Rational Ignorance has been defined as a concept where there is a chosen path to ignore something because the cost of knowledge outweighs the potential benefits. Of everyday events which occur in a day in a city’s life, some qualify as the events of “national importance” while others do not and end up being mere factual occurrences are events which are to be just let pass by. As a nation we are eager to demonstrate our unity with the causes which we think are worth concerning enough to us, while we choose to discard many as obsolete or ‘routine’ which do not require much of the ‘attention’ and perhaps as a nation they do not seem to cause much damage. However, the recent agitation by Tamil Nadu farmers in New Delhi perhaps failed to grab the collective consciousness of the people of this nation and seemed to be passed on as yet another protest by some aggrieved persons as it was made to seem an isolated event. The farmers from Tamil Nadu sat at Jantar Mantar in the national capital protesting to waive off their loans taken from the nationalized banks, besides demanding up setting up of Cauvery water management board to meet their irrigation needs. Though the protests ended after an assurance by the Chief Minister, the larger questions pertaining to the plight of annadata continue to hover.

The issue of farmers’ suicide is a strong memory and a current event to every Indian, a large number of them being reported every year across the country. The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) report states that for the year 2015, Tamil Nadu, along with Maharashtra, Telangana, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Andhra Pradesh accounted for 87.5% of the total suicides (11,026 out of 12,602) by the persons engaged in the farming sector.[1] The report identifies reasons such as bankruptcy, farming, family issues, illness, drug abuse, etc. to be the reasons behind the suicides, with ‘bankruptcy or indebtness’ and ‘farming related issues’ leading to majority of them. Further, as per the data, in Tamil Nadu, the majority of suicides had been committed by the agricultural laborers. Though the official data for 2016 is not available yet, but according to some experts, for the month of January itself, the numbers stood at 100.[2]

All the possible means had been employed during the protests at Jantar Mantar ranging from drinking of their own urinals, carrying out funerals, putting skulls apparently of the farmers who had committed suicide, putting dead or alive rats into their mouths as ‘rat breakfast’, wearing sarees or wearing mangalsutras (a sacred thread wore by a Hindu woman to signify her marriage) and then cutting them off to demonstrate how life of a farmer’s wife is affected after her husband commits suicide and that she is the one who suffers resultantly. Few of them even cut their hands to signify ‘shedding of blood’ protesting against the ‘stepmotherly’ attitude of the Central Government.[3] Their acts demonstrate the larger consequences which follow when a household loses its sole bread-earner and poignantly depict the grim condition of the farmers throughout the country.

The reasons for the protests emanate from the drought conditions prevailing in the region, failure of north-east monsoon the previous year which replenishes Tamil Nadu between October and December resulting in the loss of samba (winter) crop and importantly the long unsettled Cauvery river dispute which last year resulted in the loss of kuruvai (summer) crop. When it comes to the constitution of the Cauvery water management board, there is reluctance on part of both Karnataka and Tamil Nadu as they fear loss of their current rights and politics over the reservoir resultantly. Though during the protests at Marina Beach earlier this year as well the attempts had been made to garner the attention but the ‘national mood’ was then being guided by the larger than life narrative of Jallikattu.

However, the sad bothering reality is that the matter was taken as of little concern by and large when it comes to the ‘national politics’ even though the imagination event was sufficient to send chills to one’s body and the entire idea of protests through the invocation of biopolitic shows how violable, helpless and vulnerable the body is during the times of distress where it has no recourse left, but to escape from the grim situation. The larger idea of the protests however transcends the life of the farmers and takes into account the ones who survive such as the farmer’s wife, which was done through wearing of sarees or mangalsutras, singing of funeral songs, et al. The catastrophe surrounding the survival of millions of marginal and small scale farmers in the rural areas hardly seems to affect the urban middle class. To say the least, perhaps owing to the horrid way in which the demonstrations were made the protests managed to get some media attention.

The indifference faced by the farmers puts one in the colonial context where the famine codes and drought measures had little regard or sympathy towards the cause of the deprived, while the focus was on causing ‘minimum’ cost to the exchequer.[4] Even after the independence the drought and the scarcity codes have retained their colonial structure and they still aren’t ‘right-based’ in nature. Tamil Nadu’s drought Code was last amended in 1901 retaining its entire colonial structure. Further the absence of legal enforceability in these Codes renders them toothless. The context in which the notion of providing relief by the state occurs puts everything to the benevolence of the state. While relief packages and bail out mechanisms are asked for, it is ultimately to the state to decide as to how much is “appropriate” for the situation and sometimes also resting on the fact that how grave the situation is based upon the media attention and public outrage it faces. In this context it becomes crucial that the policy formulation by the expert bodies and the Central Government’s think-tank NITI Aayog involve the key stakeholder, i.e., farmers so as to avoid the gap which occurs. Needless to mention, financial institutions are needed to strengthen their support to the farmers, while also focusing on schemes such as crop insurance, et al.

For the national narrative and the social media, the farmers have only one question to ask: what does the country want, a farmer with a dead morale and subsequently on a funeral pyre, and a skull then or food. I am sure the people of this country do not want the former. But, the very first step is to acknowledge, believe and comprehend that there is a problem and come out of the flowery picture of lush green crops waving right before the harvests. If there is an end to the plight of the famers, we don’t know. We however know that everything can’t be put on the vagaries of the nature and the state and the central governments need to realize their responsibility, else the notion of ‘annadata’ is nothing more than a relieving concept to our mind, someone who is self-sufficient and is nothing more than an iconic figure to us. How indifferent we can be, is now-a-days easy to demonstrate if for once we think beyond the culture of ‘trending’ and a collective will to decide that what is and what is not concerning. However, the imagery of the macabre was no short of a powerful one and was it too much that they were asking for?

[1] Suicides in Farming Sector, NCRB, available at http://ncrb.nic.in/StatPublications/ADSI/ADSI2015/chapter-2A%20suicides%20in%20farming%20sector.pdf.

[2] Sudhir T.S., Tamil Nadu farmers protest in Delhi: Desperate to be heard, agitators turn to the macabre, First Post, available at http://www.firstpost.com/india/tamil-nadu-farmers-protest-in-delhi-desperate-to-be-heard-agitators-turn-to-the-macabre-3354740.html.

[3] Perapaddan B.S., Tamil farmers ‘shed blood’ at Jantar Mantar, (April 8, 2017), available at http://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Delhi/tamil-farmers-shed-blood-at-jantar-mantar/article17878112.ece.

[4] Harsh Mander, Droughts, Famines and Scarcities, Time for a Proactive State Mechanism, The Hindu Centre for Politics & Public Policy, (2016), p. 5.

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