Film actor Nana Patekar with farmer widows.
Some years back I requested the legendary folk singer from Pakistan, the late Reshma, to consider singing a song that brings out the pain and tragedy of farmer suicides. She immediately went into remorse, and asked: “Bhai sahib, yeh kisan kyon atamhatya kar rahe hain? Mera to sharam se sar jhuk jata hai ..”
She wanted me to give her good and powerful lyrics. And when I told her that I have no money to pay her but will like to raise as much as possible, she retorted: “Aap ke pass chapal hai?” And before I could respond, she said: “Chapal mere sar pe maar dijey agar main kisano ke liye paisa maangu.”
Despite my best efforts, I wasn’t able to give her a powerful set of lyrics.
So when I heard film actor Nana Patekar express anguish at the way farmers were committing suicide, I was moved beyond words. He has spent time with farm widows and has even exhorted them to call him before they think of committing suicide. In addition, he has distributed cheques of Rs 15,000 or so to may farmer widows. His foundation has so far raised Rs 80 lakh from public. The other day when I heard him say: “If farmers can kill themselves, they could kill others too, and if this thought of a ‘revolution’ persists, farmers could become naxals,” it reminded me of what the father of India’s Green Revolution, Dr M S Swaminathan, had once remarked in response to a question from me on a TV show: “Agriculture is the best line of defence against naxalism. The more you destroy agriculture, the more naxalism will grow.”
Why the policy makers have failed to understand this simple fact is something I have never been able to fathom. Therein hangs a tale of flawed policy direction.
Film star Akshay Kumar has also stepped forward. As per news reports, his team (since he was not in town) on Tuesday distributed cheques of Rs 50,000 each to 30 widows in Beed district in Marathwada. He has set aside Rs 90-lakh for distributing to 180 families whose bread-earner had committed suicide. His wife, Twinkle Khanna, has in a tweet, appreciated her husband’s gesture and urged other to join in. I am told cricketer Ajinkya Rahane is another celeb who has also come out to help the farmers in distress.
It is certainly heartening to know that slowly but steadily some of the celebrities, who probably have their heart in the right place, are willing to walk an extra mile. Not only in the movies where some of them play Robin Hood kind of roles, in real life too they feel equally concerned. But I am a lot disappointed by some of the other bigger names who have continuously ignored sufferings of fellow beings struggling to eke out a living, not enough to earn even two square meals a day.
Knowing this, I had once discussed an idea with an international NGO on the possibility of taking a group of five top celebrities – from the world of films, cricket/sports and public life -- to travel for 4 to 5 days at a stretch in Vidharbha, Marathwada or in Telengana and Andhra Pradesh so as the draw nation’s attention to this tragic serial death dance. During travels, they meet the families, talk to farmers, look at the crop fields, eat food with them, and if possible they also spend a night or two in the villages. Why I couldn’t take this further was because of the huge costs involved, essentially from the expected levels of honorarium that some celebs would expect. But I am still willing to take this up provided some celebrities are willing to do so.
This proposal was mainly to draw the media’s attention and thereby hit the nation’s consciousness. Once the media takes it up 24x7 the national discourse would shift to this forgotten issue, forcing the policy makers and powers that be to sit back and take notice. But I still don’t understand why a media channel can’t take celebrities to the suicide belt of Marathwada or Vidharbha. If celebrities can be taken to the border areas to meet the soldiers, why a similar outing can’t be planned with farmers? Jai Jawan, but why not Jai Kisan?
Also, it will be worth the effort if celebrities go beyond charity and look at the structural changes that are required to bring back the pride in farming. This can happen provided they spend some time on understanding the agrarian issues and also try to group with some civil society organisation to further the cause. Film maker Mahesh Bhatt had done so when he launched the documentary Poison on the Platter. Aamir Khan has in his own way been creating more awareness about these issues. I am hoping that more and more celebrities will take up the cause in the months to come. The best fallout of celebrity endorsement is that it helps urban population reconnect with rural India. #
Source: When film stars come to the rescue of farmers. ABPLive.in Sept 19, 2015
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