"Art cannot change the future, but it can touch the present" -- Liu Bolin, TED Talks
I still remember an advertisement on the radio which was quite regular at a time when I was a child. It was an advertisement for a desi ghee brand called Mohan Ghee. "Mohan Ghee kya khaya gaon se nata hi too gaya." (Translated, it meant: After I started consuming Mohan Ghee, my link with the village has gone). At a time when Dalda ghee was easily available in the urban markets, one had to look to the rural areas to get a regular supply of desi ghee.
Mohan ghee is no longer available. But I find the moment a village lad gets educated and lands a job in a mofussil town, his/her connection with the rural areas gets snapped. Over the years I have seen many of them, not all of course, develop a kind of contempt for anything rural. I have heard many successful people blame the rural folk for not being able to emerge out of poverty. They lack the entrepreneurial spirit, are dependent on government doles, and have to blame themselves. This is a common refrain. So when news reports appear about some farmer committing suicide in some part of the country, you can see the urban educated frowning. I receive quite a lot of absurd and stupid reactions when I tweet about a farmer committing suicide. Many feel offended to even talk about it.
Over the years, the disconnect is widening. The back-to-back drought that a large part of India witnessed in 2014-15 and 2015-16 is a classic example of how severe the disconnect is. In my travel to Bangalore, the capital of Karnataka, where 28 of the 30 districts are reeling under a severe drought, you don't get any inkling of how tough it is in the countryside when you walk through Bangalore. If it was not for a court case filed by an activist against the IPL cricket matches in drought-affected Maharashtra, I am sure the mainline media would have simply ignored the drought. The worsening plight of farmers, who inhabit these drought affected regions, has not evoked much sympathy. People generally believe as if it is happening some where far, perhaps in Africa.
Re-establishing the connect is therefore very important. It is time people in the cities are sensatised about the rural life, about the farm crisis, farm suicides and lack of development in the rural areas in general. It is with this objective, Dialogue Highway, a registered trust, organised an #ArtistsForFarmers painting workshop in Chandigarh on a Sunday afternoon (May 29, 2016). The basic objective, as I said earlier, was to bring the tragedy of the farm closer to the people in the cities. The event was therefore organised in a public place, and Chandigarh's famed Sukhna lake is an appropriate location considering a huge turnout expected on the weekends. Seventeen artists from Chandigarh/Punjab/Delhi came together for a painting workshop on the theme of farm crisis. They painted for some 4 to 5 hours, and during this time the crowd mingled with them, and a strong contingent of Punjab farmers was at hand as an act of solidarity. The interest and curiosity that ordinary people demonstrated showed that art is perhaps one powerful tool to provide the missing link. The response was overwhelming indeed.
The #ArtistsForFarmers event was the first of its kind in the country. I am very hopeful that it will now become a regular event across the country. Activities like this are very crucial to bridge the gap that exists between rural-urban India. People need to know that how tough it is becoming for the farmer who provides us our basic need -- food. The annadata is in crisis and the nation cannot remain absolved from the kind of economic hardship he is faced with.