The Thorn Birds Of India

23/04/2015 3:36 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
NARINDER NANU via Getty Images
Indian labourers bail accumulated rainwater near flooded sacks of wheat after unseasonal overnight rains soaked the area at a grain distribution point in Amritsar on May 13, 2014. Punjab is India's largest wheat producing state, contributing nearly 70 percent of the national total. Farmers in Punjab state have incurred huge losses as unseasonal rainfall damaged wheat crops, washing away prospects of a bumper production. AFP PHOTO/NARINDER NANU (Photo credit should read NARINDER NANU/AFP/Getty Images)

"There is a legend about a bird which sings just once in its life, more sweetly than any other creature on the face of the earth. From the moment it leaves the nest it searches for a thorn tree, and does not rest until it has found one. Then, singing among the savage branches, it impales itself upon the longest, sharpest spine. And, dying, it rises above its own agony to outcarol the lark and the nightingale. One superlative song, existence the price. But the whole world stills to listen, and God in His heaven smiles. For the best is only bought at the cost of great pain... Or so says the legend."

― Colleen McCullough, The Thorn Birds

Yesterday, a stone's throw away from the heart of India's democracy, a farmer -- a father of three -- committed suicide by hanging himself from a tree whilst a political rally protesting his plight and of scores like him proceeded unbridled. The aftermath of this death unfolded in roughly the following sequence -- analysis over the deceased's identity, which politician visited the hospital first, was the death the result of a political conspiracy, so on and so forth...

Die in Central India and you are a statistic, commit suicide in Central Delhi and you are news. As hours and news trickled by, it became increasingly clear that rigor mortis had set in not just Gajendra Singh's body but also the political discourse of the country.

As political spokespersons sought to outdo each other in projecting themselves as pro farmer, the foremost thought in my mind was that if every party is pro farmer and yet thousands of farmers are dying, there is no hope for the rest of the citizenry.

"Die in Central India and you are a statistic, commit suicide in Central Delhi and you are news."

The political narrative surrounding the farmer's plight in the country has always been generic -- focusing on keywords rather than key issues. So while we hear noises about green revolution, loan waiver, farm credit and minimum support price, there is silence on the implementation of the Swaminathan Report or the Prime Minister's radical idea about the unbundling of the Food Corporation of India (which has now been advised against by a High Level Committee in January, 2015).

rally india

Can the Indian State for once just honestly apologise to the farmers for letting them down with its socialist policies of procurement and assistance? Would our politicians own up to the fact that the subsidised pesticide is increasingly used for killing farmers and not pests? Can they acknowledge that the loan waiver scheme was a giant failure because most of the farmers have never had access to institutional credit in the first place?

The truly terrifying thing is that instead of debating the right issues, the political class is embroiled in scaremongering around the Land Bill. Is it the landless farmer who is committing suicide or the one who is increasingly unsure about the returns on cultivation?

"The truly terrifying thing is that instead of debating the right issues, the political class is embroiled in scaremongering around the Land Bill."

In the days to come, as has always happened in debates surrounding farmer's rights, rhetoric will triumph over reason. Instead of focusing on the plight of the farmers, the debate is destined to be be styled as us v. them -- farmer v. industry. The Land Bill presently being debated in Parliament, despite all its merits, will be labelled as a giant conspiracy against the farmers of India; the government under siege will be forced to relent on all reforms --agricultural, industrial and labour.

I for one naively hope that somewhere amongst the game of political one-upmanship some policy maker would think about the three children whose remaining lives will be spent in the shadow of their father's body hanging from a tree in the national capital. I hope that instead of figuring out whether the suicide was part of a political ploy, the political class will realise that thousands of other farmers have met the same fate -- just not in front of the cameras. I hope the thorn birds of India will stop singing...

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