Height of Callousness!

Last Sunday Union textiles minister Shanker Singh Vaghela and Vilas Rao Deshmukh showed the height of callousness. The ‘enlightened’ brain of Vaghela came up with a ‘discovery’ that the ‘laziness’ of Vidharba farmers is the reason for the agrarian crisis that has claimed the lives of more than 1500 farmers even by official count.

Mr. Vaghela said, “There are power cuts in Gujarat and Maharashtra. The farmers in Gujarat, just like farmers here, chew tobacco but after that they go to work on fields but the farmers here [in Vidharbha] sit idly. What can the government do in this situation? You must try and emulate the farmers of Gujarat.” at the Cotton broker’s conference held in Akola. Further, he advised the farmers of Maharashtra to go to Gujarat and see for themselves the practice there. “While flying to Akola [in a helicopter], I did not see a single farmer working on his field,” Mr. Vaghela went on. His awe-inspiring remarks shows not the ignorance but a sheer coldness which might have trickled down from their master’s brain, World Bank.

Telegraph literally slapped Vaghela in his face. Excerpts from the article titled, ‘Seeds of Death’ follow.

“It is the farmers’ fault that they kill themselves in their hundreds in Maharashtra ― they chew tobacco and sit around. It is refreshing to have such a novel thesis issuing from the Union textile minister himself. Shankersinh Vaghela offered as counterpoint the example of Gujarat’s farmers ― they work hard after having chewed their tobacco. His thesis comes close to an earlier ‘scientific’ report on the suicide of farmers in Karnataka, which claimed that alcoholism was the ill that plagued suicidal farmers in that state. Other factors, such as high-priced pesticides, debt, crop failures and enforced monoculture were issues that were noticed in the report but found to be irrelevant in the main.”

“If everything is the farmers’ fault, why did the prime minister encourage them in their laziness by offering the distressed farmers of Vidarbha a relief package of Rs 3,750 crore in July 2006? Obviously the money has not helped, either because it has not got to where it is most needed, or because it is not really the solution: 1,500 farmers have died by their own hand between July 2006 and May this year.”

“The root of the problem is controversial: it has to do with the conditions of globalized trade and the situation of the small Indian farmer. The law against saving seeds, forcing the farmer to buy seeds supplied by corporations every year, the insistence on monoculture that leaves them vulnerable to crop failure, the repeated failures of untested seeds and the ineffectiveness of expensive pesticides that lead farmers into irredeemable debt have all been discussed and debated upon. The cotton farmer of Vidarbha has been hit especially hard, because of the artificially lowered prices of cotton in the world market. The solution would lie in rethinking and reorganizing farming systems.”

Vidharba Jan Andolan Samiti (VJAS), a lonely voice from Maharashtra trying consistently to bring the forgotten farmers of Vidharba to the conscience of the country has covered the news in its blog. One Mr. Linn has written a letter in which he counters Vaghela by pointing the role of Monsanto BT seeds as a primary reason for the disaster in Vidharba and how Gujarat farmers got escaped from the tentacles of Monsanto thanks to the organic farming. Journalist P.Sainath, who was awarded with Magsasay award recently, has covered the Debt and Seed trap widely in his series of articles. I think it would be absurd to extend countering Vaghela’s ridiculous statement with pain-staking logical arguments.

Vilas Rao Deshmukh, the chief minister of Maharashtra went ahead of Vaghela by portraying the cotton farmers as Criminals. He said “They (farmers) sprinkle water on cotton or insert stones in cotton bales [to increase weight] before bringing the produce to procurement centres,” in the meeting. Kishore Tiwari of VJAS comes with a sharp reply for this cruel accusation. “The State’s Cotton Marketing Federation has not registered a single case of such cheating by a farmer but there were several such cases against cotton traders who connived with officials of the Federation.”

While BJP and Shiv sena are trying to fish in the troubled waters, VJAS and other progressive organizations are protesting against the remarks in Maharashtra. It is learnt from their blog that the Effigy of Vaghela is burnt and the protests are continuing. Let us be impartial. I think Mr. Vaghela and Mr. Deshmukh may be right. Hence I request them to convey their ‘discovery’ in person to the farmers than in brokers meetings. I pray them to go to each one of those 1500 homes and tell the widows that their husband was lazy and that’s why he took the extreme step. I assure, they will give you a memorable reply with due respect, Mr.Vaghela.


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