Jul 27, 2016

'Jai Jawan, Mar Kisan' is a potentially fatal paradox

When Madhya Pradesh Home Minister Bupendra Singh made a bizarre statement in the State Assembly the other day stating in a written reply that some of the 418 farmers who committed suicide in the past three years were “possessed by ghosts”, he transcended all limits of insensitivity.

The statement itself led to a round of laughter with a senior BJP member Babulal Gaur wondering whether this was the primary idea behind the proposal for setting up a ‘department for happiness’.

Whatever be the reason, the tactless remark only reflects at the casualness with which political leaders, and regretfully most of them are from the ruling BJP, treat farmer suicides. It certainly shocks me beyond belief when I see a complete indifference towards the massive spate of farmer suicides sweeping the country. With more than 315,000 suicides in the past 20 years it is nothing short of a serial death dance being enacted on the farm. In fact, in lot many ways it is a political statement being made by farmers as an expression of their anger against the terrible agrarian crisis that continues to prevail. But unfortunately the political message that dying farmers’ hope they are leaving behind has failed to stir the nation’s collective consciousness. 

I recall when a Maharashtra BJP Member of Parliament Sanjay Dhotre had earlier said: Let the farmers fend for themselves. If crops fail they will figure out what to do. And, if they are dying, let them die …Those who can afford farming will do it, others will not do it.” Union Minister Nitin Gadkari too had made a shocking statement when in an obvious reference to the lack of irrigation he said he watered his plants in his bungalow in New Delhi with his own urine. I don’t know whether he was expecting farmers to spend the entire time urinating the crop fields like wheat or sugarcane but his statement alone showed how disconnected he was from the harsh ground realties.

Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan Singh too earned the public ire when he made a statement sometimes back ascribing failure in love to be among the several reasons for farmer suicides. Well, let’s accept it. Farmers too suffer failed marriages and failed love affairs. A farmer is also a human being. He also faces the same traumas of failed marriages, broken love affairs, eloped partners, impotency and many a times he is also forced to end his life for social and personal reasons, but to simply trivialize a massive human tragedy is indicative of the apathy with which the farm tragedy is viewed. Nothing can be more tragic to know that every hour two farmers take their own life somewhere in the country.

While nothing so far has even remotely managed to stem the tide of farmer suicides, with Maharashtra Agriculture Minister Eknath Khadse even acknowledging that his government had no solution, I applaud the former Defence Minister A K Anthony for the way he reacted to the news of suicides by Army soldiers. Alarmed by the rising suicides in the Armed forces, he called for a brainstorming session with three vice chief of services, the Defence Secretary and the head of the Defence Institute of Psychological Research (DIPR) to find out the reasons and take measures to stop the increasing suicidal tendency among the lower ranks. This was in 2012.

Between 2003 and 2012, nearly 1,000 soldiers had committed suicide. On the contrary, between 1995 and 2011, as stated in Parliament by the then Minister of State for Agriculture, Harish Rawat, as many as 290,470 farmers had taken the fatal route. This means, about 17,000 farmers were dying on an average every year. While suicide by 100 soldiers a year had prompted the Defence Minister to act, 17,000 suicides by farmers had failed to evoke any emergency response from the Ministry of Agriculture. Sadly, the reality is that farmers can go on dying, no one cares. These deaths mean nothing except they add onto statistics. #

Source: 'Jai Jawan, Mar Kisan' is a potentially fatal paradox. New Indian Express, July 24, 2016.

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