Thursday, February 10, 2011
P Sainath and the Faremer Suicide Debate
I have always admired the writings of Shri P Sainath, a distinguished journalist and an internationally acclaimed critic of Indian social and economic policies. His book Everbody Loves a Good Drought is a scathing indictment of the policies initiated and implemented at the block level both by the State and Central Government. He is able to show that the elected representatives of the people make money out of the misery people face and the Governments are only colluding with the rich and the powerful. We have seen pictures of rotting grain in the godowns forcing the Supreme Court to order its distribution. Sainath is a very good speaker and he was in a local University the other day and I happened to listen his key note address to an International Seminar on Farmers's Suicides in India. Sainath was perhaps too politie to point out the irony in the very topic of the seminar.
Being a student of History, an MA from JNU, New Delhi, Sainath began by pointing out that in Western Maharashtra in the late nineteenth century, farmers were out protesing against the agrarian policies that were pursued by the then British Government. Now in the 21st century they are committing suicide in large numbers. Sainath is a master both of statistics and rhetoric and he deployed both with devastating effect. At a time when according to the Census figures, the farmring population is showing signs of decline, the number of suicides is increasing. Hearing Shri P Sainath remined me of the great Victorian public figure and chronicler, Digby who wrote a 2 volume book on the Great Famine of 1877-79. Trenchent criticism without any alowance for intellectual sloppiness.
Sainath blames the Government policies for the present crisis. He draws attention to the fact that Aurangabad which has the largest number of Mercedes Benz cars, located in the very heart of darkness as it were, people are able to get State Bank of India loans for 7% while farmers get koans fopr 12.5%, a rate that is unsustainable as far as farm income is concerned. He also drew attention to the fact that farm subsidies in the form of electricity, fertilizer and seed, hels only the rich farmer and the irony is that the farmers with around 10 acres of land end up killing themselves because the rural credit mechnism has broken down. Sainath mentioned the tragic incident of a farmer in Vidhrbaha who killed himself with pestticides bought on loan.
I was very happy that a critic of government policies was invited and I hope the students of the University learn something from such personalities. In India all too often educational institutions paly it safe and invite sarkari intellectuals who give bland and insipid analysis of the situation. Sainath, like William Digby is a socially motivated critic and he said very poignantly that mothers in Western Maharashtra want double rations for the mid day meal progrm because the child has staved for two days over the weekend. A very moving statement.
Liberal critics have termed the farmer suicide and the increasing numbers as state genocide. Though Sainath did not use this term, it can be said that the wrong policies forced down the rural economy has led to such a situation. Sainath says that as India is increasing its GDP together with the rising income the rate of farmer suicide is also increasing. Gujarat under Narendar Modi seems to have devised policies that are more successful as that state has not withessed the same rash of suicides. The reasons must be probed and lessons drawn.