Sweets, Starvation, and Suicides… - Dr. Navniit Gandhi

Dr. Navniit Gandhi
Sunday, October 4, 2015

The festival season has begun in India. Eid has just been celebrated with gaiety, while Dussehra, Deepawali, Christmas are just around the corner… Actually, festivities go on in our country, throughout the year. Seasons and sacrifices for a cause are celebrated; fasting periods culminate in the feasting periods; birthdays and enlightenment days of Gods and Goddesses are celebrated; full moon and new moon days are celebrated... There are heaps and varieties of sweets savoured on all occasions; homes decorated with lamps and lights; millions of rupees spent on clothes and accessories, while another couple of millions are blown away in smoke as the firecrackers burst ferociously; and competitively lavish parties are thrown to reiterate one’s esteem in the social circles. This is the scene in one India.

There is this another India, wherein dead bodies of farmers are hanging from the noose and swaying in the air, even as the resigned faces and expressionless eyes of their wives and children stare at them. Those very farmers—who toil hard on the parched earth in extreme heat and biting cold, to produce food grains for us—have their stomachs and vessels empty. According to a Report published in 2012, more than 2,53,000 farmers have committed suicides across India between 1995-2010.

August 15th is a day we are supposed to swell with pride; and yet it is on this day, this year that 25,000 farmers in Mathura petitioned the President of India, seeking permission to commit suicide!!! Must life have become so very unbearable for our farmers, thanks to our agrarian policies, that they choose death, over living further?

Do we harbour any foolish illusion that our farmers are insignificant citizens of our country, and therefore, it doesn’t matter if we lose a few lakhs of them? Imagine the scenario if and when farmers all over the country decide that their children will not become farmers? Will our industrialists or our Bollywood stars or mall-owners and other rich and successful people manufacture or grow food grains and feed us?

Our plates are full; our refrigerators are full; our kitchen cabinets are bursting to the seams; even our garbage bins are full of thrown-away and wasted food. And yet, those who laboured in those fields so that there could be tomatoes and oranges and onions in our houses—are being pushed to kill themselves? The Forbes list of billionaires tells us that an increasing number of Indians are increasingly joining the 500 richest-people-on-this-globe list. The oaths taken by our representatives tell us that many are supposed to take care of us at the central, state and the local levels.

And yet, not one or two or a dozen or a hundred but thousands of farmers chose to die than to live further in this society, system and country? The India that celebrates one festival after another ceaselessly, splurges crores on gifts and clothes and gadgets, dances in glee and stuffs itself and the garbage bins with hordes of food—is it so poor that it cannot place two rotis on the plates of a few thousand farmers??

The farmers are not idle-sitting beggars. The circumstances play havoc with their lives. Sometimes, nature fails them; or the politicians betray them and siphon off the aid meant for them; at other times, the middle-men brutally squeeze life out of them by blackmailing instead of bargaining; and the MNCs laugh ruthlessly at the farmers’ dependence on them for seeds, fertilisers and pesticides.

Can we try and feel the fear which young children must be living with daily—not knowing if their father would be the next to hang himself? What must be a wife of a farmer going through, trembling at the thought of her husband getting up in the middle of the night and consuming that pesticide lying in the corner? While one India, and particularly that India which brings the food on our plates—is in such pain, we continue to make merry; continue to buy and waste things and food because we can afford it; continue to throw lavish parties and continue to burst crackers in the air.

Are we not capable of even small; very small gestures such as thinking about them and remembering them in our prayers? A gesture such as: a small amount through genuine NGOs which can ensure that there is food-for-survival in their homes? A gesture such as: bombarding all the possible websites of our rulers/government with e-mails—pressurising the government to take some urgent steps? A gesture such as: not mindlessly spending on sweets, clothes, jewellery, gifts, and crackers on at least one festival in a year and instead, diverting the saved amount to sponsor education for a whole year for the children of those farmers whose fathers have killed themselves.

The next time when we take our children to fancy eateries where they nibble a bit at the food, and waste the rest, can we visualise the tear-stained faces and frail hungry bodies of the children of those farmers who are facing crises? We could have provided food for a month to a family with that KD 15-20/- .

And, of course, our children are watching and imbibing our self-centredness. Our dry and indifferent attitude towards our parents, friends, relatives and the other members of society – when they are in distress and pain will afflict our children before we realise we were wrong… To close doors and rejoice selfishly, while some others suffer starvation and pain—is that the way-of-life we wish our children to learn and practise? If not donating or praying for our farmers, let us at least believe in educating our children with the issues the agrarian community faces. It will surely be a substantial gesture!

Are these gestures too big and will they involve heart-wrenching sacrifices from our part, which we are not capable of? Does the prosperous India has it within itself to take care of the desperate India?

Let our farmers not kill themselves in desperation and frustration, while weeping because no one cares. Let our farmers choose to live, knowing that even if Mother Nature is testing them, and the Government is not bothered, their fellow-Indians will ‘care’.

I completely agree with those of you who think that no 'freebies' should be showered on anyone; we don't want idle or lazy or dependent citizenry.

I never meant: 'we should not celebrate any occasion... or give that extra money to feed the poor'. I believe that nations are not built by governments or by their populism or policies. Nations are built by the ethos, the character, and morale of its people. We can learn from the character and conduct of the Japanese after the atom bombs were dropped and how did they rise to greatness thereafter.

Its about standing morally, spiritually, physically and even financially with those who are in distress. When 2,53,000 and more farmers have killed themselves, this becomes 'our' issue.

Holding the tender hands of children whose fathers have committed suicide, and making them feel secure with our care or sponsoring their education-- will not turn them into lazy beggars.

Each one living individually for 'himself' or 'herself', totally indifferent to the distress of others-- is a rapidly spreading epidemic in our society. We will not be able to build a Nation with such a spirit of self-centeredness.

Dr. Navniit Gandhi is an academic, and a freelance writer/columnist. She has been writing extensively for several newspapers, magazines, web-portals and academic publications and has authored five Books, till date.
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