We don’t need more Mandsaurs
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What happened in Mandsaur, on Tuesday, is highly regrettable, but embers of agrarian distress are singeing many parts of the country. The reason? For a large part of our population that resides in villages and small towns, a powerful Indian nation state remains a distant dream. Shouldn’t we be ashamed of the fact that a country that calls itself an agricultural nation doesn’t even have a proper national agricultural policy?
From 1947 till now, every government has treated farmers as a vote bank. That’s why villages are being deserted and cities groaning under the weight of migrants. Most times, politicians from big metro cities keep blaming migrants for the breakdown of their cities. They forget that these outsiders haven’t arrived in cities out of choice but are victims of circumstances.
Recently, when farmers from Tamil Nadu were protesting at Delhi’s Jantar Mantar, they had to go to painful lengths to draw the attention of ruling classes. A few people made fun of the farmers by calling their agitation politically motivated. Shouldn’t these people be asked about the number of times they’ve drunk urine, eaten mice or worn a chain of human skulls to draw people’s attention towards their cause?
It is possible that some people made attempts to exploit their agony, but then farmers have always been at the receiving end of such cruel accusations. Were the farmers from Punjab who littered the national highway with thousands of tonnes of tomatoes also trying to create needless drama? Were the Uttar Pradesh farmers whose potatoes rotted on the road politically motivated? Those who protested by pouring milk on Maharashtra’s roads were beleaguered farmers, not callous politicians. Till when will we keep making fun of the truth?
After news emerged of five farmers being shot dead in Mandsaur, I spoke to farmers in my village, in Uttar Pradesh’s Mainpuri district. The bowl of dal has vanished from the tables of people. They make ends meet by having lunch and dinner that includes potatoes and locally grown green vegetables. There’s a water scarcity as the wells dried up many years ago. Today, you have to dig really deep to even operate a handpump. The water is so saline it is impossible to drink. An excess of fluoride is ruining the dental health of young people. Women and children are malnourished. There was a time they broke into a dance at the sight of clouds in the sky. Today they get anxious thinking that even if the Almighty made every season conducive for agriculture, how will they manage to sell their crop?
For them, loan waivers are not a cure for a festering wound: just first-aid. Madhya Pradesh, where farmers are agitating, has displayed the highest growth rate of agriculture in the last five years. In 2014, growth reached 25%, when it was around 4% in the rest of the country. Despite such incredible agricultural growth, neither did the farmers get the prices that they deserved, nor the buyers.
If, after every harvest, the loan appears to increase rather than decrease, the farmers’ anger appears justified. The National Crime Records Bureau statistics say 318,528 farmers committed suicide between 1995 and 2015. Similarly, between 2001 and 2011, nine million farmers left their ancestral homes and migrated to cities. A study suggests more than 2,000 farmers are heading to cities every day to make a living.
Why are human rights bodies and those who shed tears about terrorism blind to their plight?
Let us look at farmers’ fury now. The outbreak of violence in Mandsaur was coming. The agitation began in Maharashtra on 1 June and the very next day, spread to Madhya Pradesh. The problem with governments is that instead of finding a long-term solution, they treat farmers’ agitation as a law and order issue while taking decisions. If this wasn’t the case and people in responsible positions not reacted childishly, those killed in Mandsaur would not have become victims of police firing. Till when will they keep the truth hidden?
There was a time when Ram Manohar Lohia brought down his own government after farmers were shot. Since then, the manner in which the attitudes of politicians have changed is evident from the reactions in the aftermath of the Jantar Mantar and Mandsaur agitations. No single politician or party but the entire power-hungry political establishment should be held accountable for this. That is why the fires of dissatisfaction are raging in different parts of the country.
The time has come when New Delhi and state leaderships thought seriously about this issue. The police or para-military force of independent India don’t look good firing at their own people. We don’t need more Mandsaurs.
Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan.
His Twitter handle is @shekharkahin.