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Issue No.: 561 | March 2014

The Lessons learnt at ‘Angarmala’

Sharad Joshi
I started my experiments in agriculture way back in 1976.  Towards the end of December in 1976, I bought a piece of agricultural land in the village of Ambethan in Chakan Tehsil of Pune District of Maharashtra..  I named the farm - "Angarmala”.  I still remember that when I took possession of the land on 1st January 1977, the seller signaled the completion of the transfer formalities by presenting me with a handful of soil from the farm.  And herein lies a story!

I was so enthusiastic that I started field bunding on the same day. Bunding was necessary as the land had a natural slope at both ends and a stream was flowing through the middle of the land. I had to build bunds to impound the water to arrest the soil from being washed away during the monsoon. When I started constructing the bunds by digging the soil, many types of insects, worms surfaced. I was a novice to the world of insects. Thinking that it was a valuable and rare treasure, I thought of collecting the specimen of the insects and worms and, preserving them with their names. The seller of the land however told me that there was no need to do this as any small child from the village could not only identify these insects and worms but also explain their features. I was quite amazed that even small children from farmers’ families knew all about the worms and insects in the soil. 

The second surprise came when I undertook the work of contour mapping. A contour map is essential for designing farm layouts and managing surface water. It requires erecting bamboos all over the field and then getting them to be at one level with the help of instruments. A village boy present on the field at that time told me there was no need for any instrument. The level of the land could be known by just bending our body a little and demonstrated what he meant by ascertaining the level correctly. The engineers from Kirloskar Company who were working on it certified its correctness.
This led me to recall an incident which took place at a school in a remote tribal area of Thane district in Maharashtra run by Smt. Tarabai Modak and Smt. Anutai Wagh. A government inspector from the education department had arrived in their school for inspection. He started asking the students general knowledge questions like who was the minister of the education department etc. which the children were unable to answer. During the recess Tarabai who was present in the classroom asked the children to collect leaves of various types. She then asked the inspector to identify the trees by the leaves.  The inspector of course, was unable to do so; but the clever village children not only knew their names but also their medicinal properties. The inspector was dumbfounded.

After getting to know the intelligence and knowledge of farmers’ children, I realized that the common perception that farmers are an ignorant lot was not correct. This understanding helped me a lot while putting forth my views on the agriculture. When I was asking for remunerative prices for agricultural products, many intellectuals stupidly argued that if the farmers made fortunes from agriculture, they would spend their money on weddings, festivals, liquor and the like. It is normal for any rational human being to spend some part of his or her income on leisure and pleasure be it a professor, a collector, professional or a farmer for that matter, who spend some part of his income in pursuit of his happiness; may be even on some unproductive activity. The intellectual argument was conveniently used to explain the poverty of the farmer by blaming him for indulging in wasteful and unnecessary expenditure on weddings, festivals etc. Mahatma Phule in his major critique "Shetkaryacha Aasud” (Farmers Whip chord) depicts the exploitation and plight of the peasantry and shudras (downtrodden) in the country. He describes the real picture of the farmer’s ‘feast’ at a wedding where that the host is able to serve only the bear minimum to the guests. The description reads as follows- "On the auspicious day everyone comes with his own brass plate and is served a Roti (of Jowar) or Rice (that too of a cheapest vriety called"Kani”) or Bajra Khichdi with mutton curry, prepared from the ribs and intestinal parts of a goat. The guest would be lucky if he gets 4/5 pieces in the plate”.

Looking at the practical knowledge of the farmers’ children, I wondered if such questions relating to agriculture were asked in an IAS exam how many candidates would be able to answer them satisfactorily?  I am convinced they would fare badly. Thus, success in the examination depends upon the nature of questions. I concluded that if the questions were related to agriculture, the farmers’ children would do well in the examination. In other words, what are the desirable criteria, desirable qualities expected at the time of appointments to high positions. Is the intelligence of the interviewee really tested? What position calls for a high level of intelligence and which professions? It is in this context that an amusing thought occurred to me, that a bus conductor uses his intelligence most.  He has to calculate the fare every now and then depending upon the distance and the number of stops.  This led me to think that a job we feel simple requires an extraordinary level of intelligence! And this convinced me that the belief that a farmer is illiterate, ignorant, lazy, that he addicted and spends a lot is misconceived. I was convinced that the only reason for the poverty of farmers and their indebtedness is their exploitation by the society.
I decided to do some research on the subject.  I turned to the library of the Gokhale Institute in Pune to corroborate my conclusions. The work of referring to books, making notes was quite easy compared to the hard work required in farming.  Luckily I recalled reading about the debate between Preobrazhensky and Bukharin that took place in Stalin’s time in the book Terms of Trade and Class Relations by Ashok Mitra. I realised that the thoughts and principles I advocated are based not on the thoughts of one person like Michael Lipton but on several such sources and research and also my own experiences in agriculture. My multi-dimensional reading which includes various subjects in various languages contributed considerably in shaping up my thoughts; this also includes my experience of the agitation by French farmers. All this reading combined with the experience I was gaining as an agriculturist helped me in formulating the basic philosophy of the Shetkari Sanghatana and the strategy of farmers’agitation. 
When I look back, I remember those small children in Angarmala who provided the information about small insects and taught me how to ascertain the level of the land. They may not be aware that the information and the practical knowledge they shared with me was the starting point of my thinking which ultimately turned into a gigantic institution called "Shetkari Sanghatana”. 

The principles / thoughts of Shetkari Sanghatana are so basic and special that they provide answers to the questions on subjects ranging from the prices of onions to the creation of the world. The important thing is they do not provide the answers in patches but all answers are interrelated and tied up with the same string.

SHARAD JOSHI, Founder of the powerful farmers’ movement ‘Shetkari Sanghatana’ and
 national president National President, Swatantra Bharat Paksha. Email: sharadjoshi.mah@ 

This article is based on his column in the popular Marathi daily Loksatta of 27 November 2013. 
English translation by Supriya Panse.





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