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As the Narendra Modi government turns 2 today (May 26, 2016), here’s something to reflect upon:
We consumers wake up every morning and allow ourselves to be manipulated by the ideology of monoculture imprisoning various facets of our daily lives—what we think, what we eat, where we shop, what we drive, what we recycle, the euphemisms we choose, who our enemies are, whether the quinoa we buy is labeled non-GMO and/or gluten-free, which of the lesser of the two evils to vote for in the next election and so on and so forth. When we look at the bigger picture, however, our eyes tend to glaze over, forcing us to trip over our small focuses.
The continuing agrarian crises in India is just one of the more recent costs of our monoculture lifestyles that somebody else is paying for with their lives, and that has resulted in over 302,000 farmer suicides since 1995. This reality, just like the hundreds and thousands of dead and dispossessed Muslims and the subsequent creation of ISIS as a result of the United States’ response to 9/11, is perennial. For these folks, monoculture spells debt, displacement, drought, death.
A couple of bee stings won’t make us too uncomfortable, but imagine being bombarded by a whole hornet’s nest like tiny drones piercing our bodies; that would most likely kill us, horribly, slowly. That’s how it is for most of the world’s “sufferers” (a term a Dalit friend used to describe the planet’s shock-absorbers.)
These suicides in India are taking place not so much among food-crop cultivators but among cash-crop farmers, or those that produce what we line our closets and urban appetites with—cotton, sugarcane, groundnut, vanilla, coffee.
31-year-old Sandeep Godse from Kodpakhindi village, block Zari, Yavatmal District, Maharsashtra, India, committed suicide on December 9th, 2011. This photo of his father Pandurang Bapurao and brother Nitesh was taken on December 27.
The former Rural Affairs Editor of The Hindu, and author of Everybody Loves a Good Drought, P. Sainath, has pointed out that although unpredictable seasonal rains play a part in contributing to this suicide epidemic, it is mainly factors driven by state policies—issues such as “debt, hyper commercialization, exploding input costs, water-use patterns, severe price shocks and price volatility”—that are at the root. Drought only adds another layer to this endless cycle of shock after shock from which farmers can see no way out and feel totally abandoned, experiencing a numbing loss of self-reliance.
This year’s union budget has been declared ‘pro-farmer,’ as has the promise of doubling farm incomes by the year 2022. What that really means is that the budget and the future of agriculture is really more pro-agri-business friendly, not pro-farmer, and that someone living far, far away from India’s countryside will make money….a lot of it, but it will not be the farmer. In fact farmers in India are still waiting for the Modi government to deliver on its 2014 BJP poll campaign promise of increasing the Minimum Support Price (MSP) for their produce.
This perennial, someone-else’s-lifestyle suffering stems from our non-participation in the bigger scheme of things. Our yet sleeping ability to raise dissent needs badly to wake up–now, to mobilize and take over the corporate czars that are currently monopolizing globalization, or maybe globalizing monopoly. I’m not sure.
This spring everything is lush and green in Kansas where I live, but I know somewhere in India, everything, including the green, is broken. Through climate change as well as debt, the global economy is killing farmers. At the same time as I am enjoying this wonderful spring weather, a devastating heatwave has descended upon the subcontinent. A new temperature record has been set: 124 degrees F. Countless lives have been lost during the heatwave, including many farmers.
While most of us will go to bed with a full belly (for many, it’s one full of non-GMO quinoa), the farmers of Vidarbha will continue to sleep on beds of non-MSP cotton, their walls lined with gunny sacks full of last year’s unsold toor (split pigeon pea) crop, their bellies empty, and their thoughts full of suicide.
December 26, 2011, Amla village, Amravati District, Maharashtra, India. Cotton harvest stacked under beds.
This essay accompanies one of my meal designs for the project series “One Pound Capitalism, a Pinch of Democracy.” Please go here if you want a taste of that.