It was 11.30 am. Sullen winds roared no more. Winter had long died away. The days got warmer. Cacophonous trails of traffic exploded into dissonant chaos as our eyes drifted towards shacks of corrugated metal gleaming in the morning sun. It was time. With a steady onslaught of blaring horns gripping the city, we packed our bags and made our way to the car. Blithely we held our friends — Ravi, Jerin and Mukku once more; unspoken words enfolded our silence. Kindness and unconditional love shone through their spirits as they waved at us one last time.
We drove away from them all; in whom we sought glimmers of familiarity. Within our minds where dwell caged thoughts and emotions, at times, we find ourselves being pulled apart in altering directions where one moment beckons us to stay and another coaxes us to stride towards a realm wherein awaits the pursuit of a meaningful journey. Whilst fleeing into the heart of unknown, we are often reminded of the frailty of our time-bound existence. Being constantly on the move and living a life on the road has absolved our minds from a reality rife with mundane and recluse moments. However, sometimes in our waking thoughts, our soul longs for the simplicity and predictability of an ordinary, settled life.
Our hearts trembled with emotion, as we left Bangalore that morning, for it was then we realised we had now embarked on a year long journey that would take us into the heartland of rural India; a section of society largely embroiled in social issues and often ignored by the urban sector.
Over the past few months, our research into the prevailing agrarian crisis in Karnataka led us to conclude that the situation has now reached catastrophic and almost irreversible levels. According to reports submitted by the state agricultural department to the chief secretary in 2015, more than 516 suicides were reported in one year alone. Owing to acute water shortage, 135 out of 176 taluks have been declared as drought-ridden zones. Mounting agricultural debts, paltry remuneration for farm produce, crop failure and deficient rainfall recorded in the last decade have severely affected farmers thereby resulting in a steady rise in the number of suicides reported all over the country.
Although the farming sector forms an integral part of our survival and sustenance, our indifference towards the plight of the farmer and the callousness with which we have addressed the criticality of the situation today is a towering testament to our selfishness and greed. Drastic weather changes, outdated farming techniques and lack of avenues to make themselves heard have led to disastrous consequences wherein farmers have had to resort to drastic measures including taking their own lives out of helplessness. While many struggle to make a living off their lands, others have given up all hopes of securing a better future for their children.
This was one of the main reasons why we decided to begin our journey by exploring the escalating farming crisis in depth. We wished to thoroughly comprehend the complexity of the social, economic and political factors that pushed farmers to the brink of suicide.
A few weeks ago, we got in touch with members of the Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha (KRRS) a farmer’s movement spearheaded by Dr M D Nanjundaswamy who apart from taking on corrupt government officials has also fought against numerous multinational corporations that continue to exploit farmers. One of our friends Ashlesha Khadse who works with La Via Campesina: International Peasant Movement gave us the contact details of Kannaiyan Subramanian, a farmer activist from Tamil Nadu who in turn suggested that we have a discussion with K T Gangadhar, a senior leader of KRRS. We explained to him what we aimed to achieve through Drive For Change and that we wished to understand fundamentally the issues faced by farmers today. Mr Gangadhar asked us to call Devaraj from Davangere and Omkarappa from Harihar who would serve as our local points of contact.
As the day progressed, we crossed paths with a tribe of arecanut palms standing in symmetric perfection beside parched lands. The earth heaved and sighed as wilting shrubbery and singed trunks took their last breath before our eyes. Fornent the colliding trees lay a tangle of broken branches, now shrivelled and long forgotten. A portentous warning of what was to come or a harsh portrayal of our reality, we may never know. Nonetheless, these ominous signs were unmitigated indications of the perils of environmental degradation and destruction of our natural ecosystem; the price for which is being paid heavily by farmers and tribes — two communities adept at living in harmony with nature.
So far, we have borne witness to a complete disintegration of predictable weather patterns during our exploration of rural regions for the past few years with the central plains being brutally affected by unprecedented climatic variations. With more than 70% of the Indian population residing in the villages, most of the rural folks depend directly or indirectly on agriculture for their primary source of income. Therefore, in order to understand the condition of farmers, it is imperative we fathom the current situation for this will enable us to gauge the future predicament of not just the entire rural populace but also of those settled in the cities.
Agriculture is closely inter-linked to the origin and progressive advancement of human civilisation. Prior to the advent of industrial revolution, it was our ability to discover and strengthen diverse farming techniques that encouraged our ancestors to settle down. This was a monumental development in human history because we could finally give up our gruelling nomadic lifestyle and live in permanent settlements. Aside from the proliferation of stable communities, agronomy has inextricably contributed to nurturing our socio-economic and cultural identities.
However, farming was made possible only because of anticipated climate cycles that are now experiencing instability at an exponential pace. Monsoon failure and the depletion of ground water levels are some of the crucial problems faced by the farming community all over the country. Aside from inadequate rainfall during the sowing season, farmlands being struck by untimely rains and hailstorms during harvest over the last decade has set into motion and aggravated the gradual destruction of farmers and agricultural machinery alike all over the country. Therefore, through our research, we wished to gain a comprehensive analysis of the socio-political and economic factors combined with erratic natural forces that has led to the dire situation in agriculture today.
By late afternoon, we stopped at a local dhaba that welcomed travellers with open arms. We ate our hearts fill and thanked them for their generosity. We then decided to call Devaraj and Omkarappa to inform them that we would visit their respective taluks tomorrow. Since we would hit Davangere before Harihar, Devaraj suggested that it would be wise to proceed towards his town instead of heading to the neighbouring district.
A flock of birds gained flight over a small fertile plateau. Against the evening skies, they stirred and twirled in unison till they could no more. From the brink of distant hills, windmills caressed the horizon; their blades gliding with gusty winds in a lazy daze. Scarlet rays withered into dusk as we fled into lands unknown receding into ripples of timeless passages where the present morphed into our future whilst faint whispers of the past collapsed into fragments of our memories…
We were about 10 km away from Davangere when we decided to rest near a petrol bunk. At night, a group of lorry drivers lit a small fire nearby and were deep in conversation amongst themselves. From snow-capped mountains to the shores of mysterious seas, many had traversed the vast expanse of the country in search of a better life. Against the silhouette of hills speckled with lone trees, some shared tales of their sojourn, some lent a shoulder to their companions in misery and some sat in solitude…
As pale stars rose in clusters beyond our realm, we soon drifted off to sleep for we hoped to rise at the break of dawn to continue our journey. And, that’s when we felt it all over again stumbling upon our hearts — the momentary shudder of uncertainty; the pulse of our voyage, cloaked in the rhythm of the unfamiliar…
Project ‘Rest of My family‘ is an attempt to connect back, re-discover our relationship with and understand our responsibility towards the larger family that we are a part of — the rest of our human family. Hence, it is titled Rest Of My Family.
Through #RestofMyFamily, we will focus on highlighting social issues and human interest stories, documenting the triumphs of the ordinary man despite all the hardships they face constantly, and help these stories reach a larger audience and wherever necessary extend support to the individuals and communities that we write about. We hope to make a direct impact to the lives of those people we meet and find suffering due to various social issues; to connect the ones who need help to the ones who can help….
As a part of the first leg of the project, we have now embarked on a one-year drive (#DriveForChange) through rural India. Find more about the campaign here: http://igg.me/at/restofmyfamily/x/539502