My entire paddy crop grown over approximately a quarter of an acre was completely damaged during the deluge this year. I had spent `10,000 on ploughing, seeds, fertilisers and pesticides. I had two goats. Both of them died in the floods. The roof and a wall of my hut also collapsed. My family doesn’t have enough money to repair our home.

A few days before Chhath Puja, the state government gave a packet of ration to each family in our village. The packet had 5 kg rice, ½ kg black chickpeas (kala chana), ½ kg black gram (urad beans), 1 kg salt and 100 gm turmeric powder. Additionally, the government provided `6,000 in cash to each household. There was no other compensation paid.

We, landless farmers, are somehow surviving because our sons work as labourers in other states and send some money home.

Give: Industry status to agriculture

Laxmi Narayan (72), Farmer, Bikaner, Rajasthan

Industry status must be given to the agriculture sector without any delay. A farmer should get all the benefits which the government provides to entrepreneurs. This is the only way to address farm distress and improve farmers’ income. Otherwise, farming has no future in this country.

When a farmer purchases seeds, fertilisers and pesticides from the cooperative societies, he has to pay the the maximum retail price (MRP). The amount of subsidy is credited to his bank account several months after the purchase. This makes most of the small and marginal farmers completely dependent on money lenders, who keep fleecing us. Demonetisation, that resulted in cash squeeze last year, has only spurred the debt trap.

When we occupied the Jaipur-Sikar route in Rajasthan during September protests, Chief Minister VasundharaRaje promised procurement at minimum support price (MSP). But now the government says it will procure only 50 per cent of the total produce. I have grown 54 quintal of groundnuts this season. But the government will procure only 25 quintal. Where will we go to sell the rest of the produce? We are left with only one option: to approach traders to sell the surplus.

A farmer does not have space to store his produce at home. So he can’t hold on to his produce in the absence of government procurement centres. He is always in need of money and has to sell off his produce to traders at the best rate he can get which is less than the MSP.

Farmers need better prices for their produce. But the government is discouraging farmers in every possible way. Earlier, it used to provide an amount of `3.15 lakh for the construction of farm pond. But now the government has reduced that amount to `2 lakh.

In my village, Dulmera, the irrigation canal has no water. For the last four years, the region is reeling under drought. It is unlikely to be limited to this crop season only. We have been demanding crop loan waiver but the government is paying no heed. Additionally, stray cattle have become a menace as the government has banned livestock sale.

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