Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Framing Farmers

The last week saw me in the middle of Maharashtra, the hinderland as its called. For the urban me it was an eye opener into the lives of farmers, who for the longest time had been labelled as the bechara farmer in my world view. Hardly true as one was to find out.

A distance of 45 km from Pune, we made our first stop. A huge bungalow loomed in front of us and we were asked to sit in the drawing room. Water was bought to us in huge lotas of steel as we made ourselves comfy for a long chat..

Astounding it was, farmers are no longer desperate or lost. Of the 10 odd farmers visited in the area, we saw each having a motor cycle, some had cars, computers hogged the drawing rooms and there was a sense of ambition a sense of achivement and a happiness towards the next few years.

Life was good.

This is only a reflection of one state, where from a mid sized farmer to a large farmer, prosperity had come knocking on the door steps. 4 years is all it had taken for the world view to change, and the causes... populism governance, which had in a double whammy lifted the entire population to another level all together

Firstly, people below the poverty line were ensured access to wheat at Rs 2 a kg, this along with other subsidies, minimum wages and access to accommodation had elevated the strata of labourers. Guaranteed basic food, they no longer needed to wilt hours away on local farms, at the mercy of the bigger farmers and were free to choose. Choose where to work, for how much.

the farmers, themselves were now getting huge loan sops. Interest free loans till rs. 50,000, wavier of electricity dues and banks that were stepping into the hinterland to make credit a non feared medium of investment. Change was here to stay.

This change has unleashed aspirations. Youth, are keen to go out, seek more do more. Interestingly, the youth can be loosely divided into two segments, one that sees the value of being in a city, the amenities that it gets and prefer the stableness of a job to the vagaries of a farmers life. The other however, sees the rat like existence that a city offers them and choose, very consciously to be content and a master of their own moods that a rat in the race. Of the former countless exist of the latter there are few. The commonality between both is the disdain towards agriculture. Its something someone else should be doing.

For a city dweller like me, it got me to appreciate the number of decisions that are to be made while sowing a crop of cane vs cotton. Should I choose to grow ginger or maybe stick to cabbage.. the sheer abundance of veggies on display when I step into the local food market ... is a disguise. The blood red tomatoes, the cheerful carrots and the granddad like potatoes never really tell us of the hidden lives concealed below the skin.

India is moving out of its villages. Question is where will it move to?