Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Why Should The Gujjar Protest Concern Us

The Gujjars’ movement emanating from the feeling that they have been ignored by the government represents the increasing anger of the farmers throughout India. Will the government wake up?

The Gujjar movement in Rajasthan has ended. But it gave a lesson. I wonder if the government will ponder upon it. First we should know the reason why Gujjar launched their agitation.

Gujjars are farmers whose lives depend on cattle. Breeding livestock and selling milk are their main sources of income. They have been breeding cows and sheep for centuries. Gradually cattle breeding transformed into buffalo breeding. And buffalo milk dominated the market. Earlier, Indians did not breed buffalos.

It was after 1950 that Milk Co-operative Movement started with the help of ADDP. The criterion for judging the quality of milk set at the time changed completely the direction of cattle breeding and the market of milk. The quality of milk was judged as per the percentage of fat in it. The more the fat the better milk. Interestingly, the criterion of fat was made because it can be measured easily by lactometer. To our officers, this was the easiest way to measure quality of milk.

With the start of the post-fifth decade-Milk Co-operative Movement, the use of milk was mostly done in preparing tea. The tea with thicker milk was considered better. These two reasons led to more usage of buffalo milk compared to that of cow.
The demand of buffalo milk increased in the market. The meaning of breeding livestock changed in the country to only buffalo breeding. It led to a greater change.

If we compare between the price of forage for buffalos and the price of milk during last 25 years, we come across a huge difference. For some years it was in the ratio of 1/3. To elucidate, if Rs.One was spent on buffalos’ feed, it would produce milk worth Rs. Three. Thus, the Gujjars benefitted.

But the last ten years changed the scenario. The price of forage increased. The ways of cultivation changed. Crops changed. The production of forage decreased. Water started disappearing. This went hand in hand with the increasing price of fat.
The farmers began feeding food concentrate forage to buffalos. Food concentrate forage is made out of oil cakes. Oil became expensive and so was oil cake. The forage for the buffalos automatically became more costly. But the government viewing the interests of urban consumers checked increase in milk price.

The other reason for trouble was the introduction of synthetic milk in the market. Consequently, the price of milk could not become as much as it should be according to the demand and supply rule of the market.

Besides, the ghee business too became a bane for Gujjars. The business of impure ghee is larger than of pure ghee. It, too, stopped the increase in milk price. For the last ten years, Gujjars have been in constant loss.

The less income put Gujjars in anxiety. Gujjars felt they were getting poor due to their old business and that it brought them inadequate income. In such a situation, if a political party or leader promises a bright future for them, these impoverished peasants will naturally support them. But it is not the farmers of only Rajasthan but also those of the rest of India are angry.

Railway tracks and roads are blocked not only by Gujjars but also by the farmers in Andhra Pradesh districts of Nellore and Kadapa. They demand the government should come up with a solution to their problems.

Unseasoned rain and less price of produce by farmers made their lives a torment. As the first step the farmers negotiated with the government but having this failed they resorted to agitation. The Andhra farmers enjoy the support of the opposition. In Tamil Nadu, too, farmers face difficulties. The farmers of sugarcane and silk are meted out discrimination. Their land have been allotted to builders and the farmers were not given due compensation. Sugarcane farmers do not get suitable price for the produce. The only option left before farmers is to launch a movement.

Karnataka farmers are in a different situation. The price of the seeds cultivated through traditional way has decreased. The farmers who would cultivate Bio-Cottons have to sow B. T. Cotton. The farmers in Kolar district of Karnataka are leading a movement against the deputy commissioner over tomato price. Due to tomato price, a farmer in Dharwad has committed suicide.

The Kerala farmers growing coconut are in more abysmal condition. In 1996, the price of a 100 kg of coconut was Rs. 5553. Since then it has been on continuous decline. Farmers are incurring loss.

The famers associated with rubber and tea farms have been undergoing the same problem. Everywhere the expenses on the crops are increasing while at the same time the price of the produce becoming less.

Throughout the country, the famers of tilhan (oil crops) face the heat of the government policies. During 1980 and 1993, the product of oil crops had doubled but the government now imports cheaper oil seeds from abroad under its liberal policies. India is the biggest country to import oil seeds. The price of seeds has decreased and the farmers are no more interested in cultivating oil crops seeing its unavoidable loss.

In the seventies Mahendra Singh Tikait led a kisan movement in Western U.P. He got strong support of the farmers. The farmers of that time cultivating sugarcane, wheat, barley and grams faced the situation tantamount to that of today’s Gujjars. The expenses over sugarcane, wheat, barley and gram increased and the government had controlled their prices. Cultivation was proving harmful to farmers. Later on when the situation changed, the kisan movement stopped.

Today, the farmers are facing increasingly worse situation all over the country. The turnover from the crops is miserably little. Their farms are acquired by the government in the name of highways, expressways, industries, SEZs and development.

Dadri, Nandigram, Agra and Aligarh are some of the regions where farmers are wakening. If the government does not adopt any solid approach to solve the problems of the farmers, the whole country will do what Gujjars are doing today.

Since 1991 India witnessed personalization and liberalisation. People were told everything will be ok within 20 years and we will get developed. But, the effect of those policies has appeared in rich becoming richer and poor growing poorer. The subsequent distance between the urban and rural India has pushed the country into anarchy. The stock exchange of the country is in good condition but the farmers throughout the country are resorting to suicides.

Maharashtra tops the states as regards suicide cases. Strangely, on one hand Maharashtra has the economic capital of the country (Mumbai) in it. If the state is abode for most of the billionaires in the country, then it is also where poor farmers live who do not have any other option but to kill themselves.

The farmers of Andhra, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh follow those of Maharashtra in committing suicide.

Have a look at the statistics and you will be astonished to find that between 1997-2001, around 15,747 farmers committed suicide ever year. And this number increased to 17,366 per year during 2001 to 2007. After 2007, the suicide ratio of farmers has been increasing. The farmers of Vidarbha cultivating cotton are most vulnerable to commit suicide.

The expense over one hectare farm of cotton in the rest of country is Rs. Sixteen thousand, while in Vidarbha it is around twenty to twenty two thousand rupees. In the region, marginally 146 kg cotton is produced in one hectare and it is sold in the market for Rs. 35-48 per kg! (It brings maximum Rs. 7, 008 per hectare.) The cotton farmers are in economic loss. The situation has worsened to an extent that they have no options left. Most of the deaths are in the 25 to 45 age range.

Whether they are the cotton farmers of Vidarbha, tomato peasants of Andhra or farmers of Kerala growing coconut and tea, they all have been feeling that the government policies have pushed the traditionally employed people in to unemployment.

So, the Gujjar movement should not be taken merely as an agitation for reservation and a movement of a certain community. Or it will be a fatal mistake. Some days ago Gujjars launched a movement. But tomorrow other farmers will do the same. And if it happens, the country will no more remain stable.

Santosh Bhartiya

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