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farmer oped

The father of a farmer in Haryana, Bijender Mor, who committed suicide, holds up the picture of the son with his wife. Picture credit: Vidya Venkat (The Hindu)

[First published in The Hindu dated May 13, 2015]

Everybody has an opinion on farmers these days. Be it politicians, policymakers, editors or economists. In fact, ever since the Parliament reconvened for the Budget session on April 20, the deteriorating condition of farmers has clearly dominated discussions. But even as the issue of agrarian crisis, farmer suicides (especially after >Gajendra Singh’s suicide in a New Delhi rally) and the controversial land Bill rocked Parliament, one question nobody asked was: what did the farmer have to say?

As the >Budget session was on, during a visit to Haryana this correspondent noticed how farmers had a strong sense of pride; the shame and guilt attached to the act of taking one’s own life meant they would rather die in the privacy of their fields. One such case was that of Bijender Mor, a Jat farmer, all of 27 years, from Baroda village in Sonepat district. Unlike Gajendra Singh, he consumed pesticide in his field and left no suicide note behind. Mounds of wheat piled up in the corner by the wall greeted my eyes when I entered his house. “It is of no use to anyone. This year’s harvest is of such low quality, that we cannot even use the grains to feed ourselves, forget selling it in the mandi,” his mother said. On March 9, Bijender went to check whether his 20-acre wheat field had not been destroyed by the rains, which arrived unexpectedly. He went late in the afternoon and never returned. And this is not the only instance of farmers dying across the country, either by committing suicide or from heart attacks following the shock of rabi crop loss.

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jayapura

Picture credit: The Hindu

[First published in The Hindu dated May 31, 2015]

Jitu Banbasi is a happy man today. A member of the Scheduled Tribe Musahar community, from Jayapura village in the Varanasi district of Uttar Pradeshhe lived in a makeshift brick house earlier but is now entitled to a pucca house painted in bright yellow and cobalt blue in Modiji ka Atal Nagar.

Treated as outcasts earlier, often denied even drinking water by upper caste village residents, the Musahars cannot but thank Prime Minister Narendra Modi enough. For it was after he adopted the village, about 30 km from his Lok Sabha constituency Varanasi, on November 7, 2014, that the seeds of transformation were sowed. Now Jitu is eagerly awaiting the formal inauguration of the colony so that he can occupy his new house. Thanks to the new houses, villagers too are treating the Musahars with more respect, he claims.

Journalists from Delhi are visiting Jayapura in droves to study “development” — Mr. Modi’s model of development — which the village epitomises. Villagers admit that the flurry of developmental activities in the last seven months has been unprecedented. Most homes in the village have got new toilets, and houses for the poor have been constructed, undertaken mostly by Corporate Social Responsibility wings of major companies.

Jayapura was little heard of until the Prime Minister adopted it.

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Social activist Anna Hazare observing a fast at Jantar Mantar in 2011 in Delhi as a mark of protest against corruption

The dust raised by the “Indian spring” is yet to settle and Mukul Sharma’s book ‘Green and Saffron’, recently published by Permanent Black, has arrived to raise another storm. An entire chapter in this book has been devoted to a careful exposition of the politics behind the Gandhian leading India’s much-watched anti-corruption movement – Anna Hazare. Though the book itself is a larger thesis exploring the linkages between environmental politics and Hindu nationalism in India, its unique selling point has been an account of the environmental movement in Ralegan Siddhi, Maharashtra, from where Hazare started his anti-corruption crusade.

The ‘Bharat mata’ (Mother India) symbol in front of which Hazare famously sat during his April 2011 fast-unto-death demanding a Jan Lokpal Bill to fight corruption in India, had already stirred doubts regarding the political affiliations of the movement. The evidence of support from Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) cadres further clouded the secular credentials of the movement. Though Sharma’s book does not provide any obvious evidence of an open affiliation between the Hazare camp and right-wing political parties, it shows how a movement rooted in an authoritarian, traditional, Hindu ethos comes to occupy a common epistemological space with the Hindutva ideology, thus helping to reinforce it.

If Gandhi was infamous for his sexual experiments, Anna will be remembered for his chillingly disciplinarian tactics.

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