‘His death becomes a number’

“Mankind will cease to exist without farmers. A world bereft of them will spell doom for our civilisation. The argument put forth by conglomerates that usurping or eroding natural resources is essential for rapid economic development is nothing short of a fallacy. Our selfishness has led to the situation we are in today. While the urban folks continue to destroy nature in an unbridled manner, farmers bear the brunt of a shattered ecosystem. As long as you get to enter huge supermarkets where your food is packed beautifully, you have nothing to be worried about. Scores of miles away, shedding a silent tear is the helpless farmer whose starving family has to go to bed hungry, yet again,” said Devaraj as he crinkled his eyes and gazed languidly at the newspapers strewn all over the mat.

Save the quell of mankind’s greed, there seems to be none a nether force that could salvage remnants of our own humanity. Laboured to achieve a realm wherein veiled spectators inflict misery upon their own, the progress of our society has been helmed by those blinded with misled motivations and judgement. Blighted by the sheath of ignorance and self-indulgence if we are unwilling to mend our ways, our existence could be rendered dysfunctional. Our problem lies within ourselves. However, no particular individual or group can be held responsible for our current paradigm. We are all collectively accountable for the world we live in. Perhaps, it is time we engender a transition from a one-dimensional survival of the ‘self’ to a community-oriented paradigm. Such a cultural shift may occur if we work towards building a better society; one that thrives on equality, compassion and safeguarding human values. “We fail to realise that we have to survive together,” said Arun.

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The men nodded their heads in agreement as the discussions veered towards the fundamental problems plaguing our society today. “In the past ten years,” said Arun clearing his throat, “The number of farmer suicides has seen a steady rise owing to heavy losses incurred during production coupled with their inability to clear mounting debts. Disheartened by their plight, farmers lose hope and decide to unburden their souls by ending their lives. How many more lives will it take before we wake up and realise they too are human beings? One of the biggest problems that farmers face today is the complete imbalance between their income and the cost of living. What you earn isn’t enough for you to live an average life. Moreover, our farmers need to be educated on efficient water and crop management. Take Reddy’s case, for instance. He has been growing paddy for almost twenty years. Neither is he willing to change his craft nor alter his farming techniques. He is stuck with paddy simply because he is under the impression that since the crop can be harvested twice a year, it will help him pay off his loans.”

Over five farmers committed suicide in Davangere Taluk in the past year. However, the activists ascertained that the situation in the district was relatively better than Harapanahalli and Jagallur since the latter are subjected to periodic droughts. A vast majority of the borewells have failed in these regions. While farmers continue to shell out Rs 300,000 to 400,000 in hopes of irrigating their fields, poor cropping patterns and inadequate monsoons have only wreaked havoc on agriculture.

“On an average, a farmer has to dig borewells upto 400 to 500 feet on his farm in these regions. He is expected to cough up an exorbitant amount of money whether or not the wells yield any water. When their lands grow parched and the crops bare, a farmer’s despair worsens. For a few inches of water, he gives up everything he has. With two or three failed attempts, the farmer then fears the worse. Upon realising there isn’t a drop in the soil, he soon loses hope. His death becomes a number and that’s the fate of farmers in our country,” said Devaraj slumping his shoulders.

It was almost 11 am. We pondered if we could visit a village today. Arun suggested that we head towards Siriganahalli where Reddy and his family have been residing for several years. The men stood up in unison and walked down the stairway to the exit. Roaring engines and squealing tyres inched their way through a maze of traffic while pedestrians and hawkers battled to conquer their territories. A raucous flock of birds fled across the skies as we drove away from the city, that morning. Scattered across the horizon, many soared high while their companions drifted low and then there were those who sought flight in swirling winds.

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The urban mirage soon gave way to tiny villages sprawled across nameless roads. As if on cue, a desolate wave of emotions surged through the landscape when we first came across settlements amidst barren lands. Some made their presence felt. Some hid in the shadows of passages. And, some withered away with time. But they all co-existed nonetheless; in disappearing passages.

Reddy asked us to drive further; away from the crossroads. A gaunt old man stood briefly beside a pathway. His feet dragged wearily in the dust; his gaze transfixed on the horizon. His walking stick tapped its way gingerly across each ragged surface as he limped to the tea stall. As whirring landscapes shot past us, the old man soon vanished from our sight, just as he first appeared.

In moments, we were surrounded by them; those familiar sights of swaying panicles. Burrowed in mysterious hues of green, they rose in silence against the clamoured tapestry of adjoining farmlands. A few spikelets stirred in the morning breeze, a few stayed still and lifeless torn by the winds and seared by the sun.

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“You will see signs of life in some fields and nothing but aridity in others. They stand beside each other. However, only the chosen ones flourish. Due to severe water scarcity, farmers are left with no choice but to let their fields dry. The water from the reservoir will be released tomorrow. This will provide some relief to farmers who have been struggling so far. The weather has been ruthless in these regions,” said Arun.

The road split ahead of us. One path snaked through a cluster of houses while another led us further away from the farmlands. For as far as we could see, fields of arecanut and paddy glimmered in the sun. A young boy moved expertly through cramped alleyways. He stretched his arms taking a deep breath before jetting away in search of his accomplices. In a corner, an old woman sat on her porch winnowing rice as she looked up and caught a little girl’s admiring glance. They sat beside each other lost in scattered grains.

“Take the path that leads to narrow muddy trails, up ahead,” said Reddy signalling us to move on. Barring the rumbling of engines, not a discernible sound echoed in the plains. As we trudged closer to Siriganahalli, the view burst into tiny flecks of green and brown. We parked our car beside some paddy fields and decided to walk into the village.

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With sickles in one hand and plastic bags in other, a few farmers lurched forward towards us and waved at Arun and Reddy. They were on their way to the fields. As they walked away from the village, they stole a few glances at us and muttered under their breath, “Who are those two?”

Bales of hay and straw hung outside courtyards as cows stood in small herds of no more than five. A man approached us surveying the group skittishly. He struck a conversation with Reddy and his features softened at once as he understood the purpose of our visit. Within moments, we were ushered towards an old man’s house.

His name was S R Ramappareddy. He stood up almost instantly and greeted us with a humble smile. He asked his daughter-in-law to bring out some plastic chairs and place them under the tree in his courtyard. His eyes widened as Arun patiently explained to him about our project. “I am 60 years old and I am a farmer I have been farming for decades. My life depends on it. It’s all I have. It’s all I know,” we heard him whisper, “Struggle is all I know…”

(to be continued…)

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

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