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Farmer Issues – ROMF

‘I didn’t want to go to jail. So I agreed to their demands’

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Scathing winds of summer, some called it. Fields were fraught with despair. The air eddied around them, longer than they could remember. It lasted forever. Each gust swept drifting leaves. Lurking though the grove, they stood apart. In ashen boughs and their scarce rustle, we heard their unsung sorrows. “We have problems. Too many of them,” muttered Patrebasappa. In diffused light, his eyes seemed rigid. Anger writ large in his face as he turned around and glanced at the men beside him. “We are all farmers,” he declared, “It meant something, once.”

Despite frequent occurrence of dry spells in Kurudi, Patrebasappa managed to harvest 64 quintals of corn this year. “I sold them for Rs 1,420 per quintal. I didn’t grow anything else. I couldn’t. Earlier, I would cultivate several varieties of fruits and vegetables in my farm. Now, I have nothing. First, the water dried up. Then, the weather turned rogue. Our food disappeared soon after. What was once a thriving farmland is now struggling to survive. So, I buy my vegetables from the market. What choice do I have? Alcohol addiction is another major issue we need to tackle here. Villagers continue to spend whatever little they earn on liquor which spells doom for a struggling farmer. The problem has aggrandised in the past ten years. Maybe it helps them escape their troubles. May be it helps them cope. But they don’t go away now, do they? They never will unless we address them. Everybody has problems but we can’t drown our sorrows in alcohol. We can’t give up hope. That’s all we have,” he said.

As the farmers discussed the plight of loan defaulters in the village, a large gathering of party workers shouted slogans outside his home in praise of their leader. Their spokesperson summoned Patrebasappa and he disappeared into the crowd. A disarrayed group of volunteers walked into lanes unaware of its inhabitants. They stepped closer to rows of perplexed faces lined in the alleyway. Hands balled into fists, they raised their arms shouting in unison. New faces met old ones, and they all sallied forth towards cluttered streets. They crossed paths one after the other in their quest for another house, another face, another vote…

“Seasonal promises,” said one of the farmers as he broke into a wide grin, “We get them every election season.” He placed his palms on the edge of the cot and traced his fingers over its rough edges. Within the reach of his arm, was an old tattered newspaper. As he bent down to pick it up, to his dismay, the commotion outside grew louder and within seconds we heard the booming voice of ‘the leader’.  From around the group came murmurs of approval. In sullen desperation, the farmer’s eyes darted across the door. A shadow flickered over the door frame. “Nobody,” the old man muttered lowly and then pronounced aloud in his characteristic baritone, “You must stay for dinner.” We politely refused and told him we would be back tomorrow.

It was getting late and Arun suggested that we head home. By now, the streets were deserted. In twilight, we followed tracks of an old man carrying dead wood and branches. Haggard with fatigue, he dragged his feet along scorched pavements. He tread lightly lest he burn his soles again. Home was nowhere to be seen. Not yet. He stopped to catch his breath once more, and vanished into narrow lanes before our eyes.

“Here’s where he lives,” Arun pointed at a tiny house. “The man we met earlier today,” he explained looking at our puzzled faces. “His name is Nagaraj.” In the corner, where one lane converged into another, stood an old house. It looked run down, its paint wore thin. Slabs of wood leaned precariously against its walls. It didn’t belong there. A burly old man dragged out a heavy slab and drove a wedge through it. He advanced a few steps farther and examined the cleft up close.

Banni Banni,” said Nagaraj in a feeble voice as the man tossed wooden slabs aside oblivious to our presence.

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A small vase of plastic flowers atop the television set caught our attention as soon as we set foot in his house. Off the hall, was a bedroom that belonged to everyone. A patchwork quilt hung beneath the cot in the room. A rusty teapoy lay beside the kitchen where women sat on the floor dicing vegetables for supper. A young girl fussed in her mother’s lap. She held a tiny doll with blonde piglets in her arms. She refused to budge while her grandmother offered her some milk.

“Many years ago, my father borrowed Rs 20,000 from State Bank Of India,” said Nagaraj as Arun explained why we were here. “He passed away in an accident. His debts were never cleared. I was very young. I didn’t understand what it meant. Our world was shattered overnight. I couldn’t come to terms with the fact that I’d never see him anymore. Twenty years later, SBI filed a case against us. They ordered us to cough up Rs 140,000. Apparently, this was the final amount I owed them. I told them my father had died and that I wasn’t aware of laws assosiated with penalising defaulters. I had missed a few hearings earlier since I couldn’t find anyone to take care of my farm. I paid a heavy price for my father’s decision to seek help. I don’t blame him though. I am a farmer too. And, those were troubled times.”

He gazed at the cracks on the walls as though they didn’t exist. The hard lines of his mouth softened a bit as his granddaughter walked towards him. Her name was Chenna Basavamma. She took short unsteady steps and stumbled into his open arms. Her toy lay abandoned on the floor.

In hushed tones, Arun confessed to us that it was immoral on the bank’s part to punish a helpless farmer by putting forth preposterous conditions that would only hinder him from escaping the entrapment of debt.

“I remember when the police came home,” Nagaraj said playing with the young girl’s hair, “It was the worst day of my life. Upon the insistence of the bank manager, I was arrested and thrown into prison. I was there for four days. If it weren’t for Arun, I’d still be in jail today. With the help of a few Karnataka Rajya Raithara Sangha (KRRS) activists, he fought with the manager and implored him to settle the case out of court. In the end, I was asked to pay Rs 40,000 as penalty and the bank agreed to forgo all charges against me. I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life in jail. So, I agreed to their demands.”

His troubles never ended. There was anguish yet to bear for he was a farmer, after all. Some years, he gathered poor harvest. Some years, he longed for better rains. But for now, he seemed content with whatever he had. “There were times when I lost all hope but I survived,” he said in whispers.

After some tea and biscuits, as we got up to leave, the family stood around us in solemn silence. “Matte yavaga barthira neevu?” asked Nagaraj with a heavy heart. We promised him we would return soon.

We then walked back to Arun’s home as he discussed the importance of sustainable agriculture. As the skies turned mauve, we asked him if he remembered where his favourite spot in the village was. “Right there,” he pointed at distant fields that glimmered in the evening sun; where one land ended and another began. An endless sojourn of verdant green, that’s where he found his solace as a little boy.

As we stumbled into meandering lanes, his smile faded. “They too shall disappear some day,” he said stepping into his house, “They always do…”

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(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

‘Everything is owned now — air, water, forest, land and even seeds’

Singed logs sputtered with flame in a distance. Billows of smoke rose and fell unbroken. As dusk crept over the sky, evening stars glimmered on the edges of the horizon. “Hurry up,” shrieked a young girl. Amidst the tall shrubbery, a few paces away, a toddler wiggled his hips as he ran hither and thither with his arms raised in the air. His friend accompanied him in hurried steps, chewing on an old rag all along. In a short while, a third one emerged from the stiff bushes. His companions were long gone. He dragged his feet towards home where stood his mother on the doorsteps awaiting his return.

Women gathered near the hand pump with piles of soiled dishes. They spoke in whispers. “Maduve,” we heard them say. Their children scoured the courtyard for things to do or small creatures to kill. Their muffled giggles gave them away, at times. Some feet scurried along pathways that lay before them. The ones that lumbered towards roads where the horizon sang at dusk. Somewhere where wells hadn’t dried up and flowers hadn’t bloomed their last. Somewhere else, perhaps. Such was their hope, to find hope elsewhere.

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We entered Arun’s home. Two other women were close behind us and about to follow. We spotted Arun’s father as soon as we walked in. Seated in a chair, he swung his legs back and forth talking animatedly about something he had once read in the papers. “Those times have gone,” he muttered adjusting tufts of hair that escaped his topi. Despite living in the city, he returns to the village ever so often. He belonged here.

A fresh pot of tea was being brewed in the kitchen. The women offered us some biscuits as we struck a conversation with Arun’s father. An old lady walked in silence towards her home, a few paces away from us. Her gray hair hung down in disarray. She raised her frail hands against the walls to steady her balance. Her breath was heavy, and her fingers gnarled. She quietly escaped into lanes behind us that evening never to be seen again.

Arun and his father engaged in a playful banter about the state of education in Kurudi. While his father felt the quality had fallen considerably, Arun argued that they had made remarkable progress over the past few decades. “Appaji, nimmage yenu gothilla, bidi,” said Arun standing up as his father smiled._l4a8994

“The primary school in Kurudi is almost 100 years old. So is this house,” he said sliding his chair closer to appaji. We sipped on tea and spoke about rising debts amongst small scale farmers and the incredulous monopoly of corporate conglomerates over seed supply thereby exercising dominance over the global agrarian economy.

“Everything is owned now — air, water, forest, land and even seeds. We have claimed everything. Farmers on the other hand have no right to determine the rates at which they could sell their produce. They have no right to live a life with dignity. They have no right to hope. They have no right to seek assistance. Tell me, what does the life of a farmer entail then? The only thing a farmer acquires in abundance in his or her lifetime are debts. And yet, farmers won’t unite,” said Arun as he set his cup aside.

In 2003,  the collapse of World Trade Organisation (WTO) negotiations in Cancun, Mexico eventually led to the emergence of G22 wherein twenty two developing nations challenged the then existing system that solely benefitted massive conglomerates of wealthy nations while vulnerable developing nations suffered owing to a ruthless global market. They demanded to bring forth a crucial discussion on agricultural subsidies and in the process mobilise a revolutionary transformation within the social order one that encompassed equality and justice. Some even called this shift in structural ‘order’ a devastating blow to global capitalism. “There have been many instances in the past where we have managed to defy all odds and achieve great success when we come together. But have we been able to stand our ground and fight with honour? Did we eventually crumble under pressure and give in to demands that were detrimental to our society? These are questions that often go unanswered. We are all looking for a revolution. But it won’t come if we all merely look. We have to find courage within ourselves to fight back,” he said wiping his forehead.

Now and then, shadows of insects flitted across the room. A few chirruped on the ground while many stayed still. Some were in pursuit of light. Even so, their sullen murmurs were heard by all. Away in a corner, glued to the television set was a young boy, all of 10. The noise surging around him faded to a dim roar. His elbows dug into his knees. As the protagonist tossed his hands skyward, the toddler’s eyes were shrouded in dismay.

“An old film,” said Arun breaking our reverie. He gazed at the twilight skies; clouds suspended in tandem. Corn husks escaped from their piles and floated motionless in the courtyard. The winds had changed. And, if we listened we could hear them all — the faint rustle of dead foliage; the hollow harmony of woven boughs — cascading into the depths of the earth. Songs of solemn despair…

“Let us go to my sister’s house. She lives right beside us,” said Arun readjusting his green shawl. Leading us through the back alley into a neighbouring lane, he then entered a tiny house and beckoned us to follow him inside. A middle-aged woman sorted pulses in the courtyard.

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A faint whiff of smoke wafted through the air. The hall was laden with grains of thogri bele. Amidst motes of dust dancing in diffused twilight rays, Arun’s sister sat on the floor segregating grains. She murmured to herself as she deftly moved from one batch to another. Some charted their own course and escaped into corners beyond theirs. Like always. They were everywhere, leaving trails behind.

“These are better than the pulses we saw in Shiriganahalli. The latter batches were dry and relatively smaller in size,” said Arun as he gingerly ran his fingertips through them. He stood up at once and suggested we take a walk around the village before nightfall. Soon, his hurried paces took us through Kurudi’s labyrinth of passageways.

Many defied the summer winds and sat on their porch reading newspapers. Older men took a nap while their sons sipped on tea discussing local politics and weather. Soggy bits of crumpled papers lay forgotten in lanes and lost in crumbling edifices. The walls were far too close and its occupants distant. They felt each others presence though. Sometimes in murmurous voices. Maybe they listened. Maybe had forgotten how to. Some believed their old tales could always tell. We couldn’t…

“We are going to Nanjappa’s house,” said Arun stopping to catch his breath, “He was a freedom fighter, you know. The only one from this village. He passed away a few years ago. His son Patrebasappa is the president of the co-operative society here. He is a farmer too.”

Lanes converged into forbidding pathways. The ones that led towards fields stretching endless miles. At times, the rustic charm of Kurudi was bespattered with wreaths of dust. Summer was brutal in these regions. Through the lanes, emerged an old man dressed in white dhoti and kurta. He held his grand daughter in his arms and walked towards home. Our presence didn’t deter him. The roads were broken. His steps didn’t falter. He had crossed these lanes several times before.

Arun shot a glance at him and whispered, “We must meet him. He might have something to say. He bore the brunt of injustice and despair, once. Maybe he still does. I’ll take you to his house later. Come now, lets go the other way.”

Behind us where gathered beside a porch were piles of stones and rubble, there lay a tiny structure that was home to many generations of farmers. It seemed deserted but it wasn’t. We set foot inside the building to find its occupants deep in conversation. Not a shaft of light slipped through these crevices. Not a whisper left its walls.

We were soon introduced to Patrebasappa who asked us to sit beside them. Upon learning about our project and journey, he smiled and said to us, “The co-operative society functions as a district co-operative bank and hands out loans to those in need. It is functional in three neighbouring villages. We have been able to assist farmers in some of our most dire times in the past. We have learnt to lean on each other for strength. We have to. The society also sells fertilisers at a subsidised rate. Loans are sanctioned at zero percent interest as per requirement only when crop patterns are revealed to the bank. On an average, a farmer can get anywhere between Rs 3000 to Rs 4000 per acre. However, it isn’t enough. It never is. A farmer continues to struggle, to survive. Some lose hope. It’s the same story you’ll hear over and over again. A different face, a different voice narrating the same story…”

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Two women sat on the floor slicing vegetables and giggling at their grandchildren who screamed as they ran around the house. Another older woman with unsteady hands brought us some tea. Her veil barely covered her white shrouds.

“He fought hard to ensure small scale farmers get their dues,” said Arun while the other men frowned and nodded. “Big landlords have become extremely powerful. We can’t fight them alone,” said an old man adjusting his topi, “They avail all the schemes introduced by the government leaving smaller farmers to fend for themselves.”

Patrebasappa nodded in agreement. He placed his glass on the floor and drew patterns with his fingers on the ground. “I am not educated,” he said in whispers, “But I understand the importance of standing up and fighting for those who were wronged. If we don’t take care of each other, who will? Nobody. There were times when we begged and fought. But no one listened. Why would they?” His eyes showed angst. As he turned towards the walls, we heard him mutter, “Naavu yaaru?…”

(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.

‘This was my playground. We would run into fields and stake our claim on trees’

White. They hung in neglected ringlets around her nape. She tossed them aside carelessly, and paused. Patterns encircled her courtyard. Her eyes crinkled as she looked for symmetry. She drew a long breath and knelt before her door. Her shoulders stiffened into despair for her lines had strayed from their path. They always did.

White. They unravelled on her fingers like dust…

We spotted her from our balcony. She scarcely lifted her head. Her hands trembled in the summer winds; her voice lost in the shadows of sound. She soon went away just as she arrived making her presence felt all along.

Arun fussed in our room with the broomstick. Upon insisting that he needn’t take the trouble to sweep the floor, he sat down on a plastic chair, beside the window. We wondered aloud if we should find a lodge since we didn’t want to cause him or his family any inconvenience. “No. That won’t be necessary. Why would you want to spend unnecessarily? If we have to do something, we have to do it together. We are in this together,” he said with a warm smile.

It was almost 8 am. We spoke for a while discussing everything we had in mind. We also shared with him the possibility of Marullusiddappa uniting and inspiring farmers in the region to practise natural farming aside from adopting progressive farming techniques; those that deter farmers from being captives of debt and misery.

“It’s possible,” Arun declared at once. His face was shrouded in concern as he muttered, “Marullusiddappa is a sincere man. His greatest strengths lie in imparting knowledge on traditional techniques whilst nurturing an integrated but efficient agrosystem. He can guide farmers, no doubt. But he is no leader. He requires a strong support system. And, he needs someone who will be able to organise farmers in the village. He won’t be able to do it on his own. We need to find someone who shares a similar vision and philosophy to assist him.”

An old newspaper caught his attention. He stretched out his fingers and traced letters that had disappeared over time. There they were again. Names of importance. Names of consequence embedded in the minds of all. Names that made an appearance in the unguarded passes of our minds. Mostly ineligible but all too familiar. Human, nonetheless. Amidst crumpled leaves, we caught glimpses of them once more — forgotten declarations. Unfulfilled promises, lost in faded ink…

“Reddy too tried his hand at natural farming for a while. However, he didn’t last very long. Due to his economic situation, he feared he might suffer major losses which could have had a disastrous consequence on his income. He said he couldn’t afford to gamble with his farm. So, he quit. Despite people showing great interest initially, they always gave up after a while. Five years is all they could handle. It’s too much work, some said. Others believed it was a futile attempt altogether. ‘Why should I put in so much effort?’ they asked us. We fought quite a bit to keep the philosophy and vision afloat but we didn’t get the requisite support from our farming community. So, we stopped trying after a point. But I haven’t lost hope yet,” he said with a grim smile.

We were to visit Jagallur at 2.30 pm. Arun rang up his friend, a human rights lawyer, and informed him to meet us there. Over the past decade, he has handled several cases of atrocities committed against farmers in this region. Much to our dismay, he was caught up with legal work due to the impending elections. “There are several heart breaking stories he has shared with me that don’t get told quite often. Stories of cruel torment. These are incidents that don’t warrant any importance in our papers. We will drive to Jagallur in the morning. Let’s go to Kurudi and spend the night there. You can see the house I grew up in,” Arun suggested.

In a short while, we decided to leave Davangere. On routes that bent wayward, Arun asked us to drive along farms that once bespoke of great realms. Unhindered signs of decay drifted alongside these paths. Long before noon, we were surrounded by farmlands bathed in hues of gold and green.

“This belt is drier than Shiriganahalli,” Arun said in whispers, “And, yet you will see a vast variety of crops being cultivated here. Unlike the former settlement, farmers in this region are willing to experiment with their techniques. They say this is a fertile belt. But they have no water. Farmers sit helplessly watching their farms dry before their eyes. Their struggles are incomprehensible. Sometimes, I feel the odds may never be in their favour.”

A few miles away, some toddlers broke into a run yelling profanities at one another. A smile crept unbidden on Arun’s face. He watched them prance around paddy fields declaring their territory as they walked into forbidden lands.

“Take the turn up ahead. It will lead you to a narrow path lined with tiny houses,” he said. Wrapped in a winged whirlwind, a few leaves rose and set on abandoned farms, that day. Stacks of dried corn husks glistened in the sun as a flock of birds twirled in unsightly winds making bold advances towards the pile.

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In the empty shadows of a courtyard in ruins, sat a lone tree. Long and crooked were its stem that swung with rage in occasional gusts. Underneath it, sat an old man with a sickle beside his feet. They were cracked just like the earth beneath him. Perhaps, he sought solitude in its shadows, but he sought in vain. For, its flailing arms darted to and fro. And, in its loudest creaks hid wailing whispers of deceit. He heard them all, that afternoon…

“Ground water levels have fallen considerably over the years. In hopes of reviving their farms, people dug up borewells at an alarming pace. Everyone was looking for water but rarely found enough to keep their farms sustained. Diminished rainfall and drought have only worsened the situation in these villages,” explained Arun pointing at arid patches of land in the vicinity, “Yet, you will find glimpses of lush fields in a few corners. Many give up but some fight till their last breath.”

We drove straight through rickety roads before coming to an abrupt halt beside a farm. Arun sprung from our vehicle and walked excitedly towards a cluster of palm trees. It was his ancestral land. His grandfather tilled the soil for decades before handing over the reins to his children. The farm was eventually split amongst his sons. Each of them cultivate whatever they can now and earn a living from the land._mg_8920

He bent down to examine the soil around his palm trees. He ran his fingertips over the micro-tubes ensuring that they were in order. Despite severe water shortage, the trees had grown to considerable lengths. Edible palm oil provided a decent source of income for most of the farmers in the region.

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“I grew up here,” said Arun with a beaming smile. “This was my playground. We would run into fields and stake our claim on trees and shrubs. Those were different times. Everything around us thrived with life. Now, we are struggling to keep our plants alive.”

We took a quick stroll through his farm. In moments, he led us to the edge of an open pit that once served as a well. It was here where children first learnt to swim and farmers stored enough water for their crops. Dry and barren, it stood lifeless in the fields. Stacks of hay and broken wigs were strewn all over the trench. Arun’s forehead creased into grim lines as he reminisced his childhood days. “I remember jumping into these wells when I was a young boy. We would often come here in summer. Now, it is yet another dump-yard for straws and garbage,” he said shrugging his shoulders.

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We soon decided to head towards Arun’s home. Soaring stalks of sunflowers surrounded our pathways as we drove into unknown passages. Their slender blades sparkled emerald in the evening sun.  In a grand symphonic gesture, they bowed to the earth while gentle winds hummed ballads of harmony…_l4a0216

(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