Is this Maharashtra’s morbid version of The Hunger Games?
4/20/2018 9:50:48 PM
|written By : Shobhaa De|
The farmer’s in the den – hey O, the cherry O, the farmer’s in the den... India’s oppressed and shabbily treated farmers have been on the warpath for decades. But nobody noticed, nobody cared. Our farmers got used to being taken for granted. They got used to being abused and neglected. They got used to being exploited and spurned. They started to believe that was their fate. Instead of revolting and demanding justice, some of them took their own lives. That was not a protest. It was their last resort. We still didn’t give a damn.
Okay, so some farmers in Maharashtra couldn’t repay loans and preferred to commit suicide, we shrugged. Too bad. They could have been more patient and waited for the next crop. What about their families? Yes, what about the wives and kids and ageing parents they left behind? Whose responsibility were they? Err... umm... let’s have a fashion show and raise funds for those poor guys.
Well, some 30,000 ‘models’ walked the world’s longest ramp. Their catwalk stretched from Nashik to Mumbai. A distance of nearly 200 km. They strutted their abject poverty, their despair, their sorrow, to the watching world. Most of them were clad in ‘pure handloom’, not the kind our snooty designers pass off as handloom. They wore their attitude with fierce pride. Each face had a story to narrate. Most had calloused, bleeding, unshod feet... no red-soled stilettos. All the eyes (minus kohl) spoke the same language — the language of hopelessness. Of defeat.
We marvelled at their tenacity and applauded their discipline. And we, as citizens, reached out in ways that surprised even us — yes, us! Hardened, toughened, cynical and blasé city folks. The plight of our farmers broke our hearts. And we shook our heads in disbelief as misinformed, callous politicians accused these hard-working people of being ‘prisoners of urban Maoists’.
The day the farmers arrived in Mumbai and were a bit too easily appeased by the government, I was startled to receive a couriered parcel from a prominent parliamentarian. It was a carton of the best-quality grapes. While his gesture was genuine enough (he is proud of the produce from his constituency), I felt almost guilty popping a grape or two into my mouth. For the first time ever, I thought of the hands that must have harvested this crop. Was the person paid fair and full wages? Or just a pittance?
As always, Mumbaikars showed heart as they lined the route, offering water and snacks to the fatigued farmers on their long march. The farmers withdrew their protests after certain assurances from the chief minister. Even he must know the emptiness of his words. Loan waiver is only a small part of the monumental problems our farmers are dealing with. What about their rights? The ones they have been brazenly denied? Like the right to land which the tribals have not been granted? Yes, Devendra Fadnavis has given many assurances and told the assembly that the state is “sensitive and positive” to the demands of farmers. How sensitive and how positive remains to be seen.
Our farmers represent the salt of the earth. We eat what they toil day and night to produce. Have we no shame? No conscience? While politicians feed off the fat of the land, they also suck the blood of our kisans with absolute impunity. Those grapes sent to me are suddenly tasting sour. I am thinking of all the fat cat neta-farmers who have usurped acres and acres of tribal land and become millionaires overnight. If they are a little worried today, it is only because of the fear that the betrayed farmers will turn against them in the next elections.
But hold on — perhaps for the first time in Maharashtra’s history, farmers have found strength in numbers and tasted power. They have understood their own value in the food chain. They have sensed the fear and panic of politicians — the same men and women who in the past had mercilessly bullied, tricked and cheated them. Fear is a powerful weapon. I hope our farmers use it to the hilt now that they have seized the political advantage and have the netas on the back foot. If Fadnavis goes back on his promises, the backlash will be ferocious and immediate. It’s time to take the wrath of farmers very seriously. The grapes of wrath have been crushed. Wine can turn into blood. Our farmers. Our backbone. Our strength. The worm has turned.