Farmers are not our problem

Updated: 17 October, 2020 06:42 IST | Lindsay Pereira | Mumbai

The people responsible for putting food on our plates have been struggling to survive for decades. Why don't we care?

Farmers have been killing themselves since the 1990s because they cannot repay loans that most of middle-class India would consider paltry. File pic
Farmers have been killing themselves since the 1990s because they cannot repay loans that most of middle-class India would consider paltry. File pic

picA close friend of mine owns a chikoo farm on the outskirts of Bombay and has been complaining about it for as long as I have known him. He struggles with managing the people responsible for taking care of the trees, explains what it costs to ensure a healthy crop, fights off encroachers who break in every other month and gets no response from local police in the event of a theft. He recently found out that while he was being paid a measly R6 for every kilo of the fruit, the man responsible for transporting it to the city was selling it for R35, pocketing the difference without having to concern himself about any of the hard work involved.

"How is this fair?" my friend asks in despair, whenever we have a conversation. It plays on his mind all the time and he worries about the future of the farm. He doesn't rely upon income from those trees to survive, but his question often bothers me on the rare occasion when a farmer appears on television or within the confines of a newspaper. I wonder how they survive without the luxury of any other means of making a living. At times like these, their protests suddenly make sense.

We don't talk about these protests, of course, because to do so is to acknowledge that things aren't going well in India. The world outside must never know this because tourists would stop turning up if they ever found out how we treat the poor, the marginalised, disenfranchised, students, minorities, women and children. So, naturally, farmers protesting on the streets don't get noticed as much as they should. They make all those 'Incredible India' campaigns seem like a lie.

I don't know any farmers personally either, which is strange given how I was always told they formed the backbone of our nation. 'Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan' read the textbooks in school, making me assume these were sacred members of society deserving of respect and admiration. And yet, while soldiers continue to be placed on pedestals at the first hint of a skirmish at the border, the fundraisers for farmers are conspicuously missing.

I can't even recall an Akshay Kumar movie starring Akshay Kumar as an honest farmer trying to make a living against all odds. It's probably because death by starvation is never as glamourous as death by gunfire. Soldiers look better too, what with easy access to the kind of food, shelter and clothing that prevent farmers from looking good for the camera.

There will come a time when our inability to ask questions will affect us all, when we start to pay the price for failing to help farmers, and for looking the other way in the mistaken assumption that this simply isn't our problem.

Farmers have been killing themselves since the 1990s because they cannot repay loans that most of middle-class India would consider paltry. In this decade alone, an average of 160 suicides a day were recorded in Maharashtra, home of our country's financial capital. The National Crime Records Bureau of India states that almost 3,00,000 farmers have killed themselves over the past three decades. Over 300 suicides were recorded in Marathwada in the first six months of this year. Poor rainfall, rising debts, and crop failure are routinely blamed for these statistics.

We all have access to these facts and figures if we choose to examine them. We can ask for debates on them if we choose to, given how we love to occupy much of our time discussing shows like Bigg Boss. We choose to avoid them though because we think of farmers as magical beings who exist only to provide us with rice, vegetables, and fruit. It is only when onions start to cost us R100 a kilo that we start asking questions, and these are never directed at the people responsible for that hike in prices.

India's farmers will continue to struggle, taking to the streets, their voices lost in traffic as we complain about delays in getting home. They wouldn't have to protest every other year if someone, somewhere, were to understand why they have been struggling for as long as they have.

We are always conveniently encouraged to focus on other things. Take the protests a few weeks ago, for instance. Hundreds of journalists wielding cameras descended upon the city, driving past farmers because they wanted us to look at film stars being questioned about drug abuse instead.

When he isn't ranting about all things Mumbai, Lindsay Pereira can be almost sweet. He tweets @lindsaypereira
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The views expressed in this column are the individual's and don't represent those of the paper

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First Published: 17 October, 2020 07:00 IST

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