The Prime Minister’s
visit to the cotton belt of Vidarbha in early July was a big hoax for the cotton
growing farmers of the area. The so-called package had virtually nothing for the
affected farmers and so it was quite natural the number of suicides have in fact
gone up after his visit. Though crores were spent for this show-piece visit the
outcome was nothing. For the meeting with a select 35 farmers at Waifad in
Wardha district, a special helipad was built; massive security was put in place
in every corner of the village and enroute, and he was accompanied with an
entourage of officials and politicians.
deaths continue at an even faster rate. Rural distress is increasing. While the
PM’s ‘package’ will only be a boon to the big farmer, the seed company, the
textile magnates, the banks and moneylenders.
The major amount of
the ‘package’ of Rs.3,750 crores comprised Rs.2,177 crores for 82 major and 442
minor irrigation works. This was anyhow part of existing programmes and was
nothing new. Anyhow, even if implemented, it would only irrigate a further 3% of
the area where the irrigated land at present adds up to a mere 11%. But while
supposedly giving this benefit the PM was totally silent on the Maharashtra
Water Resources Regulatory Authority Act, 2005 which puts irrigation beyond the
reach of all except corporate farmers. It compels farmers to use drip irrigation
and could raise irrigation costs by thousands of rupees per acre. Those unable
to pay the huge hikes in the offing could be fined of up to ten times the new
charges. So what is the purpose of even this limited irrigation for the poor and
middle peasants with such an Act in place?
Then, another part of
the package is Rs.180 crores for "seed replacement". This is nothing but a gift
to the multinational Monsanto whose Bt cotton seeds badly failed in Vidarbha.
All that the package
really gives is a Rs.712 crore waiver on the interest on bank loans. But this
too will go primarily to the rich farmers to whom the bulk of the institutional
loans go to; the poor being primarily dependent on the moneylenders.
all the fanfare, in the PM’s package there was little for the poor farmer, but
it was, in essence, yet another step to push commercialization of agriculture in
the interests of the big TNCs and compradors. In addition Rs.50 lakhs has been
given to each of the six collectors of the region for immediate relief. One
knows how such funds are primarily diverted to the corrupt officials.
Not even a word was
mentioned on raising the price of cotton which was drastically reduced by Rs.500
per quintal last year. Even when the price was Rs.2,200 per quintal farmers were
in deep distress; yet the Maharashtra government further reduced the price to
Rs1,700 per quintal last year. When prices of all commodities are going up this
reduction has been the major cause in the increased spurt in suicides in the
current year. Not only that, there was no word from the PM to reverse the
decision that now allows big corporations to freely purchase the cotton. Prices
will be steadily pushed down by the powerful cartels.
In addition there was
no waiver on the actual bank loans (not to mention those of the moneylender),
80% of which are up to a mere Rs.25,000. If these small loans to banks were
written off it would have cost a mere Rs.1,200 crores which is insignificant
compared to the massive amounts written off to big business in the name of NPAs
(non-performing assets), and the huge subsidies given to seed companies. While
60% of the land has switched to Bt cotton, the use of pesticides has not
reduced, in fact there has been an increase. And with this years floods a large
part of the high-priced seeds have been washed away adding to the farmer’s woes.
So, the farmers are
pushed deeper into the clutches of the rapacious moneylenders. Sahibrao Adhao in
his suicide note profiles the state of moneylending in this belt. He says,
here there is no mortgage. You just give the moneylender a straight deed of sale
for your land. In theory, he returns the land when you pay up. In truth, he
holds on to it even after you have paid up. In fact, he demands more money.
When he was alive he made a police complaint against the moneylender for cutting
down the trees on his land. The police arrested him for trying to stop the
moneylender from cutting trees on land grabbed from him.
Till now in the last
one year about 1,000 farmers have committed suicide in the six districts of
Vidarbha. The number of suicides since the PM left Vidarbha on July 1) well past the
100 mark. Before his visit, 101 farmers took their lives in 49 days. The same
number killed themselves in 33 days after the visit ended. That is, the rate of
suicides rose from around two a day to over three each day. One in every eight
hours!! This means that July 2006 saw an eight-fold increase compared to the
same period last year. But, these are the understated official government
figures; the actual deaths would be much higher.
In this season as
pesticide spraying starts and they lie in the hands of the farmer and the debts
continue to mount the number of suicides can only go up further. One must
remember that the actual suicides are only the tip of the iceberg. Lakhs and
lakhs would be in a similar situation but would struggle somehow to stay alive
and not take the fatal step.
Meanwhile as we go to
the press it is reported that even with the interest waiver the banks are not
giving new loans as they are well aware that with the low price of cotton the
farmers will not be able to repay the loan any way. The tragedy is that, except
for a few journalists, the bulk of the media and intellectuals are silent on
this horrifying tragedy unfolding in rural India. If in just one region there
have been 1,000 suicides the figure in the whole country could well be imagined.
The figure of the number of those killed in so-called Naxalite violence in the
last one year is, according to official figures, about 500 in the last year — a
small fraction of those who died by suicides. But the government and the media
(also some intellectuals) make a hue and cry about it as those killed are often
the pillars of the establishment or their henchmen (whether police, informers,
lumpens, contractors, or village elite who have been ousted from their power
base), while those who go for suicide are the helpless poverty stricken rural
masses. A Salwa Judum ‘activist’ has been given a high-flying label by Mahendra
Karma of being a tribal revolt (though actual a lumpen or an agent of the ousted
village elder), while a Rahate in village Kavita of Amravati district, who
committed suicide is a non-entity.
The cause of the
suicides is basically hopelessness of the poverty stricken masses. They see no
way out of their spiraling debt. They see no future for their children except to
be born into debt and die in greater debt. It is this horrifying scenario that
is pushing many a farmer to the brink. But if Naxalites were present they would
immediately call for the abolishment of all the debt to both the banks and the
moneylenders. They would build their armed forces to beat back the hoodlums of
the banks/moneylenders who attempt to seize their property with the assistance
of the police. There will be deaths in the process but the villagers will
witness a new awakening of the possibility of a better future, if not for
themselves, at least for their children. The deaths here will have a meaning, as
it will give birth to a new hope, a new future. It would then be ridiculous to
cry over the deaths of the rapacious moneylender or his ‘poor’ (lumpen) henchmen
and police/SRP associates. Thousands of lives will be saved from suicides.
The birth pangs of
any new society are indeed painful; and no amount of modern technology can do
away with the pain. The Naxalites would put forward the following immediate
demands: abolish all the debt of the poor and middle farmers, ban Bt cotton
and kick Monsanto out of the country and punish their agents here; increase the
subsidy to agriculture and raise the price of cotton to Rs.3,000 per quintal;
reduce the prices of inputs; punish the moneylenders, corrupt traders, and their
rapacious touts; reverse the decision to privatize sale of cotton; and
compensate the small and middle farmers for the losses they have faced.
In the long term the
Maoists would demand: thorough-going land reforms and the redistribution of
land along the lines of "land to the tiller"; with only 11% of the land
irrigated, undertake massive irrigation works (focusing primarily on small
projects); undertake projects for re-forestation, water conservation and water
harvesting; encourage organic farming suited to people’s needs and not that of
the market; improve health care which has reached terrible proportions today;
and organise people’s committees and the entire masses so that the people can
run their own lives with a new confidence.
No doubt if the
Maoists were to enter the region and organise the masses along these demands
they would have to face the bullets of the state for which they would have to
defend themselves with their own people’s army. But what is the alternative? Is
there any ‘peaceful’ answer? Or should the mass suicides continue, no doubt