Editorial By- Sukhpreet Giani
Fourteen days back farmers from the southern state of Tamil Nadu while protesting in the national capital of India –the New Delhi and held live mice between their teeth to draw the government’s attention to the plight of farmers in their native state. A bizarre kind of protest! That was not the end of it. Last week they took the ante to a new level, by announcing that they would drink urine! These farmers hail from the drought-affected districts the state. They were stopped from doing the noxious act when the Chief Minister of the state intervened-but only after 29 days. The farmers did call of the agitation, but with a word of caution-they would return if their demands are not met. These farmers adopted an unparallel kind of protest for they had reasons too. The response from the government both in the State and the Centre was unparallel too- ignore!
For good one month, the response from the authorities both at Chennai and at Delhi was unparallel too- cold, and indifferent. The protestors have had faced the wrath of drought. It appears to be a drought that India forgot, prompting the farmers to mount unique eye catching protest to put pressure on the government to act. The farmers were demanding ample drought relief funds, pensions for elderly farmer, waiver of loan, better prices for their crops. They have held live mice in their mouths, shaved half their heads, worn women’s traditional saris, slashed their hands, oozed “protest blood”, and conducted mock funerals. The protesters have also eaten food off the road, and stripped near the prime minister’s office in the heart of the city after they were reportedly refused a meeting. Fire-fighters had to rescue a protestor who tied a noose around his neck and tried to hang himself from a tree at the venue. Many of them have been taken to the hospital and treated for acute dehydration. And the most bizarre moment that was enacted was, a man dressed up as PM Narendra Modi was seen beating a farmer with a whip in Delhi. “By ignoring us, it is like Modi trying to beat us out of Delhi,”-the message they sent across the nation.
It has become a behavior of a sort, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had ignored the army veterans for over four months, and same conduct was reserved for the farmers too. Media in India too, had called the protest as “an exotic freak show”. It failed to see the desperation driving it. Authorities and the media should have acknowledged that in the Tamil Nadu, where more than 40 % of the people make their living from farming, lack of water due to poor rainfall has created what is possibly the state’s worst agrarian crisis in decades and the protest throws the spotlight on how drought, farm debts and dysfunctional policies continue to keep farmers a disillusioned lot : agriculture growth has shrunk to a worrying 1.2%, and tens of thousands of farmers are struggling with debt and little income. Above all the politics of vote bank adds to their woes. Loans of farmers in Uttar Pradesh have been waived off as it was one of the poll promises. Since the state now has elected Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party, hence all forces were aligned to make sure that the farmers would get their loans waived off. The same could not happen for the state of Punjab, where Congress came back into power, as it would need the Centre to be generous. The farmers in Maharashtra too are agitating, demanding a similar waiver. And the plight of the farmers from Tamil Nadu was not even addressed. All this amidst Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s target of 2022 to double farm income appears to be just a dream. A report on agrarian distress, prepared by NITI Aayog Member Ramesh Chand, claims more than 50 per cent of farmers would slip to below poverty line in near future if they solely depended on farm income. Authorities didn’t meet the protesting farmer as they knew thatI promise of increasing the income can’t be met, and hence it was better to leave the issue unacknowledged and cite the promise as yet another “jumla”.