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Issue No.: 559 | January 2014

Social transformation in Rural India

Sharad Joshi
Poverty was glorified and disdain for wealth and luxury was encouraged. Farmers were supposed to toil all day and enjoy the fruits of their toil only by singing bhajans to God almighty

Rural India has undergone a social transformation. There is a revolutionary change in the mindset of Indian farmers – and this is a singular achievement of the Shetkari Sanghatana. The freedom movement under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi was based on ethical values such as Non-violence (Ahimsa), Truth (Satya) and honesty (Asteya). These principles or philosophy, enunciated by a Yadav (shepherd - Krishna) to a Kshatriya (warrior - Arjun), was prevalent in Indian society since the time of the Bhagavad Gita. The farmers in India were mostly shudras (the downtrodden class) who continued to believe in the philosophy of the status quo which meant an acceptance of their position as is. An attitude of contentment; one should be happy with what one has, as it is offered (by God) and everything one needs in life is within him. There is no need to make any extra effort to seek a better standard of life (by earning more money).

For generations this attitude towards life persisted. The Sangathana worked very hard to change the mindsets of the Shetkaris – the farmers – to imbibe in them economic and commercial values; a new commercial outlook to demand remunerative prices (that too by agitation) for their agricultural produce and to give up their fatalistic principles. Under the hegemony of Gandhism, poverty was glorified and disdain for wealth and luxury was encouraged. Farmers were supposed to toil all day and enjoy the fruits of their toil only by singing bhajans to God almighty, along with their wives and children. The wealthy were supposed to use their wealth in a spirit of trusteeship and sacrifice. Amassing wealth and abundance of material goods per se were inconsistent with Gandhian principles. It was generally believed that poverty would make a person ‘stronger’ and affluence would make a person ‘weak and dull’. It was a challenge for the Sanghatana to teach the farmers that there was nothing wrong in earning money and thereby improve their standard of their life. To achieve this it was imperative to stop glorifying "poverty”. 

Another misconception prevailing was the belief that ‘tapping a water resource in the field was the gateway to prosperity.  The idea of good agricultural land was confined to having a source of water (stream/ river/ canal) near the field which would guarantee perennial water supply. Indian agriculture is mainly rain fed, thus vulnerable to vicissitudes of monsoon. Therefore every Indian farmer wished for a source of water in the field and to have irrigated agricultural land. Secondly, from the experience over the years he had firmed up a view that having a permanent source of water would generate some amount of profit in agriculture. The Sanghatana made strenuous efforts to remove this perception. 

The Sanghatna said that Green Fields did not guarantee green notes (Currency).  Unfortunately many ‘leaders’ as well as the government advocated lift irrigation as a path to farmers’ prosperity. The ‘leaders’ tried to irrigate the land in their constituency by diverting or bringing water from long distances under various Lift Irrigation schemes. Today, it has become necessary to review these schemes, take stock of how many are still working efficiently and to find out how many land holdings are left mortgaged with the banks because of them. 

It is important we understand that nature has not divided the land between agricultural land and land for other use. It is Man who decided to put it to agricultural use taking into consideration the availability of water. In olden days he was quite practical. Where water was scarce, he started industries, mining etc. He did not try to bring water from one place to the other for agricultural purposes. However, our leaders did not understand this pragmatic approach.  

Some years down the line, with the advent of technology, genetically modified (GM) seeds became available. These GM seeds could withstand droughts (drought-proof); thus with their usage, land having poor supply of water could be brought under cultivation. People realized that it did not make sense to get water from one area to another, that too, by illegal means e.g. stealing. Our political leaders did not realize that with the application of GM seeds any land could become arable. With the advent of technology old methods turn ineffective.

The Sanghatana has great belief in human intelligence and their ability to invent new technology and appreciates the versatility of human beings to carry out new experiments on a trial and error basis. It also emphasizes that the advancement of human societies can be achieved by innovating higher technology. It propounded the theory that adoption of new technology would reduce costs and by securing remunerative prices based on cost of production, agriculture could become profitable. Unfortunately, our leaders always emphasized irrigation for improving agriculture production. Farmers followed their leaders’ advice and brought their lands under irrigation instead of understanding the economics of agriculture and securing remunerative prices.  

The abysmal poverty in the agricultural sector is caused by the fact that the proceeds of the crops do not cover even the bare minimum cost of production. The reason for poverty and indebtedness of the farmers does not lie in their laziness or their addictions as perceived by many. The poverty of farmers is directly attributable to governments’ policies that depress agricultural prices. A single-point prescription for agriculture's malady and general poverty is remunerative prices for agricultural produce that can be obtained through elimination of all governmental interventions in the market. The Sanghatana demonstrated this theory with irrefutable evidence. It has sought to prove that the use of appropriate technology would facilitate agriculture and there is no need to steal water to irrigate land. 

Once this is understood, water theft becomes irrelevant and farmers can have arable land through lawful and ethical means. They can secure remunerative prices for their agricultural produce and lead a prosperous life. This is how the Sanghatana has been performing its task of transforming the mindsets of farmers.

SHARAD JOSHI, National President, Swatantra Bharat Paksha and Founder of the powerful farmers’ movement the Shetkari Sanghatana
 This article is based on his column in the popular Marathi daily Loksatta of 30 October 2013.
 English translation by Supriya Panse.  






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