4 April 2014

Who will Speak for the Farmer?

On a news channel last week, Amit Shah represented the BJP party and tried to answer questions from journalists. When asked pointedly about farmers losing their land to business corporations, he began to show his irritation, and finally sneered, "If you are so interested in farming, why don't you raze down this building and do kheti?".
     I recall teachers in rural schools demeaning children by saying, "So, do you want to keep cutting grass? Do you want to be a farmer all your life?". I feel Amit Shah too may have faced such teachers in his school days, and therefore has developed this deep feeling of humiliation and a contempt for anything to do with 'village' and 'farmer'.
     At a Garhwal-based NGO, I have seen an entire generation of village school-going children growing up with this psychological inferiority complex. This is indicative of what is happening all over rural India. When these children grow up and migrate to urban centres, their feeling of inferiority is converted into a contempt for farming and village life, and they cultivate an outer veneer of superiority. In due course, some among them join politics, some bureaucracy, some NGOs, and some become journalists in the media.

     Tragically for us, in our highly urban-centred governance structure, it is these very same people who hold positions of influence, and it is they who get to write agricultural policy, to determine farm prices, to change the use of farm land, to sign international agreements on behalf of the farmer, to allow genetic experiments in Indian fields, and to allow vulture corporations to exploit and destroy the farmer.
     None of the policy maker is a farmer, none of them is in the least a proud farmer or a satisfied village resident. None of them is an active and responsible participant in a village eco-system. How do we expect them to guide the nation's farming community?
     My grandfather migrated to a city in 1935, and now I am in the process of moving back. So I write this as a new farmer who is looking at a village eco-system afresh, with no prejudice. In these last five years, I have met and learned from wise and expert farmers, aam-aadmi farmers who exist in every village. I see great strength in Indian rural society because it is a socio-economic-ecologic unit, not just a place for employment. It is unfortunate that today's modern forces are undermining it rather than nurturing it.
     The question remains, therefore, as to who will represent the Indian farmer? Not the urban elite, however well-intentioned, because they simply do not understand the Indian village and the Indian villager's world-view. We have highly respected and expert thinker-farmers in Shri Bhasker Save, Shri Shubhash Palekar, Shri Subhash Sharma and many, many more. There is also Shri Ravindra Sharma, a widely acknowledged hands-on expert in village economics and traditional entrepreneurship carfts. These people have no interest in 'winning' Delhi. It is for the Delhi intellectuals to approach these proven experts, who are real village residents.
     It is jarring to me that the agriculture 'economist' knows no farming, every agriculture 'scientist' lives in a city, and our agricultural universities - which have hundreds of acres of land, and lots of machines, fertilizer and money - they cannot produce food for the 50 people working there.
     If we examine the whole question of socio-economic reality from a humane perspective (because today's economics is bereft of social and human aspects), then we will meet the one fundamental question that India has been avoiding since 1947, viz.: What is the basic socio-economic unit? I feel that if we seek an answer to this honestly, then from that understanding and acceptance, other things will flow naturally, like decentralisation, self-employment, cottage industries, local party-less self-governance, and a movement towards a just society. But that answer, and its acceptance, is the key.
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Just as I am about to sign off, I see this report in today's newspaper: BJP's manifesto has been delayed because Narendra Modi wants to introduce 'corporate farming' and 'massive urbanization' in India. Such a blind copying of a disastrous Amercian model only underlines my question - what is India's socio-economic vision?