Sunday, March 23, 2008

Story 4: The Art of starving a farmer

“Stand united! Together we will, alone we fall!”
The cry of a 45 year old farmer echoed through the dusty lanes of Bhagawati. Bhagawati was a dusty village, a juicy sugarcane belt. The land was fertile. Mother Nature wasn’t cruel this year. There was ample water for irrigation. Farmers expected good crop and handsome returns. But then the unexpected happened. The fallout, 30 farmers committed suicide. The local media was paid for underplaying the deaths. An independent media made a sensational news item about the deaths, until the top of a model came off on a ramp in a fashion show. And all the country discussed was if the stripping was intentional or an accident - farmers forgotten!

But Bhagawati couldn’t forget her children in a day. The children who tilled her, sowed saplings and watered them. 30 farmers, 30 pyres. There was a cloud of thick dark smoke from the cremation ground that shrouded the sky. The women wailed loudly. Children looked dazed. The pandit chanted holy verses for the departed souls and to bring back peace to the household. None of the 30 families could pay the pandit.
“I’d be reborn a bull, if a take a dime from you,” he said after performing the ritual.
He repeated the dialogue 30 times after performing the rites for the departed souls in 30 houses.

The wails died down. Children went to sleep with hungry stomachs. Women folk tried to come to terms with the new void in their lives. But the 45 year old farmer kept screaming through the night.
“We must fight for justice! Sleep not my brothers, wake up!”
Kalu Ram’s emotional outbursts were perceived as hysteric cries of anguish after losing two members of his family.
It was an uneasy long night that rolled by slowly.

Next day, the local minister arrived and promised the families of the dead farmer, Rupees One lakh each. It is an unofficial compensation scale. Be it railway accidents or distress suicides. Just like tax slabs, there are compensation slabs. If the dead person is extremely poor, say a rag picker or begger, his family is entitled to tons of assurances. A low income daily wage earner like a construction worker or rickshaw puller, if his family is lucky can get a few thousands. Farmer who commit suicides owing to policies injuring the interests are entitled Rupees One lakh compensation. In case of mass suicides, big packages and ambitions poverty alleviation schemes are launched with tremendous fanfare. Many millions of public funds are announced for relief. But the transmission loss from the Government kitty, via different political hands is significant. Many times it does not reach the victim.

The very much sidelined and ignored Kalu Ram, shot to fame when he made a big ball of cow shit lying on the road and threw it at the Agriculture minister consoling the relatives of the dead farmers. The green ball of cow shit flew like a missile, piercing the special security cover provided to the minister. Kalu received no regular training, but his contempt for the wolf in sheep’s clothing made his throw accurate – much better than Indian shot put nominee to the Olympics.

Kalu disappeared into the crowd of onlookers. There was chaos. The minister was left shocked and smelly. The cops made more effort to nab Kalu, than they would to nab a terrorist. But they failed. The minister wiped the smear off his face and continued with his assurances and sympathies. When the minister, his security ring, police and media men left the village, it was gloom again. There was no grain in the house. Poverty and more poverty. Nothing changed. And Kalu became a hero overnight!

Hungry people came to listen to him. Debt ridden people came to listen to him. People who couldn’t stand the pain of hearing their children cry for food came to him. Farmers who have been deceived by fake seeds and fertilizer manufacturing companies came to listen to Kalu. People who wanted to commit suicide came to listen to him for one last time. Kalu showed them no fake assurances. He promised no miracles. He asked them to understand their rights.

The 30 men who committed suicides were forgotten by everyone. Only their families remembered them. They would soon be forgotten as the weaklings who couldn’t stand the struggle of life. The faster they faded away from memory of people, the better for the political leaders. Why did they kill themselves like whales that voluntarily walk out of the mighty ocean into the lap of death? Was death sweeter than the bonds of life? For the 30 men, it was. All the men owned chunks of fertile lands. And when the sugar mill asked them to grow sugarcane, the farmers unwittingly obliged. The sugar mill owner even provided them saplings free of cost. And the farmers were delighted at the good gesture. But at harvest time, the mill owners refused to buy their sugarcane.
“It wasn’t sweet enough and was unfit for extracting sugar,” complained the mill owners.
But the farmers contended that the saplings were provided by the mill owners and they had done nothing wrong. But their pleas fell to deaf ears. The farmers owed money to lenders. Their crops rotted in the fields. Not a grain to feed the hungry mouths at home. The sugar mill owner procured sugarcane from another village. And Bhagawati starved. Then came the suicides. Then Bhagawati mourned.

Life limped back to normalcy. But Kalu didn’t want people to forget it so soon. And when he spoke people listened.
“The Prime Minister announced a relief package of Crores of Rupees. But how many of us have seen One dime? When elephant dies, vultures celebrate. When farmers die, the greedy politicians scramble for spoils. This country is yours. Everybody has a share in the wealth of the nation. Get up and fight for your share.”

“Yield not to unmanliness,” instructed Lord Krishna to Arjuna, “Fight the battle for Dharma!”
Kalu Ram’s favorite quotes were from Bhagawat Gita.
“The politicians divide you. They divide you on the basis of religion, caste, creed and color. But Lord Krishna says in Gita, ‘I am the Prana or life form in every being. Be it an elephant, dog, bird or a human. I’m in every entity!’ The same God in me, is in you. The same God in me, is in my neighbor. The same God in me, is in my enemy. God is in good. God is in evil.”

With elections round the corner, the political parties did not like Kalu Ram’s integrating speeches. He was eroding their vote banks. Different political parties had divided the nation in line with the erstwhile British divide and rule policy. And Bhagawati was not spared either.

Political party A promised reservations in jobs for all religious minorities.
Political party B created a new caste and branded them the most deprived section of the society and promised free college education for them.
Political party C declared before election that no man should die of hunger and promised free food to people who voted for them.
Political party D announced that they will pressurize all private companies to enforce job reservations of upto 50% for women alone. Ironically, political party D had no women leaders at the helm!

The villagers who had lived in harmony so long were suddenly ripped apart. The majority community felt cheated as minorities were promised special job reservations. Castes and sub-castes in all religions locked horns with each other. Every section of the society felt the other section was trying to have an unfair advantage over the other nation’s resources. They threw stones at each other. Neighbors did not speak to one another. There was fear. There was anger. People hated one another.

But Kalu Ram wouldn’t allow his village to be torn apart.
“Do not kill each other! These are just political gimmicks. Don’t listen to them. They want only your votes. They don’t care for you! They are liars.”
People stopped. People listened. Some understood. Others blinked. Maybe Kalu Ram was right. What did these politicians do for us? What help did the family of 30 farmers get from the politicians? They’re all the same. They fool us and walk away with our votes.

The political parties campaigning in Bhagawati were terrified at the dwindling number of party workers. They announced Chicken biryani and liquor to those who attended their meetings. This offer managed to increase the participants who had lost interest. Kalu Ram’s growing popularity irked the parties competing the elections.
“Don’t vote for parties that divide the nation. Vote for leaders who promise to work for the people. If they promise reservations in jobs and colleges, they’re liars. If they promise schemes, freebies and money, they’re liars,” chanted Kallu Ram.

Then Kallu Ram gave list of demands of the poor farmers.
“Which political party cares for the farmers? Vote for the party that
Does not acquire agricultural land or a poor man’s livelihood for building big companies.
Vote only for parties that do not import food grains from foreign countries.
Oil, wheat, rice, sugar - government buys from other countries at exorbitant costs. It should give our farmers, the same price.
Our farmers harvest food grains that are like gold. But look at the Australian wheat that is fit for cattle feed that we have purchased.
Why import food grains for controlling inflation? Why not give subsidies to our own farmers?
Vote for politicians who have improved irrigation facilities for the farmers.
Vote for politicians who promise 24 hours electricity.
Wake up! Do not die like a coward. Demand your share in the prosperity of the nation. Let not their fake promises blind your eyes. Stand united! Divided we fall!”

The political parties knew it was impossible to meet all the demands of the farmers. Political parties that formed the government had to make money when in office. The British plundered enormous wealth from India to Britain. Since independence, many of our own politicians are looting the country’s wealth and depositing them in foreign banks. What a surprise it must be for the British! Their hope one day, they can go lead a royal life with all the ill-gotten money. But who has ever lived happily with the money of sin? But the political parties weren’t bothered. They must silence Kalu Ram. He was getting very popular.
“How can we stop imports? We get lots of commissions and kickbacks! Which other country will buy Australian cattle feed at an exorbitant price? Our Indians can eat anything. They wont complain! The more we import, the more commissions we get. After all we need money for elections!” the politicians agreed in unison.

Kalu Ram’s popularity was growing by the day. People stopped fighting with one another. They wanted Government to spend money and protect its farmers. They didn’t want loan waivers but good irrigation facilities and good price for their produce. The politicians knew that they’ll have to spend if they agreed to their demands. They couldn’t import and make fast kickbacks for substandard pesticide ridden products. They hatched a plot.

The body of a Muslim youth with his head smashed was found near a well. At the same time elsewhere in Bhagawati, a poor girl was murdered with a knife and thrown in an open farm. The newspapers and media screamed that some people murdered a Muslim and a low caste girl. They were not ordinary humans but representatives of their caste and religion. Groups of angry Muslim mobs came down rampaging the streets. The people belonging to the dead girl’s caste thronged the streets and burnt buses. People killed people. Bhagawati forgot the woes of farmers. Bhagawati forgot Kalu Ram. Bhagawati burnt. Little children cried out of fear. Women scuttled for refuge. But the angry protestors burnt everything on their way.

The next morning there was an uneasy silence in Bhagawati. The village was divided. People carried hatred in their hearts. They forgot what Lord Krishna said, ‘I am the Prana or life form in every being. Be it an elephant, dog, bird or a human. I’m in every entity!’
People voted for people of their caste and religion. Many did not vote. There was mud slinging. And a coalition government with representatives from all parties was formed. None of the items on Kalu Ram’s demand list for farmers was met. Kalu Ram was forgotten.

One day a half decomposed body of a middle aged man was found near the water canal. There were bullet injuries on his body. There were rumors that it was Kalu Ram. But the police claimed it was the body of a dacoit who tried to escape from jail. But Kalu was no where to be seen.

No comments: