Friday, February 17, 2012

Need to depoliticise suicides in countryside

Sankar Ray/Kolkata

The politicisation destroys the spirit of being in unison to combat any farm crisis

The spat between the West Bengal Governor Mayankote Kelath Narayanan and the chief minister Mamata Banerjee on farmer suicides in the state is no more a hush-hush affair. An intrepid fighter-turned-CM refuses to call these suicides as committed by farmers excepting one. She has termed this as a concocted matter, used by the Opposition — meaning the Communist Party of India (CPI-M) - to malign her newly formed government under the All India Trinamool Congress (AITC) of which she is the chairperson. She has pulled up the Indian National Congress (INC), ally of AITC in the state ministry. But Narayanan, formerly a very senior IPS officer and ex-National Security Advisor to the Prime Minister in a stark contrast to the CM's denial on the same day said that "farmers' suicides were taking place and some of the peasants were debt ridden". In other words, the head of state smells a threat to food security unlike the state's chief administrator.
Politicisation of suicide is not desirable as politicization aggravates the bad blood and destroys the spirit of being in unison to combat any crisis. Let's forget political entities like the CPI(M), AICP, INC, Communist Party of India (CPI) and instead go straight into the contentious and thorny issue. Rephrasing famous lines of a very well-known poet of Bengali literature, Kazi Nazrul Islam who wrote that when a boat capsizes, one should not ask whether the drowning man is a Hindu or Muslim, one might write " Why ask he is farmer or non-farmer?/ Ask why do those who kill themselves?". Those - already 24 in less than eight months - were rural people.
Similarly, it's mischievous to try to drive a tendentious point home that these suicides take place after the change of government. This again is a political point which needs to be de-politicised first. Politicisation always misleads common and innocent people. Nor is there any point in booing and hooting against the Opposition saying that over 1000 residents of tea estates in north Bengal - mostly tea estate workers - died of hunger, some having committed suicide in less than ten years during the previous regime. If suicides in tea estates are pitted against recent suicides in muffasil areas - mostly in the district of Burdwan , one of the largest granaries on the state, it will end it fruitless blame game only.
Social issues have a much greater primacy than political ones, although these are primarily social phenomena which politicians try to cash in on for short-term gains. Farmer suicide as a phenomenon is nothing new in India. But over 95 per cent of peasant suicides until 2010 were by those who raised cash crops and failed to get remunerative prices. The Center for Human Rights and Global Justice (CHRGJ) at New York University School of Law, set up in 2002, brought out a major study- Every Thirty Minutes Farmer Suicides, Human Rights and Agrarian Crisis in India - states at the outset that during the last 16 years, ended 2009, there happened "the largest wave of recorded suicides in human history". Indirectly, the statement is a spanner aimed at the neo-liberal financial reform, imposed by the two largest international financial institutions, World Bank and International Monetary Fund. Moreover, the caption states, it's an agrarian crisis, not agricultural. In other words, the fault lines relate to land tenure or lopsided production relations in agriculture.
The CHRGI study makes no bones of the reality that "a great number of those affected are cash crop farmers, and cotton farmers in particular. In 2009 alone, the most recent year for which official figures are available, 17,638 farmers committed suicide-that's one farmer every 30 minutes.". But actual self-assassinations might have been more, the study points out. "While striking on their own, these figures considerably underestimate the actual number of farmer suicides taking place. Women, for example, are often excluded from farmer suicide statistics because most do not have title to land-a common prerequisite for being recognized as a farmer in official statistics and programs", it observed (Italics added).
The CHRGI expresses concern about violations of human rights of Indian farmers and of the estimated 1.5 million surviving family members, afflicted by the farmer suicide crisis to date. "Millions more continue to face the very problems that have driven so many to take their lives. The Report seeks to amplify the many voices calling on the Indian government to act now to put an end to this unmitigated disaster. Farmers in the western state of Maharashtra, for example, now address their suicide notes to the President and Prime Minister, in the hopes that their deaths may force the Indian government to remedy the conditions that have led so many farmers to take their own lives.
Ramchandra Raut, who committed suicide in 2010, even went to the trouble of purchasing expensive official stamp paper and-in laying out the reasons for his despair to this official audience-cited two years of successive crop failure and harassment by bank employees attempting to recover his loans."
Undeniably, those peasants and their dependants "are among the victims of India's longstanding agrarian crisis. Economic reforms and the opening of Indian agriculture to the global market over the past two decades have increased costs, while reducing yields and profits for many farmers, to the point of great financial and emotional distress. As a result, smallholder farmers are often trapped in a cycle of debt.
During a bad year, money from the sale of the cotton crop might not cover even the initial cost of the inputs, let alone suffice to pay the usurious interest on loans or provide adequate food or necessities for the family.
Often the only way out is to take on more loans and buy more inputs, which in turn can lead to even greater debt. Indebtedness is a major and proximate cause of farmer suicides in India. Many farmers, ironically, take their lives by injecting the very pesticide they went into debt to purchase."
Even if there was a single suicide in West Bengal - taking Mamata Banerjee's point for granted - and ignore the means of livelihood of other self-killers, a serious issue crops up. The farmer killed himself for not getting remunerative price of paddy, not cash crop.
Not even 30 per cent of targeted procurement of 200,000 tonnes could be reached even after a month after the deadline. This has not happened in any other state so far.
Is agriculture as a profession under threat? What will the apologists of free market say about this.

No comments:

Post a Comment