Rural Society from rural anthropology to political economy: farmers’ protest in Delhi

Radhakanta Barik

Last year this month I was in my village where harvesting was going on. I was standing with my brothers supervising the work. All my relatives are engaged in farming activities except our family. We have sixteen close relatives from my mother's and father's side and we have many cousins working in farming work. Odisha experiences flood and drought on regular basis for which the farming community is in a deep crisis. Whenever they give in marriage of their daughter or son they are being forced to sell a piece of land. All these people are suffering from various diseases for which they are forced to get expensive treatment. There are diseases like blood pressure, diabetics etc are common in rural Odisha including cancer. Whenever they suffer from these diseases they have to take loan from the moneylender or banks. Once they are in debt they are unable to pay back. In the last year's harvesting time  they were forced to sell the rice at Rs 1400 where as production cost was Rs 1900. If according to Swaminathan Report cost plus fifty percent it is coming around Rs 2900. They sell their land and get pauperized for which the present government is responsible as they do not get remunerative prices. They are dying lot only way to save them by protesting against the present government's policy for getting two demands fulfilled: remunerative price plus debt cancellation.

My father lived in debt as a farmer he could not meet both ends meet despite had two red gamachas  costing  in those day around Rs Ten. His association with the market was very much limited, perhaps it was two gamachas.  As a farmer he could not get proper price for his agricultural products. Despite reducing his expenditure to the lowest level he had to live in debt. The reason he or she suffered because of rural culture. Once the crop failure happened in the month of October because of flood, but he went for planting of rice as he knew that it would be a loss.  On my inquiry he told me “How can I keep my land fallow?” Keeping land fallow was against peasant tradition. He has to cultivate this land despite the heavy loss as late planting of rice would not produce the same result. In those days traditional crops were prevalent where peasant does not depend on market for seeds or fertilizer or pesticide.  They did not depend on outside technology such as tractors and threshers. All these activities were getting executed with the help of hands where as ploughing was done  with the help of bullocks. His products were sold to middlemen cum money lenders as they offered him advance at the time of planting rabi crops such potato or sugar cane. Virtually the government was not responsible for remunerative price of his products.  He was forced to sell his products at the local market at lower price than actual price. He used to suffer from losses for which he could not clear his debt.

Debt goes from father to son which is an Odiya proverb. My elder brother who started cultivating had to live with such a huge debt. Many times he had to get humiliated by the money lender as he could not pay annual interest to the money lender. Those days money lender used to keep gold ornaments as collateral for getting loan. As he could not pay back to money lender he lost all his gold ornaments to the money lender. The money lender did not give us back. As a son of a farmer working in the city as a teacher I want to respect my father's wishes that no other farmer should suffer from debt for which they need better procurement price which Modi government promised in the 2014 general election that he would pay proper price plus fifty percent extra according to M S Swaminathan Commission report. Four and a half years have passed but no action has been taken by the present government. He promised the debt cancellation programme by the central government but no action has been taken but he had paid million rupees from the public sector banks to industrialists who have fled away. But the farmers because of patriotism they are still struggling with their land. As many in cities are the sons and daughters of struggling farmers they came to farmers' rally  held on 29 - 30 November as Delhi Chalo programme.

I missed writing a post yesterday because of my involvement in Kisan Rally. This rally reminds me of the last rally held by kisans led by Mahendra Singh Tikait at the Boat club in 1988. It was a massive rally which created fear in the minds of ruling establishment specifically middle class.  Some of us joined the farmers’ rally led by Tickait. Many of them came in tractors and other vehicles to the centre of Delhi where marches were organized in those days.  Prior to that there was a massive rally organized by teachers of colleges and schools specifically privately managed  under the leadership of All India Teachers’ Association whose leader was Prof Abani Baral. The government conceded this demand that teachers in the private colleges could not be  thrown by the management easily. In neo liberalized phase every body’s job is insecured or on contract and can be thrown without any notice. Under their pressures the ban got imposed by the administration in holding the rally in Boat Club. Yesterday's rally got the support from the middle class such as doctors, teachers and students who provided a helping hand to the farmers, labourers coming from the various states. This protest movement had demanded two things regarding the debt cancellation of the farmers and procurement price of agricultural products according to Swaminathan Commission report. It is interesting to note here that while the journalists interviewing the farmers without any literacy citing the importance of Swaminathan commission. He is now a household name in India.

Swaminathan  is the architect of the green revolution who was working as a scientist in CRRI in Cuttack picked by Mrs Indira Gandhi as the Prime Minister who got humiliated by Lyndon Johnson, the President of America. He used vulgar language against India: "We have been screwing you for ages. You have come with a begging bowl." These words made her sensitive. She replied, "I will not come back." After returning from USA she looked for a scientist that was Swaminathan, agricultural minister of Tamilnadu C Subramanium and Chief Secretary of Odisha Shri Shivaraman who came as the Secretary of Agriculture. This was the time 1968 when India was borrowing the food under the PL 480. Within four years by 1972 India got self-sufficiency in food production.Food plays a key role in formulating  an independent foreign policy. Modi government does not have any sense of history or agricultural policy. This is an anti farmer government which wanted that the Indian State  to be subordinated to the American interest once more. The present government shows its anti farmer policy by ordering firing at them in MP  when they demanded a higher price. This is the government instead of cancellation of debts have gone for paying heavy loan to big speculators such as Ambani, Adani etc. Many of them fled away from India.

All opposition parties came to the meeting yesterday and stood in solidarity with farmers. These leaders have shown their commitment to their causes and demanded a special session of the Parliament on Swaminathan Commission report. Except the BJP all other regional parties have shown their commitment to the farmers except the Shivsena. The BJP and Shivsena are busy in the Ram Mandir politics in Ayodhya by keeping the farmers hungry and naked the Ram statue would be constructed on their death bed. A hungry farmer cannot come to do puja in the Rammandir.It is interesting to note people refused to side with them as they believe in the employment and farmers' remunerative price. It is a reminder to Naveenbabu to side with the cause of farmers in Odisha as Odisha is experiencing deaths in distress.

The galaxy of political leaders attended the farmers' rally yesterday. American university and Management Institutes have developed a theory of public policy which is an independent of political processes. This is absolutely wrong as American democracy could not develop welfare policies as its citizens suffered worst. They do not have a proper health policy and unemployment policy yet as these management theorists teach their students that making of public policy is the product of econometric model as you apply mathematics in explaining the process. This resulted in creating arms industry controlled by the private industrialists. Anybody can use the gun to shoot at any innocent citizen as the private industrialists control the gun factories. To hide various interest groups and their role in policy making the academia has developed a theory of public policy based on econometric model. The management institutes have started teaching our administrators and managers this theory of public policy. For them input and output model is a model which produces a result in terms of mathematics not reflecting the general will. Modi government has appropriated a model like this which results in framing the policy of demonitisation or GST. Mathematically they can prove the point that demonitisation had reduced the prostitution according to the Law Minister Prasad. Our farmers and workers pressurized the leaders to come back to domain of politics where the public policy making to be done. Yesterday in the massive rally it was being worked out by the leaders. Sitaram Yechury, Rahul Gandhi, Sharad Pawar came to the conclusion that the Indian Parliament would have to hold a special session to discuss the issues related to agriculture and discuss the fate of Swaminathan Commission report as it should not kept in cold storage. These leaders show the basics of policy making that from where the resources will get diverted as the Loans by banks are getting paid to big industrialists and speculators. Once they would not get these resources then automatically the farmers will be getting their share of the Public sector banks. The nationalization of the banks by Indira Gandhi was done with the aim of satisfying the maximum number of people that should be the aim of any policy. Once the resource mobilization will be done then implementation of the policy will be easier as there will be no shortage of finances. Public finance has been manipulated by the present regime for the private party. This is possible if there is political will. The opposition political parties except the BJP, Shivsena have joined together which show their political will for the farmers and workers. Then implementation will be easier as the bureaucracy understands the message of the political class as they have administrative capability to implement the policy. As farmers are involving themselves in policy making process all these policies are the products of their struggles then it will be easier to fix the accountability. Indian state has the capacity to handle these public policies towards the rural people by ignoring the econometric models for explaining the agricultural policy.

This sort of farmers’ rally took place in Mumbai without disrupting the traffic or examination of students. They walked on foot from Nasik to Mumbai  over a period of 24 hours. The middle  class showed their empathy with the farmers by coming to the streets and helping them with food packet, medicine or water and Chappals. This is a great show of human sympathy towards their fellow human beings. They produce wealth by working hard and making their hands soiled. In any way food production has been made more difficult and technological complex. But they require water, seeds and other materials going for systematic production process. Agriculture is unlike industry where human being suffers from rains, heat wave or cold wind. This needs to compensated in a better manner. Farmers’ inputs are related to the market and out put needs to be market based price. But price fluctuation has affected the farming community negatively. They are getting pauperized in the process and loosing their land. According to 2011 census after comparing with 1991 census India has lost 21 million farmers in the process. This requires an intervention by state to save them and save their livelihoods.  Though farming sector’s contribution has declined but the percentage people depending on agriculture has remained around 60 percentage. Unless they are paid properly and they get a cancellation of debt they may commit suicides. Under the Modi government three million of people have committed suicides. That is the reason they changed profile of crime records where the column of suicide has got removed for last two years.

Today only alternative is left with them to come to the streets and protest against the injustice committed against them.  As the election is coming nearer farmers issue has turned into an important issue. Politics has taken over the economic issues. As the general election of 2019 is approaching, just six months back people started talking about political issues. Modi's politics is about the rich and industrialists. Modi is against kisans, workers and middle class. All these classes have been experiencing pain in their hearts for a period of four and a half years. These pains are getting articulated in words or paintings. " Hamara bura din lauta do, hamara accha din jarurat nahi' One hears the unemployment of youths from politicians to common people. They experience high rate of unemployment as lakshs of youth applied for thousands of post in the Railways. In UP for the post of peons thousands of engineers and Ph D holders are applying. Political leaders started talking of the unemployment of youths. In recent kisan rally the political leaders started using farmers and youths. Both are the two sides of same coin. 2014 general election the issue of corruption came to the surface and the electronic media started talking in the name of "We the people of India" want to know what happened various scams as raised by Audit and Accountant general in its reports. It is an interesting to note here that some parties are so corrupt like the BJP who raise the issue of corruption while the election approaches. This happened the last election. We have a friend who formed a committee of "Honest peopel" as a NGO. But got arrested for his links with smugglers. He is a BJP supporters. This general election the corruption issue is there but many more issues have come up. Farmers' issues and unemployment issues of youths have taken as the core of agenda for the movement launched by farmers recently. Whenever the corruption became the dominant issue then the right wing forces win.It is a fact that the BJP became the leading party in the year 1989 and started pulling the VP Singh government.This needs to be analysed by all of us that if corruption issue became the central issue then the right wing forces get strengthened.

Prof. Radhakanta Barik, Retired Professor in Political science and a story writer in Odiya.

Dec 3, 2018

Prof Radhakanta Barik [email protected]

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