People Like Us

This is just a short post- I would like to know the views of my blogger friends on something that has been bothering me for a while now.

From time to time we read about farmers’ suicides, in the Vidarbha area in Maharashtra. But just how huge this problem is, was brought home to me when I read the following news report- Farmer suicides in Vidarbha, have gradually gone down during the last three years, with only 966 cases recorded in 2009.

Almost a thousand suicides in just six districts, comprising the Vidarbha region in Maharashtra! But it appears that it is true- the number of suicides has gone down.

The Vasantrao Naik Sheti Swawalamban Mission has come out with the statistics. There were 1246 suicides in 2007, and 1147 in 2008. So 966 suicides in 2009 is indeed an improvement!

A study published in the Indian Journal of Psychiatry discusses this problem. There are many reasons for the sad plight of the farmers, including indebtedness, rising costs of cultivation, scarcity of irrigation facilities, etc.

However what is most significant, is that the concerned authorities do not seem to be giving much thought to this problem.

‘Pumping extra funds into additional schemes shows that no new idea was applied to solve a situation where existing measures have obviously failed.’

‘Farmers are in severe distress and there is an urgent need for increased public awareness among farmers regarding agricultural policies both financial and those extended by the government. It is a complex task and requires more than just throwing money at it.’

If the government is apathetic towards the problem, the general public is no less so.

Which brings me to the question I want to ask.

One wonders why there is not a nationwide outcry against this situation. It is not that people are insensitive to tragedies or injustices. There have been recent cases where people have protested en masse against injustice, which has resulted in some action being taken.

Then why have there not been large scale protests against farmers’ suicides? Why have there been no candle-light marches or Facebook campaigns?

Is it because it is the urban, educated, middle class, which is most in a position to protest- and the people of this class only protest, if the victim of any injustice is from their own class of society?

Is it because we empathise only with people like us?

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32 thoughts on “People Like Us”

  1. I guess you answered your question… My company buys a lot of cotton from Vidarbha… Thing is we only see what is repeateadly played by the Media… ! and lets face it… the vidarbha farmers are not going to give you a lot of TRP and hence.. sigh… A lot of flak must be taken by Maharashtra Govt though who have failed repeatedly to provide any irrigation facilities and a large part of the state is totally dependant on rain… ! I infact trained in Vidarbha learning cotton trade… and its really sad !

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  2. I agree with Hitchy…The problem is not that we do not care but often we don't come to know of such things because the media doesn't think it is newsworthy…For urban people, farmers are of no interest…

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  3. Between MNC's, World Bank, and genetically engineered seeds, and the truant monsoon, the farmer doesnt stand a chance. We get to read only what the papers and television says. We hear that power for farmers will be free etc, without knowing that most affected farmers dont even own a pumpset. If they do , they dont use electricity, but diesel. Which is again priced out of reach. And this assumes there is water to pump. The government is making a mockery out of handling this problem, the agriculture minister is only bothered about cricket revenues, and holding candles on TV is simpler in metro cities. Ever heard of Barkha Dutt in Yavatmal ?

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  4. Sagarone– Yes, 'their' India and 'our' India seem to be different countries!Hitch writer, Sraboney,– I agree, the media does not think this situation newsworthy- but then they say that they give us what we want to see!Ugich Konitari– The dice certainly seems to be loaded against the poor farmers!. And as you say, we have an agriculture minister who is more interested in cricket than in the plight of the farmers.

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  5. How can there be an outcry which can be heard all across the country if the media is on the side of those whose policies have created and perpetuated this situation? How can one explain the low that Prannoy Roy touched a couple of days back when he said on NDTV that the runaway inflation in food items affected only those in urban areas and actually was benefiting farmers? What can be worse than the fact the agriculture 'vulture' minister who has manifestly looted the whole nation by manipulating prices, particularly of sugarcane, belongs to the Maharashtra, where these suicides have been going on for years? What do we say about the people of Maharashtra who have elected the same lot again? Who is left to lead a protest?

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  6. Yes, as you said, most cannot relate to these situations. Reactions are more likely when it is something like the 26/11 attack or blasts at Sarojini Market – where the better placed lot are left wondering 'it could have been me' – and that is when there is media coverage too.

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  7. Vinodji– You have mentioned all the reasons for the dismal state of agriculture here in Maharashtra. The tragedy is that no one seems to be interested in finding a solution. I remember having discussions when I was in college, about the minimum price for cotton procurement, to be set by the government.So many years later, a comprehensive policy for this, and for sugar pricing, has still not been decided upon!

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  8. India being such a large and diverse nation, its not possible for one to keep abreast of the problems and perils faced by people scattered all over and far away from one. We get our information only from the media. only what they choose to broadcast or publish. There may be some equally grave tragedy happening in some remote corner of an obscure little state, which we may not even hear about like we do about Farmer Suicides. Responsible, non-sensationalist media reporting is the need of the day. Also needed is earnest public participation in (at least) trying to help such unfortunates. Just reading the news and tossing the paper aside is not awareness; in that case, the media might as well not report at all.

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  9. I read an article in 'Outlook' about the farmers' suicides long back. Later, I read about some Maharashtrian farmers spreading awareness on 'organic farming'. They were invited by Karnataka and Tamilnadu farmers too, I read. I thought the situation has improved now, because we haven't seen in TV or read in magazines about the situation. As you say, we relate to urban problems more than the problems faced by villagers, which forms 3/4s of our country. We should feel guilty about it.Here, in Tamilnadu, one Tamil magazine is publishing 'Pasumai Vikatan' (Vikatan Publications are famous here) which covers mostly Tamilnadu's agriculture. They conduct camps in villages to spread awareness and the current Govt. gives importance to the opinion which is published in this magazine, I read. They write about very important problems in Vikatan and Junior Vikatan, which are quite famous here. Is there any magazine in Marathi, like this one? I feel these steps help by spreading via this media, if not the TV media.Today is Pongal, here, which is an important festival for farmers, here. Hope they are all celebrating this festival happily (feel sad after reading your article). Happy Makar Shankraati to you and your family, manju. Let us hope everyone is happy everywhere, on this day.

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  10. Radha Yes, people do react more when they wonder 'it could have been me'. I hope we can learn to empathise with people in different circumstances than we are, too.Lakshya– Yes, that is true that we cannot know about every tragedy taking place.But these suicides are taking place in such large numbers and for so long! As you say, responsible media reporting is certainly necessary.

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  11. Sandhya– As per the report I mentioned, the situation has improved marginally.Yes there is increasing awareness about organic farming. It is less costly and reduces dependency on MNCs (no need to buy seeds from them).Here is a link to information about organic farming.

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  12. In present day situation-it is only the media which can reach millions of homes with one switch.Media has it's own priorities—this issue is not.I am surprised that you even trust the figures of farmers suicide.It is even a shame that a country which had agriculture as it's base,is discussing farmer suicide and not a solution.Crores of Rs are being siphoned out of various schemes for the farmers-but the money never reaches them.No NGO will take up this cause because they only want Govt aid and TV presence.Let us not live in hopes only.Did you read my post" candles for who"?

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  13. Chowlaji– It is true that we cannot always trust the statistics given by the government, but the actual figures are likey to be even larger than they state, not less!I don't think I have read the post that you mention. I shall read it now…

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  14. Much of these problems can be traced to the so-called agricultural revolution in India some 40 years back.The marginalisation of the farmer has continued through the years.Wrong agricultural practices, depending on new seeds to be bought every year, adoption of expensive fertilisers and chemicals, water intensive techniques has meant that these farmers have to depend on loans / savings to begin the new crop season.Over the years this burden has accumulated and with the environment degradation, they have lost confidence and are mentally and emotionally fragile.Like the proverbial straw on the camels back, these farmers just snap. Suicide is a quick way out.To us in Mumbai and elsewhere, this is just a news item. We do not understand their problems and it does not matter.Efforts have to be made to start from rectifying the faulty techniques and also boosting their mental strength so that they have a will to survive and prosper.

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  15. I always thought about this.. that the farmers are never given a proper due…once the nation started move towards the globalisation path the important to agriculture and farmers reduced to really negligible… I don't know whether our present generation will develop a software that will give food…

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  16. Congratulations.. missed this wonderful post of yours…India will soon lag behind one more basic infrastructure.. i.e food if our farmers are not given the respect that they deserve…it is not just the great companies that have found their way to Fortune 500 that is sutaining it's growth, but the individual farmers too.. who continue to plough on even when the returns are not feasible…

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  17. You are right. Even the media plays up urban suicides (the recent spate of student/youth suicides in Mumbai, for eg.) as a concern/sympathy/worrying issue, while farmers' suicide is more often a mere statistic pulled out before the elections to highlight the failure of the govt.

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  18. when there is nylon,silk, polyster acrylic, rubber and leather to wear why cotton ? ! and on another note most agricultural land is rounded up for real estate, hotels, tourist resorts – that might be the story – may be the politicians are killing the farmers and grabbing the land — and saying no irrigation.i wear mostly cotton ( 98% of the times ) and you will be surprised all that i buy here in the US is "made in india" – and i would never get to buy this lovely stuff in india, because it is not sold in the market !!

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  19. vinod, i was talking to a friend who is from rural maharashtra. sharad pawar is doing a lot of charity work and the locals are impressed ! and that's the reason that he is getting elected – And more over sharad pawar is also a local goonda, nobody dare stand against him ! Sharad pawar has bull dozed every farmer

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  20. hitch writer, Sraboney,– Thank you! Mavin– That is the tragedy- that we in the cities do not understand the farmers' problems and do not care.No one bothers to verify whether the new technology actually increases production and the income of the farmers, or just helps MNCs sell their GM seeds.Kanagu– Unfortunately software cannot produce food- at least not yet!

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  21. Happy Kitten– That agriculture and the farmers also contribute to India's development, is certainly something we need to remember!Sucharita– Yes, suicides of farmers is just a statistic to use in the game of election politics!Anrosh– That is an angle I had not thought of- that the politicians might to be out to grab the farmers' land. One hopes not, though- what short-sightedness on their part it would be!

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  22. I have lived in Vidarbha and seen how neglected that part is. Our politicians are hardly bothered about them…they have money to spend on Sukhoi flight, making statues and then making special force to protect them, time to bother about whether marathi language is being spoken by taxi drivers etc etc….poor farmers are not worth thinking about.

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  23. Even 966 is a large number!There's 'radio silence' in the electronic media about their plight, either because the urban media professionals find it difficult to relate to the rural populace unless there's a scandal associated or they do not find time off from the news 'entertainment' they peddle day in and day out.Farmer Suicides is a scandal, isn't it?

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  24. Antarman– Yes, that is the saddest part- that none who could do something about the plight of the farmers, care. They are busy with politics…Anil P– I agree. It is a scandal. As you have said- the media does not take up this issue, for various reasons…

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  25. The reality of today is that we are living in our own bubble and unless we come across such instances we usually choose to ignore them like they don't exist.The media plays an important role in reporting such cases, but off-late they indulge in sensationalism instead of reporting real causes.Its a sad picture and I guess, we have to take the blame for the electing the same government which did nothing to improve the situation

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  26. The Survivor– Welcome here!I agree, we are to blame- though it's also true that there is not much to choose between the various candidates standing for election…

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