Sep 7, 2015

Image of a dead refugee child takes Europe by storm. When will images of dying farmers hit the collective conscious of Indians?

Unlike the death of a Syrian refugee child in Europe, the serial death dance on the farms has failed to hit the collective conscious of the Indian society. While the image of a dead child evoked such a compassionate demand from the European people that EU governments were forced to open up the borders for refugees, the death of more than 3.05-lakh farmers in India in the past 20 years has been viewed nothing more than a set of statistics. 

Since July 1, over 350 farmer suicides have been reported from Karnataka. In Marathwada region of Maharashtra, 105 deaths have been reported just in the month of August. The farmer suicide tally in Marathwada otherwise has crossed 628 in the eight months of this year against a total of 574 reported in 2014. In one year since its formation, the new state of Telengana has recorded more than 700 farmer suicides. Despite such a heavy death toll, life goes on as usual in the newly formed farmer suicide belt of India – Maharashtra, Telengana and Karnataka.

The unprecedented wave of sympathy for refugees, extending to as far as Australia, has forced these governments to bend. I am amazed the way mainline newspapers in Europe played up the anger of the people. Ordinary people in Germany lined up to distribute household items to the income refugees in such a large number that the police had to request them to stop. The Independent in London for instance had on the front page pictures of common people welcoming refugees and in the middle box it asked Prime Minister David Cameroon if he is listening to these voices. A day later, UK opened up for the refugees. Perhaps it was because of such a massive outpouring of sympathy that Finland’s Prime Minister even went to the extent of saying that he will share his house with the refugees.  

On the other hand, it is the lack of a similar sympathetic outpouring in India that has allowed the farmer deaths across the country to be treated with a lot of disdain and what I find more distressing is that often in the social media farm suicides are scorned at. They deserve to die; they are a burden on the society; they are lazy, they want to be fed; are some of the tweets that I receive whenever I mention farmer suicides. That such a contempt exists in a society, which considers it to be more spiritual than the western world, is something I have not been able to fathom. It may be a reflection of an extreme mindset, but the fact it exists is in itself worrying. In a society where we are taught to treat the entire world as a family, how can we remain oblivious to the continuing human tragedy in our own backyard?

Let me make it clear. I am not asking for Mumbai families to think of the possibility of adopting a farmer family in Marathwada. Nor am I am looking for donations for farmers like the Pingalwara Trust in Amritsar does for the disabled. Neither am I asking people to provide toys and surplus clothes to farming families.

Farmers are not beggars.

Farmers are dying because they have been denied their legitimate due. They want to quit agriculture if given an alternative because they don’t find farming an economically viable proposition. Hoping that the cities may provide them a better livelihood option they trudge to the cities looking for menial jobs. In the past ten years or so, even this is not happening. As the Labour Bureau of India reports, increasingly the migrants are returning back to the villages unable to make a living in the urban centres.

If only some of us in the cities had felt outraged at the continuing suicides on the farm, perhaps a sympathy wave among the middle class would have generated. The more the outpouring of sympathy, the more would have been the pressure on the media to focus on the farming tragedy, and thereby a much bigger pressure on the government to act. In our unrelenting quest to quench our thirst of material goods, we have somehow moved away from our spiritual values. Let the image of a dying person – whether it is refugee child or a farmer hanging from a tree – shake our collective consciousness. #

Source: When will Indians show sympathy and outrage at images of dying farmers? ABPLive. in Sept 6, 2015.

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