Let’s make it a true celebration
Videos with a sentimental song beckoning sons of the soil to return to one’s village cut to visuals of colourful rangolis decorated with flowers and...
Videos with a sentimental song beckoning sons of the soil to return to one’s village cut to visuals of colourful rangolis decorated with flowers and balls of cow dung (gobbemmalu), the Haridasu doing his rounds along with the decorated bull (gangireddu), kites dotting the skyline and delicious food items rounded off with “Sankranti wishes” flood our mobiles.
Yes, this is how we are made to realise we are celebrating the end of the winter solstice and the beginning of the auspicious period of “Uttarayana”. Imaginative videos have become the norm not just for Sankranti but for anything with reason or anything without, in our new technology-driven world. So what’s new you may ask. The video is mentioned not for its novelty or ingenuity. It is mentioned merely to illustrate the exalted state of commercialisation that our festivals have reached.
Here new clothes are advertised through all available platforms, rangoli competitions come with fabulous cash prizes, international kite festivals and food shows abound and television channels with anchors engulfed in silk and jewels are in a tizzy over special programmes.
In the whole melee of things steered by commercialism, the central reason for the celebration of Sankranti, which is the joyful acknowledgement of a bountiful harvest and gratitude for the hardworking farmer who toils to produce it seems to have been completely forgotten. Brahmasri Samavedam Shanmukha Sarma well-known for his discourses and commentaries on religious and spiritual matters explaining the significance of Sankranti clearly states that while the period is conducive to spiritual growth the entire celebration veers around agriculture, which is the reason why villages come alive during this period and call it the ‘Pedda Panduga’ (The Big festival).
“The farmer is central to this celebration. This is the time the harvest reaches him and he enjoys the fruits of labour. The Sanskrit word for the experiencing happiness or fulfilment is “Bhogam” and the one who experiences it is the ‘Bhogi’,” he explains. For the farmers in the Telugu speaking states, celebrations extend to four days, Bhogi, Sankranti, Kanuma and Mukkanuma where there is a period of socialising with families dining together, enjoying the feeling of plenty and sitting around bonfires with great bonhomie. It is a period of transformation and changes with the old being discarded for the new, showcasing cattle seen as a symbol of prosperity and praying to the sun god for health, wealth and prosperity.
An interesting parallel is drawn between “Thanksgiving” celebrated in the West and Sankranti back home reveal that both are harvest festivals where consumerism overshadows the central figure, the farmer. While “Thanksgiving” is associated with “Black Friday” sales, Sankranti is increasingly known for the sale of clothes and kites. The deplorable condition of farmers all over the country and the staggering figure of over three lakh farmers, who committed suicide during the last two decades is really the biggest crisis the country faces even if it is not acknowledged by the powers that be. The spate of farmer suicides in the wake of continuing spell of unseasonal rains and dependence on seeds and fertilisers get farmers deep into debt and depict the fragile state of our farm economy.
Devinder Sharma, a food and trade policy analyst, former journalist and activist draws attention to the startling data provided by the National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB) which states that one farmer commits suicide in the country every 41 minutes. Farmer suicides are a symptom of the bigger malaise that afflicts agriculture where the wide disparity between farm income and the rising cost of production makes farming unviable according to him. “The average income of a family of five persons in 17 states of India is Rs 20,000 per year, which means less than 1,700 per month. If this is the average monthly income of a farming family in roughly half the country, the plight of farmers can well be imagined,” Sharma adds.
Ironically, farmers who produce food for the entire country do not have enough themselves. Statistics show that 58 per cent of the country’s farmers go to bed on an empty stomach unable to get more than a single meal a day. The note left behind by a farmer, who drowned in a canal with his 10-year-old son tied to his back is heart-rending. In the note, the farmer says he did not want his son to face stricture and embarrassment the way he did as he was too young to put up with circumstances or repay the debt incurred by him.
Unfortunately, our farmers face great harassment from banks and other authorities despite defaulters among them being only one per cent compared to corporate bigwigs who contribute to 70 per cent of Bank NPA’s. Corporate firms which owe millions of rupees to banks with no intention of repaying them, never have problems with banks or political bosses except for seasonal outrage from newspapers and news channels who all talk of their bad loans at the same time and get back to silence similarly. Since there is a limit to which a subject can be shown as news, the topic soon becomes less newsy and bothers none.
Coming back to our farmers who get harassed on a daily basis for loans as little as 5,000 rupees, the stakes are so high that several families have in desperation resorted to making suicide pacts. Whether it is microfinance, private moneylenders or banks, the mental torture faced by farmers subjected to vagaries of the monsoon and high costs of production are immense and reflect ultimately on the cold, heartless system that is indifferent to their deaths. It is no wonder then the questions asked by the moderator at a discussion on farmer suicides met with a hushed silence in Delhi. The moderator asked: “What would you do if 12,000 doctors committed suicide in a year?” There was a hushed silence from the audience. This was followed by the moderator repeating the question with engineers, lawyers and other professionals. The question certainly disturbed the audience as no one had raised an eyebrow at 12,000 farmer suicides, which has been reported that year and there was really no “if” about it.
“Loan waiver”, the magical word used in electoral promises for decades and even adhered to by state governments preparing to face voters again, is at best a temporary measure. This reprieve may serve lower temperatures but cannot cure the fever. When steps are not taken to ensure that loans do not pile up again, the farmer will be back to his former state of despair. A meeting of the NITI Aayog with Prime Minister Narendra Modi where top economists got together to address causes of farmer unrest rather than symptoms comes as a ray of hope during the harvest festival. The intention is to increase farmer’s incomes rather than production figures which despite going up every year have meant little to them.
“We have noticed that the farmer’s income may not increase with productions. We have seen cases where there is an increase in production but the sale price of the produce falls. We want to shift the focus to models that actually increase farmer income by lowering production costs, giving market access to farmers and making them producers of products rather than commodities,” says Vice-Chairman of the think tank Rajiv Kumar indicating a shift in the thought process. Hopefully, the outcome of these deliberations will enable us to look forward to Sankranti celebrations that usher in rural prosperity and true happiness and one where the death of hungry farmers does not tug at our conscience.