Monday, December 25

No Longer An Agrarian Economy

In the past decade and a half, nearly two lakh small farmers in the state have quit agriculture, according to National Census data, reports AMRITA CHAUDHRYin The Indian Express

He is just 30 years old but years of hard work has etched deep lines of pain on his face, ageing him by almost 10 years. This is Dara Singh, who, along with his brother Sukhdev Singh of Jallur village in Sangrur district, has lost all of his 20 acres to “meeting daily demands”. Both the brothers quit agriculture some three years ago and are now daily wagers. “The pride and self-respect that we had when we were farmers has been lost now. On a very good day, we make Rs 80-100 a day as we work as labourers on the farms of people who were once our neighbours,” he says.
Chander Shekhar, another farmer from Sadihari village in Sangrur, quit agriculture two years back and decided to start some kind of business in Rajasthan. He failed and is once again back in his village with nothing to do.
Tears roll down his faces as he tells his tale: “I got nothing from agriculture; could not even manage two square meals. I thought trading would be a good option. But from where do I get this huge capital to invest in trading? And, as they say, once a farmer, always a farmer. I have nothing to do now. Small farmers in Punjab are dying each day. Please help us.”
Even statistics support his claim. Nearly two lakh small farmers are missing from the state agriculture scene as per the National Census data for 2000-2001. As per the available figures for the Census 1990-1991, small farmers with land holdings less than two hectares were around five lakh in number. For the census 1995-1996, this number came down to 3.87 lakh. As per the latest figures available for 2000-2001, the number of small farmers owning less than two hectares of land is around 2.96 lakh. In short, in the past decade and a half, nearly two lakh small farmers in the state have quit agriculture.
“We are yet to study as to where these farmers have gone,” says well-known economist Dr P.S. Rangi, who is also a consultant with the State Farmers’ Commission.
He adds that this study has been given to Punjab Agricultural University, which has been told to complete it by March 31, 2007. “We want to know what are these farmers doing presently; has their lot improved after quitting agriculture or has it deteriorated further. Other aspects of this study will include as to what kind of profession have these farmers taken up currently,” he says.
Renowned economist Dr Sucha Singh Gill of Punjabi University, Patiala, says, “Firstly, it is never healthy to have such a large population, as we have in Punjab, totally dependent on one occupation. Seventy per cent of the population in Punjab is into farming. Now, it is no longer viable at least for the small farmers.”
He adds: “The NSSO figures say that in Punjab we have about 7.5 lakh families who make a living from dairy, so several farmers have made a parallel move from crops to dairy. There could be many who have become daily wagers or some who could have joined value-added services to agriculture, like that of milk processing and so on. We will have the details once the study is out.”
Dr. Sucha Singh Gill writes that the state is no longer an agrarian economy, technically speaking. An excerpt from an article 'A Futuristic View' in Seminar
In terms of the state domestic product, the share of agriculture and allied activities came down from 59.32% in 1970-71 to 39.74% in 2000-01. The share of workforce engaged in agriculture (cultivators and agricultural labourers) declined from 62.57 in 1971 to 39.36% in 2001. Thus agriculture no longer occupies a prominent position either in generating income or in providing employment. If these trends continue, agriculture will further lose in the coming decades. On the basis of past trends, it is expected that by 2021 the share of agriculture in Punjab’s income and employment will diminish to about 25%. This decline will be matched by a rising share of income and employment in the manufacturing and service sectors of the economy. Industry and service sectors have boundless potentials of growth unconstrained by availability of natural resources like land, mines, forestry, and so on.
The trend towards manufacturing and service sectors has been accompanied by a rapid urbanization of the state. In 1971 the share of rural population in Punjab was 76.3% which declined to 66.05% in 2001. If the same trend continues, a majority of Punjab’s population would be living in urban areas after 2035. The data also reveals that although 66.05% of the total population resides in rural areas, a large number of them are not engaged in agriculture. Up to 1991, more than 75% of the rural population was engaged in agriculture. But the 2001 Census brought out that 46.50% of the rural population is now engaged in non-agriculture activities.
The rising importance of non-agricultural activity in the rural areas should give a further boost to urbanization, transforming big villages into small towns and towns into cities. With the expansion of urban conglomerates, persons engaged in manufacturing and service sectors but living in the rural areas will migrate to cities in search of a better quality of life. Ludhiana district is already urban in nature. Jalandhar and Amritsar districts will soon join Ludhiana with a majority of people living in urban areas.

Friday, December 22

New face of Dalit Identity

Dalit activism has enabled the community to make some progress, but it is still subjected to oppression across the country, reports Frontline in its cover story 'Victims, Still', as ANNIE ZAIDItakes a recount of Punjab

"If you want to see the new face of Dalit identity in Punjab, look at the backs of motorcycles in Boota Mandi. Where once youngsters proudly sputtered round on bikes saying `poot jattan de' (sons of Jats), today it is `poot chamaran de' (sons of Chamars)," says Professor Ronki Ram, who teaches Political Science at Panjab University, Chandigarh. He has just concluded a two-year study of the emerging socio-political situation of Dalits in places such as Dera Sach Khand at Ballan village near Jalandhar, and believes that the worm is turning, once again.
Early in the last century, when the Ad-dharmi movement took root in the State, the emphasis was on establishing an independent quamiyat (community identity), mazhab (religion) and majlis (organisation). While there may not be significant numbers of people lining up to convert to Ad-dharm, the call for a separate identity continues, although this is complicated, given that there are at least 38 sub-castes. But wherever Dalits have shaken off the economic ties binding them to upper castes, they seem determined to shake off the cultural yoke as well, by turning round the traditional burden of caste and wearing it on their sleeve. Increasingly, they are building their own places of worship too - Ravidasiya temples, Balmiki temples and what are described as "parallel gurdwaras" for Mazhabi Sikhs.

The Saint Ravidass temple on the campus of the Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research, Chandigarh. pic by Akhilesh Kumar

At the Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research in Chandigarh, the largest teaching hospital in the State, there are buildings representing each religion. A Sri Hari temple, a church, a mazaar, a gurdwara, a Ravidass temple and a Balmiki ashram which is under construction. Until 2003, all these structures were unauthorised. When the administration woke up to this fact and decided to bulldoze the structures, they began with the Ravidass temple. And they stopped there, for the howls of protest resounded all the way to Delhi. "It was not about the demolition of a temple. If they had bulldozed all the buildings, we would not have minded. But they began with the temple for Dalits, although the Sri Hari temple is the first in line from the road," said Ram Chander, general secretary of the temple trust. "Only some part of the church was also damaged, but they didn't dare touch the Hindu temple or the gurdwara."
As matters took a politically fraught turn, the land was allotted to the temple and the structures were all regularised. The Ravidass temple has been rebuilt and for now that is enough, says Ram Chander. "This is not just about a building. We want a place that is our own. This space serves as a platform, too, for the community to meet and talk and unite."
However, this wave of assertion is not indicative of Dalit well-being. Much of the defiance remains concentrated in the districts of the central Doaba region. Large parts of rural Punjab remain dependent on agriculture and the majority of Dalits remain landless, and thus at the mercy of upper caste landlords. At Asron village in Nawasheher district, for instance, though there were very few Jat households, none of the Dalit families had much land. Rattan Kaur, a widow, is landless. Of her four sons, only one finished his schooling. "They dropped out - in the fourth, or fifth or seventh."
There is a primary school in Asron, where most of the pupils are from poor families who cannot afford the Rs.300-a-month fees that private schools nearby charge. The nearest secondary government school is in Ropar town, which requires children to travel several kilometres on bicycles. Those who do not have bicycles cannot study further.
The major problem in the rural areas, however, is land and indebtedness. Says Professor Manjit Singh, who heads the Ambedkar Centre at Panjab University, "Dalits form nearly 33 per cent of the rural population, but own only 2.3 per cent of the land. Also, our studies show that at least 58 per cent of Dalit households are caught in debt traps; we estimate a total debt amounting to at least Rs.1,906 crores."
Frontline has recorded the rising unemployment and debt traps leading to bonded labour among Punjabi Dalits. Not much has changed. In fact, the situation may be getting worse. In 1991, S.Cs were estimated to account for at least 52 per cent of the State poverty statistic. This has now gone up to 62 per cent.
Manjit Singh points to research conducted across five districts by a scholar in the Sociology Department of Panjab University. It showed that 97 per cent of the agricultural labourers were from S.Cs and work participation was as low as 28.8 per cent. At least 20 per cent of the surveyed villagers agreed to work as "attached" labourers, which is half a step away from bondage. Studies have shown that although the spate of suicides in the past decade is commonly referred to as "farmer suicides", at least 30 per cent of the victims were landless labourers.
To nobody's surprise, the majority of landless Dalits are teetering on the edge and are just as vulnerable. "When you don't even own a patch of land to relieve yourself in, how can you raise your voice against the dominant castes?" asks Manjit Singh. "If you rear cattle, you need land to bring fodder from. If you are willing to work, you need a field to work in. Socio-economic boycott is an ever-present threat."
Most Dalit youth seek to escape deprivation and discrimination by going abroad. The only reason why Dalits in the Doaba region can afford to be more assertive is that they are economically independent, since many of the men work abroad and send money home.
While Punjab does not suffer from the purity-pollution severity of casteism, caste does play a role in the continuing socio-economic oppression of Dalits. The Malwa region remains largely feudal, a chilling reminder of which came in the form of the assault on Bant Singh of Jhabbar village in Mansa district, which led to his losing three limbs (`Casteist assault', Frontline, February 10, 2006). Once the tragic case captured national headlines, the subsequent pressure from activists and the media glare forced the government to pay compensation and make arrests.
Bant Singh was not an exception. Anil Kumar Lamdharia, an advocate in the High Court who deals with Dalit human rights violations, rattles out accounts of atrocities, each more horrifying than the previous one. He said: "In Ferozepur, about a year ago, a Dalit boy was forced to drink urine out of an upper caste person's jooti (shoe). In Ludhiana, a Dalit girl was raped, dismembered and thrown into a ditch. In Faridkot, a Balmiki boy was killed and his eyes were gouged out because he had dared to stare back. Incidentally, in this case, the police moved application 169 - which could lead to discharge without trial - citing lack of evidence on which to prosecute. Following protests, they withdrew the application. We are now demanding cancellation of bail."
According to Lamdharia, only those cases are heard of where the victim has the strength and the wherewithal to talk to lawyers. He told Frontline: "Half the time the police refuse to file an FIR. Yet, I don't know of even one person convicted under Section 4 of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act? This Section makes the official culpable for not taking proper action."
The State administration, however, maintains that in Punjab atrocities against Dalits are rare. In police records, the total number of crimes against S.C.s in 2005-06 is only 101. It was 98 for 2002. Lakha Singh, Additional Director in the Department of Welfare of Scheduled Castes and Backward Classes, told Frontline that thanks to the Sikh gurus untouchability did not exist. He added that Dalits were increasingly misusing the Act and registering false cases.
Punjab has much to answer for. The conviction rate under the S.C./S.T. Act is practically nil. No district or village has been considered "sensitive" enough to ensure that steps are taken to prevent atrocities. Only 17 acres of surplus land was transferred to S.C.s this year and before that none at all. Of the 111 bonded labourers identified between 2001 and 2004, only four were rehabilitated. Although Rs.1,154 crores has been allotted for the development of S.C.s under the Special Component Plan, experience shows that the State rarely releases the entire amount. Last year, less than 45 per cent of the allocation was actually spent.
Political parties are not above blame either. The focus of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) is Uttar Pradesh, though its founder, Kanshi Ram, hailed from Punjab. The oldest political voice of the Dalit movement, the Republican Party of India (RPI), Babasaheb Ambedkar's party, is a shambles. It shuffles along on the heels of a few dedicated old-timers who claim to be true to the Ambedkar legacy. Mukhtiar Singh Arshi, who heads the RPI unit in the State, said: "We are weakened because we cannot keep up with resource-intensive politics. Everything is about money. But we intend to make a concentrated bid for unity in the coming elections, especially with the breakaway factions of the BSP."
The breakaway factions are mostly the BSP's own doing. Leaders of the three factions - BSP (Kanshi Ram), BSP (Ambedkarite) and the Bahujan Samaj Morcha - blame Mayawati for neglecting Punjab and taking political decisions with an eye on the Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister's chair. Pawan Tinu, who was thrown out of the BSP for questioning the leadership, admitted that Dalit political activists' courage broke when Kanshi Ram died. But he was confident that they would regroup on a common platform.
Despite talk of uniting, none of the factions seems to have qualms about seeking a partnership with the Congress or the Akali Dal, both Jat-dominated parties, or the BJP, with whom they can share no ideological ground. One Dalit activist asked, "Why is [Shamsher Singh] Dullo [Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee president] not the chief ministerial candidate? Surely, it is time."
Many activists and researchers believe that the conflict between Dalits and Jats is bound to worsen. With the emergence of a new Dalit identity that wants not just social-spiritual equality, but also a share of the economic and political pie, conflict is inevitable, and with it, possible violence.

Sunday, December 10

Landless in Punjab

Beyond the facade of prosperity in Punjab, lays hidden a grim tale of numerous landless workers, who are caught in a cycle of indebtedness and end up turning into bonded labourers, writes RAHUL PANDITA after a visit to Sangrur-Mansa belt

On a clear, cold morning in Mansa in Punjab, hundreds of shadowy figures, most of them draped in torn, faded shawls, huddle at the town’s Labour chowk. 60-year-old Ajmer Singh rubs his hands together and lets out a sigh. His eyes, like that of everyone else, are fixed at the main road. Farmers, riding jeeps and tractors, would be coming any time to pick up men like Ajmer Singh for working in their fields. Even on a good day, only 60 percent of them will get work. Life is hard. But for Ajmer Singh, it is a bliss as compared to the life he was forced to lead for years in his village Nangal Khurd. Ajmer Singh was caught in a viscious web of bonded labour after a farmer from his village employed him as contractual labourer for 12,000 rupees per annum. On less than 35 rupees a day, he worked seven days a week, for 12-14 hours every day. The day he was unable to come for work due to illness, the farmer would ask Ajmer Singh to pay a fine of 100 rupees. Within a year, he was also forced to take some loan from the farmer. Once caught in the debt trap, he was forced to work in the farmer’s fields for years, on a very low wage. “I worked day and night at his fields. Gradually, he asked me to bring my 15-year-old son along with me to work. There was not even a single hour of rest,” says Ajmer Singh. Three months ago, Ajmer Singh was lucky enough to be freed by labour activists. He earns 60-70 rupees a day now, working on a daily basis in farms. The minimum daily wage rate in Punjab is 97 rupees. But still Ajmer Singh is grateful for his recently-acquired freedom. According to an estimate, there are at least on lakh workers in Punjab who are bonded labourers. Actually, these are contractual labourers who get caught in the debt trap and end up as bonded labourers. In Punjab, there is an increasing trend of hiring agricultural workers on a contractual basis, where they get an advanced payment of 12,000-18,000 rupees for the entire year. The poor workers end up borrowing small amounts for needs such as health care. The interest rate for such loans is a high as 60 percent per annum. As a result, the debt trap continues for years, sometimes passing on from one generation to another. In most of the cases, the other members of the family also get stuck. Hameer Kaur was recently rescued from one such trap from her landlord’s house in Dindholi Kalan in Sangrur district. For 35 years, she was forced to work in the house of her landlord, which included domestic work and cleaning of cattle sheds and taking away dung. Her mother-in-law had taken a loan of 2,000 rupees from the landlord. The landlord, apart from making Hameer Kaur work for 35 years, forced her to bring her daughter-in-law also for work. This practice is well established throughout Punjab where generations inherit the family’s debt and work in the households of the moneylenders at very low wages to pay it off. “It is a never ending circle,” says Harbhagwan Singh, a labour activist, working in the Sangrur district. According to a study conducted recently by the Sociology department of Punjab University, the worst cases of bonded labour in Punjab are found in the Malwa belt, which includes Bhatinda, Sangrur and Mansa districts. Most of these labourers are Scheduled castes, who hold only 2.34 percent of the land under cultivation in the entire state. There have been cases where the moneylending farmers have taken the houses of these labourers since there is no land to annex. Their livestock is also taken away and they end up living in open spaces or in community places like gurudwaras. “In most of such cases, the labourer’s family is too scared to go back. Even when we assure them that we will reclaim their houses for them, some of them just refuse out of fear,” says Bhagwant Singh Samaon, state secretary of the Mazdoor Mukti Morcha. The landlords have also devised another method to enslave landless labourers. They make labourers addicts of Bhukki (Poppy Husk). “After consuming the drug, the labourers become oblivious to fatigue and work indefatigably in the farms of their landlords,” says Harbhagwan.
Janata Singh of Mansa’s Makha village was fed this drug regularly by his landlords. He worked day and night in their fields, while his wife worked worked at the landlord’s house. “They would give me a break of few hours on Gurupurab. For the rest of the time, throughout the year, I worked in a dazed state in their fields. I even slept in their fields,” says Janata Singh. “I would come home by midnight and by 4 am, they expected me back, for work in the cowsheds. I was deprived of sleep for years. I would fall asleep while cleaning the dung and then they hurled abuses at me,” says his wife. “We know of cases where the labourers are given poppy husk as wages. The landlord often boils it along with a cup of tea and once the labourer is addicted, he is given large doses, the cost of which is deducted from his wages,” says Bhagwant.
Kala Singh was also fed Bhukki by his landlords, while making him work in their fields. One day, while spraying pesticide, he got poisoned by it and had to be hospitalized. Kala Singh alleges that this made his landlords so angry that they got him arrested by the Police in a case of theft. “My landlord came drunk to my house and beat me up, while the Police looked on,” says Kala Singh. There are many instances when such beatings turn fatal. 22-year-old Jarnail Singh of Khadiyal village in Sangrur district was allegedly beaten to death by his two landlords in November this year after he failed to turn up for work. His family members say that he was down with fever. According to them, Jarnail Singh’s landlords forcibly took him, as he lay feverish on his bed, to work in the fields. “A few hours later, they came home, telling us that Jarnail Singh had been poisoned while spraying pesticide in the fields. His landlords offered us one lakh rupees, urging us not to send his body for postmortem,” alleges a family member. After labour activists staged a dharna, the Police finally arrested the two accused on November 30. Assembly elections are due in Punjab early next year and currently, the Punjab Chief Minister is busy touring the state, portraying it as a prosperous state where every household is able to dole out sarson da saag and makki ki roti for guests. The time has come now to look behind the facade of green revolution and ensure equal economic and social equations for all. Otherwise it would seem that the government itself is high on the husk of power.
(Rahul Pandita, a freelance journalist and a Sarai-CSDS Fellow, blogs at Sanity Sucks. This report first appeared in The Sunday Indian).

Tuesday, December 5

Most Polluted

Punjab's Mandi Gobindgarh has been ranked the country's most polluted city followed by Ludhiana, the Rajya Sabha was informed according to newspaper reports.
Union Minister of State for Environment Namo Narain Meena cited the central Pollution Control Board's air quality programme that found Mandi Gobindgarh in Fatehgarh Sahib district, had the highest levels of 250 Respirable Particulate Matter (RsPM)/ annual average concentration of 51 cities monitored last year. Ludhiana recorded 232 RsPM/ concentration.

Tuesday, November 21

Punjab bureaucrats on overseas flying binge

At a time when the Punjab Government was struggling to fill its empty coffers, some bureaucrats continued their extravagant spree of flying around the globe at the cost of the taxpayers' money, reports Satinder Bains in The Pioneer.

Two senior IAS officers PK Verma, former Financial Commissioner (Development), and Himmat Singh, Managing Director of Punjab Agro Industries Corporation (PAIC) ended up spending over Rs 50 lakh on about 20 foreign jaunts claiming about 20 per cent of the total amount of Rs 2.83 crore spent by about 50 bureaucrats in the past about four years.
Himmat Singh alone cost the State exchequer a whopping Rs 43,62,178 on 14 visits to countries like France, the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Japan, Singapore, Holland, Germany, Italy and South Africa. He was accompanied by Verma on five visits. All their expenses were borne by the PAIC. Himmat Singh and Verma had visited France in May 2003 to settle certain legal dispute with M/s Red Bridge holding company that cost the State exchequer about Rs 8 lakh. The two officers travelled around the world for marketing agro products like fresh juices and vegetables, processed food, peanuts/ground nuts for confectionery etc. They also claimed to have surveyed the foreign markets to bring latest technology for agro industry.
Arun Goel, who remained Managing Director of Punjab Small Scale Industry and Export Corporation (PSIEC), made seven trips for export promotion to countries like Australia, Brazil, Chilly, Paraguay, Columbia, Venezuela, Russia, Ukraine, Poland, Croatia, Kenya and Malaysia. The State spent Rs 23,14,205 on his visits abroad, out which Rs 17,97,000 were paid by PSIEC and the remaining paid by the Sports department when he remained Secretary Sports for a short stint.
He watched ICC World Cricket Cup in 2003 in South Africa at Government expense that amounted to Rs 2,22,691.
He also watched Busan (UK) Games in November 2002 that cost Rs 2,94,514. Goel spent another Rs 1,85,000 when he attended the Handloom Weaving Training Project in Kenya even while the handloom industry in Punjab has almost vanished.
Nirmaljit Singh Kalsi, another senior IAS officer who has been holding charge of the department of Information Technology for a long time and is also Managing Director of Punjab Infotech, cost the State exchequer Rs 20,65,793 on nine foreign visits to the USA, Canada, China, Dubai, Singapore, Australia, the UK, Atlanta and Germany.
Kalsi's entire expense was charged to Infotech and the reasons he cited for visits were again to market Punjab for foreign investment in IT industry. He also accompanied the Chief Minister on a few visits during the 'Made in Punjab' campaign held in the USA and Canada.
DS Jaspal, the high profile IAS officer who handled the departments of Information and Public Relations besides CEO Ananadpur Sahib Foundation, cost the State Rs 15,06,635 on six visits to the USA, Canada, besides Geneva, the UK and Pakistan.
Of the total State expense incurred on Jaspal, Ananadpur Sahib Foundation paid Rs 11,49,721 since his visits were aimed at fund raising from NRIs for the Khalsa Heritage Complex at Ananadpur Sahib. Geetika Kalha, DS Kalha and Romila Dubey during short stint at the Foundation also made one visit each for fund raising for the Khalsa heritage.
KR Lakhanpal, Chief Secretary of Punjab, made only four visits abroad, of which three were as Chief Secretary, for which the State spent Rs 14,57,927 when he went to Thailand, Singapore, Bangkok, Australia, Dubai, Kuala Lumpur, the UK and the USA for short durations.
Sarvesh Kaushal, Principal Secretary of School Education, when he was Secretary Sports 2004 went to see Olympic Games at Athens (Greece) at Government expense. His two trips cost Rs 6,05,621 to the State Government.
DS Bains, Principal Secretary of Animal Husbandry visited Dubai, Egypt, Pakistan and Canada to procure high quality semen. JS Maini, resident commissioner, Delhi, has made two trips to the US and Canada and spent about Rs.8 lakh.
Some of the other Boards and Corporations paid for the foreign tours of IAS officers. The corporations included Punjab Water Supply and Sewerage Board, Punjab Infrastructure Development Board, Punjab School Education Board, PUDA, Punjab Mandi Board and Punjab State Electricity Board.
The other prominent officers who enjoyed the foreign jaunts included Vishwajit Khanna, SS Channy, Rajan Kashyap, Gurbinder Kaur Chahal, GS Sandhu, Suresh Kumar, Vini Mahajan, A Venu Parsad, SS Puri, Vivek Partap Singh, Jaspreet Talwar, AR Talwar, Kusamjit Sidhu, Ravneet Kaur, SC Aggarwal, Sanjay Kumar, SS Rajput, Iqbal Singh Sidhu, RC Nayyar, Amitabh Pandey, KAP Sinha, RPS Pawar, TR Sarangal, Narinderjit Singh, Roshan Sankaria,GS Cheema and Som Parkash.

Thursday, November 16

Farmers Commission Report on Suicides

Farmers’ suicides in Punjab rose after 1992 and most victims were young, writes Sarbjit Dhaliwal in The Tribune, quoting a report prepared for 'Punjab Farmers Commisson' by 'Institute for Development and Communication'

While tracing the main reasons behind suicides in rural Punjab, especially in the farm sector, it has come to light that the increase in the suicide rate showed a steep hike after 1992.
A report in this regard, which has been submitted to the Chief Minister, Capt Amarinder Singh, and others concerned has been got prepared by the Punjab State Farmers Commission, a government organisation. The commission had engaged the local Institute for Development and Communication that had earlier prepared a report on the status of indebtedness in rural Punjab. The report, a copy of which is with The Tribune, states that in 1988, the general suicide rate in Punjab was 0.57 per cent and rose to 0.95 per cent in 1993 and 2.04 per cent in 2001. It came down to 1.38 per cent in 2005. The incidence of suicides in Punjab rose by 33.68 per cent in 1992 as compared to that in 1988. After this there was a sharp increase in the number of suicides in 1997. It increased three times over that in 1992. The number of suicides remained static till 2001 after which a decline started. The decrease in 2005 was 18.64 per cent over the 2001 figure.
However, these figures are based on data maintained by the Punjab Police. It does not reflect the true picture. The actual figure will be much higher because most of the suicide cases in rural Punjab are not registered by the police and shown as cases of natural death or death due to some disease.
In India, the incidence of suicides increased by 24.71 per cent in 1992 over that in 1988. After this there was a decline of 19.56 per cent from 1992-97. However, the number of suicides further declined by 2.16 per cent from 2001 to 2003 at the national level. In Punjab, the incidence of suicides increased in the post-terrorism period (1992-97).
There are six districts which have recorded a higher number of suicides vis-a-vis population. The districts include Faridkot, Bathinda, Ferozepore and Ludhiana, Amritsar and Hoshiarpur. However, the common perception is that the trend of suicides among farmers is more pronounced in the Sangrur belt. These six districts recorded 70 per cent of the total suicides that took place during 1998, 2001 and 2004. However, the total percentage of these districts in the population is only 45.
A vast majority of the suicide victims had small land holdings. In the non-farming sector, 75 per cent among those who committed suicide were landless persons. Most of the suicide victims were youth in the age group of 15 to 29. They were followed by middle-aged persons in the age group of 30-40. Their percentage is about 35. Most of the victims had a low literacy level. Among those who committed suicide, about 38 per cent were bachelors.
Though indebtedness, family disputes, alcohol abuse, drug abuse, mental tension and stress were stated to be suspected causes of suicide, on a deeper probe it was discovered that indebtedness played a role together with crop failure, poverty and family disputes to induce suicide among the victims.
The report says that indebtedness itself is a condition produced by the prevailing state of agricultural distress. This is evident from the soaring prices of agricultural inputs on the one hand and “unrealistic and unsustainable” prices, including the minimum support price of foodgrains. While input costs are going up, farm yields are on the decline on account of soil erosion, receding water table, etc. “In the ultimate analysis, therefore, the emerging political economy of agriculture and its development is depressing. In view of this, we are inclined to interpret indebtedness itself as a consequence of the problematic political economy.
Under the circumstances, the problem of farmers’ suicide can be better understood if its is viewed in the larger picture of the distressing political economy”, says the report.
In its recommendations, the report stresses the need for formulating new set of policies which can create conditions conducive to a harmonious social and economic existence among all sections of rural society. Those commission agents who are involved in the business of moneylending must be registered under the Money Lenders Act. There should be transparency in the accounting system. Farmers should be given a statement of every transaction. The present system of payment of value of their produce to farmers in cash is fraught with many malpractices. Farmers should be paid for their produce brought to the market through account-payee cheques.
All government agencies involved in the procurement of foodgrains should make payment direct to the sellers instead of any other party or middleman.

Thursday, November 9

A Day in the Life of Farmers

An eye-witness account by Jatinder Preet of the farmers protest against the acquisition of their lands with whole state machinery arrayed against them.

Farmers facing dispossession from their lands in different parts of Punjab are struggling to make their voices heard. They are in against formidable opponents in the powerful industrialist backed by state government. More than 300 families in Fatehgarh Chhanna and Dhaula villages of Barnala fighting to retain their farm land, now in possession of Trident Group's Abhishek Industries, were subjected to the display of this brute power again yesterday. Their land has been acquired and given away to the private company owned by Rajinder Gupta, for its expansion plans. While few of the farmers have given in to accept compensation, others are holding their ground calling the amount being offered as meager. Farmers' organizations, leading the fight-back, had called for a token protest yesterday to sow wheat in their land, now barricaded with a wall erected around it. The police got into action picking up farmers whom they could lay their hands on during the whole week. The whole area in and around these villages was turned into a police garrison. Khaki dotted every road and by-lane leading to the factory premises near the villages. The SSP, S.K. Asthana himself led the action with the police posse reinforced with heavy bandobust from neighbouring districts. Farmers led by Bhartiya Kissan Union (Ekta) activists succeeded in outmaneuvering the heavy police deployment converging in Dhaula and Chhanna. A police party managed to reach the assembly of farmers in village Dhaula but had to turn their tails faced by determined farmers, but not before taking away five people, including two teenagers.While the policemen kept watch on different barricades, farmer-activists kept trickling in, taking alternate routes through fields. By evening the group that had swelled considerably decided to move. The slogan-shouting farmers, including women, marched towards the barricade put up on the main road leading to the factory. They were greeted by heavy police party armed with batons, riot-control vehicles and water-cannons blocking the road completely. The peaceful protesters sat on one side of the road shouting slogans addressed by different farmer leaders. Having made their point with a group of media-persons covering the event, they decided to stay put.In the meanwhile, another group of farmers had assembled at village Fatehgarh Chhanna. A police contingent descended on the village with the police chief Asthana, himself leading the way. As evening set in, the farmers, who had gathered in a house approached by narrow lanes, moved to village Gurdwara announcing to call it a day. The police contingent surrounded the Gurdwara. As soon as an announcement was made from the Gurdwara speaker calling upon villagers to keep vigil, it was cut off. Villagers coming to Gurdwara were turned away from the gate by the policemen. For first time since the Gurdwara was established in the village, no evening prayers were held for the day.The farmers announced to stay the night there. The ladies of the village prepared langar. As the protesters started partaking langar in batches, the police made announcements ordering them to come out and get themselves arrested. The police plans were made obvious when an attempt was made to snatch camera of one media-person and two empty buses were driven in. He alleged his camera was broken.Village Sarpanch and members of panchayat were brought in. The SSP had a menacing tone as he asked them to go inside and tell the farmers to give in if they wanted to be saved from what he called ‘chhitar parade’ reminding them of Bhadaur (One person was killed and many were injured in a clash between the police and the residents at Bhadaur over the issue of demarcation of land of a gurdwara). He openly threatened them of throwing them all behind bars for “at least two months”.The police did not wait for the panchayat to come out. Armed with lathis and pelting brickbats they stormed into the Gurdwara. All hell broke loose as couple of the protesters tried to resist. The policemen rained lathis dragging people. The protesters, prepared for the worst, shouted they would come out voluntarily. All this while few media people present, herded together, watching meekly. No flash bulbs were popped. No one wanted to get into trouble. A single spotlight aimed towards the Gurdwara pierced the pitch darkness outside to help policemen bring the farmers onto the buses. Two buses were not enough to contain the surging farmers. More vehicles were summoned. An elderly man, who could not be identified, was brought in, held by two burly policemen in plain-clothes to the SSP. The SSP patted his back speaking something which could not be heard in the din. He was taken towards the police officers vehicles parked together. A policemen was heard shouting take him to sahib’s car. When asked who he was, the SSP feigned ignorance, cheekily adding that he might be one of his relatives if he was taken to his car. Later the SSP was heard telling someone on the phone that there was no lath charge and that no policemen went in the Gurdwara. The farmers came out on their own, he said. Inside the Gurdwara plates strewn here and there with unfinished food told a different story.The story is unfinished yet.
(see related story on

Monday, November 6

Re-imagining Punjab in the Globalization Age

The fast changing geopolitics of the world require us to re-imagine Punjab(s) in idioms and identities different from what seem familiar and obvious to us today, writes Surinder S. Jodhka in a symposium on 'Re-imagining Punjab' in the Seminar

Regional and linguistic identities have often been viewed as being territory bound. Quite like the old notion of nations, territory presumably provides the physical and economic grounds for the growth of a distinctive cultural consciousness, as if linguistic/regional identities are more ‘natural’ and ‘authentic’ than identities of nations or ethnics. Such identities were seen as being particularly so in the subcontinent, where national boundaries were arbitrarily drawn by the departing colonial masters.
However, such a priomordialist notion of regional and linguistic identities does not hold good in every case. Shared relationship to a territory does not automatically produce a cohesive cultural or political community. Territoriality of a given region becomes a meaningful reality only when it is claimed by some ‘community’/‘communities’. While it is possible that such communities in many instances are themselves constituted by territoriality of the region or its linguistic distinctiveness, this has not always been the case. Other social and political processes, such as religion, caste and even class could play important roles in the constitution of such identities. In other words, regions and regional identities are inherently fluid categories, constantly changing and being constructed by the relevant actors in given social, political and historical contexts.
The history of Punjab or Punjabiyat during the 20th century offers a good example of such a process. Though like many other provinces, the Indian Punjab too was reorganized as a separate state of independent India on the basis of language, it has over the years come to acquire a strong communitarian identity and is often seen as a land of the Sikhs. Despite the fact that Hindus and Muslims were in larger numbers in the region, it was the Sikhs who saw Punjab as the land of their origin and laid claim to it, successfully hegemonizing the regional/territorial identity of the Indian Punjab.1
The politics of a predominant section of the Punjabi Hindu elite, on the other hand, was geared towards de-ethnicizing and de-regionalizing themselves.2 While this certainly helped them in claiming the opportunities opened up by the new nation, it conversely helped the Sikhs in consolidating their claims over the region. Similarly, the Punjabi elite of western Punjab found Urdu as a more useful source for legitimizing their hegemony over the new nation-state of Pakistan. Muslim Punjabis, who constituted more than half the total population of pre-partition Punjab, thus rarely represented themselves through the idiom of Punjabiyat in post-colonial South Asia.
Religious communities have not been the only source of fluidity for the regional identity of Punjab. During the post-independence period, the Indian Punjab, for example, has often been imagined as a land of prosperous agriculture and, therefore, predominantly ‘rural’ in its cultural ethos and ‘ways of life’. Even though the green revolution technology was successful in several other parts of India as well, it came to be identified almost solely with Punjab. This success of agriculture also helped the locally dominant landowning caste of Jutt Sikhs to virtually emerge as the sole champions of the regional and religious identity of Punjab. The Akali politics of post-1966 Punjab was articulated not merely around the interests and aspirations of the Sikhs but also represented the agrarian interests and ethos of a dominant class of rural Punjab.3
The iconographic Sikh soldier/warrior of the colonial and post-colonial state was also quintessentially the Jutt Sikh peasant. It was this category of the mobile Punjabi peasants who, before any other community from the subcontinent, began to explore the western hemisphere.4 As is well-known to students of global migrations, the history of Indian diaspora in North America begins with Sikh settlements in America and Canada. Migrations of rural Sikhs to the countries of North America and Europe have not only continued over the years, but have almost become a cultural trait with the rural Sikhs in some pockets of Punjab. Though the Jutt Sikhs are not the only ones who have migrated out of Punjab to the West, they certainly constitute a bulk of the Sikhs living abroad.5
Apart from the long tradition of migrations and global contact, the Indian Punjab also had a vibrant urban economy. Until recently the industrial growth rate of Punjab was higher than the average for India. Punjab continues to be among the more urbanized states of India and ranked fourth in terms of the proportion of urban population among the major states of the country during the 2001 Census. Against the national average of less than 28 per cent, the urban population of Punjab in 2001 was 34 per cent.
Despite all these facts, the Indian Punjab during the post-independence period has been known primarily for its prosperous agriculture. Since the days of British rule, Punjab was viewed as a region with enormous potential for agricultural growth. The success of canal colonies in West Punjab motivated the colonial rulers to lay an extensive network of canals in the region. The Bhakra Nangal dam, one of the first major irrigation projects launched by the government of independent India, was also located in Punjab.
The success of the green revolution technology in the region did not come as a surprise to anyone. The state of Punjab soon became the land of prosperity and progress, an example par excellence of the economic achievements of India during the post-independence period, a ‘representative model’ of economic progress. The available statistics on various indicators of agricultural growth speak for themselves. Of all the states of India, Punjab’s growth rate in agriculture was the highest from the 1960s to the middle of 1980s. The annual rate of increase in production of food grains during the period 1961-62 to 1985-86 for the state was more than double the figure for the country as a whole. The percentage of high yielding varieties (HYV) of seed in the total area under food grains in Punjab was as high as 73% in 1974-5 (all India 31%) and 95% in 1983-85 (all India 54%). While Punjab had 17,459 tractors per hundred thousand holdings, the all India figure was only 714. The same holds true for most other such indicators.6 These achievements have also been widely recognized.7
At the sociological and political level, this growth of rural capitalism during the 1960s and 1970s imparted a new sense of confidence and visibility to the agrarian castes in different parts of India. Institutionalization of electoral democracy helped them dislodge the so-called upper caste elites from the regional and national political arena. In the case of Punjab, the landowning Jutts had already been the ruling elite of the region. The success of green revolution and institutionalization of democracy helped them further consolidate their position. In the emerging scenario even Sikh religious institutions came under their sway.
The triumph of agrarianism and the rise of the dominant caste farmers in the 1970s also set in motion a phase of populist politics at the regional and national levels in India. The newly emergent agrarian elite not only spoke for their own caste or class but on behalf of the entire village and the region. Their identification was not just political or interest-based and sectarian, as they saw themselves representing everyone, encompassing all conflicts and differences of caste, class or communities.
The economic supremacy that Punjab had come to acquire in independent India did not last for long. The rise of the Khalistan movement, a secessionist demand by a section of the Sikh community during the early 1980s, was a somewhat unexpected development since apart from its economic success, socially and politically too the border-state of Punjab had been a well-integrated part of India. Nor had there been any doubts about the nationalist credentials of the Sikhs. Not only had they participated in the nationalist freedom movement with considerable enthusiasm, the people of Punjab, along with those of Bengal, had suffered the most during the Partition of India in 1947. No other region of India had to pay such a price for freedom from colonial rule!
Not surprisingly, therefore, the rise of a secessionist movement in the state was for many a puzzle. Explaining the ‘Punjab crisis’ became an obsession with the academia and the popular press. A large volume of literature was generated during the early 1980s on the ‘Punjab crisis’. From political economy to modernization theory and even psychoanalysis, the academia applied virtually every available framework and perspective for understanding and explaining the ‘crisis’.
Contrary to much of the academic speculation, after some fifteen years of violence and bloodshed, Sikh militancy began to decline. This process started around the early 1990s and by the middle of the decade, the Khalistan movement was virtually over without having achieved anything in political terms. The end of the Khalistan movement, however, did not mean an end of ‘crises’ for Punjab. It was now the turn of economics and agriculture. The green revolution had already begun to lose its charm by the early 1980s. Several scholars had in fact attributed the rise of militancy directly to the crisis of Punjab agriculture. By the early 1990s, there were clear signs of economic stagnation. Unlike some other parts of India, Punjab had lost out on the opportunities opened-up by the ‘new economy’ and investments of foreign capital that had begun to come to India with the introduction of economic liberaliztion.
The discourse of crisis found more ammunition during the post-reforms period when Punjab and some other parts of India saw a sudden spurt in the incidence of suicides by cultivating farmers. By the turn of the century, agriculture in Punjab had lost nearly all its sheen, the emblematic Punjabi farmer seen nowhere in the new imageries of a globalizing India. The younger generation of those who once proudly identified with agriculture and rural ethos no longer seemed inspired by village life and the economic opportunities it offered.
Underlying the ‘crises’ generated by a decline of agriculture and disenchantment with the village were the changing ground realities. The changes that came about in the countryside with the success of the green revolution also produced a new class of rural rich who had experienced economic mobility through their active involvement with the larger capitalist market. The new technology gave them tractors, took them to the mandi towns and integrated them with the market for buying not only fertilizers and pesticides but also white goods and an urban lifestyle. Their changing aspirations could not be satisfied simply by being in the village. They began to send their children to urban schools and colleges for better education. Some of them also invested the surpluses they generated from agriculture into urban trade and other avenues of investments in the non-agricultural economy. Even those who did not have large size holdings tried to move out of the village. Most agricultural households in Punjab today have become or are trying to become pluri-active, ‘standing between farming and other activities whether as seasonal labourers or small-scale entrepreneurs in the local economy… Agriculture and farming is no more an all-encompassing way of life and identity.’8
The available official data on employment patterns in Punjab has begun to reflect this quite clearly. For example, the proportion of cultivators in the total number of main workers in Punjab declined from 46.56 in 1971 to 31.44 in 1991, and further to 22.60 by 2001. While the share of cultivators has been consistently falling, that of the agricultural labourers had been rising until the 1991 Census. However, over the last decade, viz. from 1991 to 2001, even their proportion declined significantly, from 23.82 to 16.30. In other words, though two-third of Punjab’s population still lives in rural areas, only around 39% of the main workers in the state are directly employed in agriculture. The comparable figure for the country as a whole is still above 58%.
Who is trying to move out of agriculture? The trend of moving out of agriculture is perhaps not confined to any specific class or category. While marginal and small cultivators seem to be moving out of agriculture, the bigger farmer is moving out of the village itself. The big farmers of Punjab invariably have a part of their family living in the town. Their children go to urban schools/colleges, and they invest their surplus in non-agricultural activities.
Not only has there been a fragmentation of farming classes, the rural social structure has also undergone a near complete transformation over the last three or four decades. My recent study of changing caste relations in rural Punjab clearly reflects this process. As I have argued elsewhere,9 commercialization and mechanization of agriculture on the one hand and introduction of democratic political process on the other have together fundamentally transformed caste relations in rural Punjab. Over the last twenty years or so a large proportion of dalits in Punjab have consciously dissociated themselves from their traditional occupations as also distanced from everyday engagement with the agrarian economy, which earlier provided the source of power for the locally dominant castes over them. They have also been investing in building their own cultural resources in the village, in gurudwaras and dharamshalas.
The growing autonomy of the dalits from the ‘traditional’ rural economy and structures of patronage and loyalty has created a rather piquant situation in the countryside with potentially far-reaching political implications. While the institutions supporting the ideas and structures of hierarchy have nearly disintegrated, the upper castes have not yet shed their prejudice against the former ‘untouchable’ groups. Nor have they reconciled to the changed ground realities. In the emerging scenario, local dalits have begun to assert for equal rights and a share from the resources that belong commonly to the village and had so far been in the exclusive control of the locally dominant caste groups or individual households.
Seen purely through economic data, Indian Punjab continues to be an agriculturally developed region of the country, producing much more than what it requires for its own consumption. Even though occupying merely 1.53% of the total land area of India, Punjab farmers produce nearly 13% of the total food grains (22.6% of wheat and 10.8% of rice) of the country. Interestingly, in terms of objective indicators, Punjab has been a ‘progressive’ state otherwise also. For example, in terms of the Human Development Index, Punjab is second only to Kerala. The available official data also points towards a revival of its economy. The growth rates of Punjab – agriculture or industry – are no longer negative. Notwithstanding the frequent reports of corruption and scandals, the urban centres of Punjab seem to be picking-up in terms of growth of infrastructure and real-estate.
However, the Indian Punjab today needs to be re-imagined in more than economic terms alone. The canvas of its change is much larger and broader. The fragmentation of village and its social structure, the growing differentiation among the agrarian classes, its rapid urbanization, will all have far reaching implications for the local power structure. Given that Punjab has a large proportion of Scheduled Caste population, the newly acquired agency among the dalits can also have serious implications for regional politics.10 The earlier hegemony of the rural Jutt culture is fast disintegrating from within and outside. This would also change the manner in which the dominant elite articulate the regional identity and their perceptions of the larger interests of Punjab.
As mentioned above, some pockets of Punjab have had a long history of out-migration, mostly to the developed countries of the western hemisphere. Over the years Punjabi/Sikh diaspora has gained in confidence and economic resources with a strong sense of identity and desire to participate in the development of the region and communities of their origin. They have also been investing in consolidation of their cultural resources that would give them respectability in the countries where they live as citizens, viz. mobilizing funds to set-up chairs in some of the most prestigious universities of the western world. They have been participating in the political process, getting elected to local and national political bodies which enable them in negotiating with the cultures and polities of their host societies.
The fast changing geopolitics of the world during the opening decade of the 21st century has important implications for the Punjabs and their futures. Though the hostile visa regimes of India and Pakistan continue to be an obstacle, traffic of common citizens across the Indo-Pak border has been steadily increasing. The larger politics of the two countries notwithstanding, this loosening of border has produced a sense of excitement and opened a window of hope for all shades and sections of Punjabis .
What implications would these new processes have for the manner in which we have imagined Punjab and Punjabiyat – within the national and global contexts? Will the processes of globalization and the new technologies enable the two Punjabs to rediscover their common cultural heritage? How would a loosening of the border and opening of trade routes influence the economies of the two Punjabs? Would the decline of agriculture and rapid urbanization of the state develop a new middle class imagery of the state? Though it is not easy to answer these questions, some of these processes are sure to bring positive and enriching outcomes. They will also require us to re-imagine Punjab(s) in idioms and identities different from what seem familiar and obvious to us today.
(Surinder S. Jodhka is Professor of Sociology, Centre for the Study of Social Systems, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi)

Tuesday, October 24

Why are Farmers Committing Suicide?

The marginal and small farmers are being passively sacrificed in the name of progress in India, concludes Tom Deiters who blames the occurrences of farmers’ suicides on the globalisation project while noting that the immediate causes are multiple.

Why are farmers committing suicide? To answer this question I shall try to connect the dots by connecting Chotian (in the southern Punjab district of Sangrur which has the highest rates of farmer suicides in the region and therefore the answer to the causes of these farmer suicides could partially be found in this village) with India and world. Through the case study of Chotian I have demonstrated that the farmer suicides have multiple causes. The suicides in Punjab are the result of mental stress and this mental stress is most often caused by poverty and especially by indebtedness.
Indebtedness and the inability to earn enough income to relief the debt will assault the farmers feeling of self-esteem and respect. In many cases the individuals who committed suicide where responsible for the income and this debt created the feeling that they were incapable of taking care of their loved ones and themselves. This feeling has brought shame upon them and might even have confirmed for them the idea of being backward or underdeveloped. Once this has entered their minds it accumulates and creates a heavy mental burden. It is important to note that it is most likely that most farmers who committed suicide probably blamed themselves for their poverty and indebtedness.
Here I would like to redirect this personal blame of these farmers towards the development. project and globalisation. project that had been introduced as part to modernise these backward. farmers. The introduction of the Green Revolution and the introduction of the new High Yielding Variety Seeds (HYVs) coupled with capital intensive modern implements have increased the burden of debt immensely. Although the Green Revolution. had brought the major achievement of food self sufficiency, this agricultural development strategy came at severe costs, as we have concluded in our case study of Punjab.
The introduction of these new High Yielding Varieties (HYVs) of seeds led to loss of crop variety and the diversity of the indigenous agriculture system was replaced by a narrow genetic based on monoculture The Green Revolution focused mainly on international traded grains, which meant strategically eliminating mixed and rotational cropping. This technology dominated type of farming was supposed to bring the sluggish backward Indian farmer into the modern world. The use of chemicals was promoted and it has led to intensification of land use which in its turn has led to the destabilisation of the natural balance, social balance and the balance within the farmers themselves. The disturbance of the natural balance has resulted in an increase in pest, water logging, salinity, shortage of water, poisoning of the waterways, logging of trees and it has reduced soil fertility, biodiversity and animal life. The disturbance in the social balance in society has led to breaking up of traditional values and individualization of families. The newly introduced farming system has increased costs of production which in turn has led to the indebtedness and the disturbance of the harmony within farmers themselves. We can draw a lesson from these suicides as these acts are showing us that the agricultural system that had been introduced as part of a .development. project has failed for especially the weaker parts of Indian society i.e. agricultural labourers, marginal and small farmers.
From 1997 onwards the occurrences of farmer suicides where rising rapidly throughout India. This sudden mushrooming of the occurrences of farmers suicides are related to the globalisation project.. More and more farmers were becoming indebted part because of the withdrawal of institutional credit from the rural areas as a result of the deregulation and the privatisation of the banking sector. This decision has limited especially the marginal and small farmers in their credit sources and they have become virtually
completely reliant upon the informal sector for their credit needs. Globalisation has also diminished subsidies and price support given to farmers which has affected their income negatively. The prices that farmers would receive for their crops on the open market are often less then the cost of production, bringing structural loss. As a result of the withdrawal from the government in food purchasing prices in the open market did not reflect the local situation of availability but reflected international prices which are artificial. An example of this is the high price of cotton on the international market which caused for many farmers in Punjab and other areas to switch to cotton. What these farmers did not realise is that international prices for agricultural commodities are highly volatile and they tend to fluctuate.
Thus when the prices fell and some harvests also failed because of various pest and untimely rains these farmers were in deep distress and many of them committed suicide. At the heart of the agricultural crisis and the farmers suicides are the raising costs of production. The costs of seeds, pesticides, fertilisers and machinery are too much to bear for marginal and small farmers still these farmers will purchase these inputs because they do not wish to be .backward.. The companies who sell these agricultural products together with the moneylenders are the ones who are benefiting from this agricultural system. These agricultural companies are in large part multinationals who are gaining more and more foothold in the Indian rural areas as a result of the liberalisation of agriculture in concordance with the Agreement on Agriculture. These companies are given subsidies by the Indian government to build the infrastructure that will enable them to make huge profits and tap into the huge Indian and Asian market. Eventually the wealth accrued in agriculture will be concentrated into the hands of few international agricultural corporations. Liberalization and the commercialization of agriculture has already been the death of many farmers throughout Punjab, India and the world and by further opening up agricultural markets, the Government is signing the death sentence for its marginal and small farmers.
The government is clearly aiming towards an export orientated agricultural system
which will imply that farmers will be forced to diversify towards .high-value. products for export. The fallacy of the export orientated diversification model of agriculture is that the reason and intention why the Government wants this type of diversification is because of the potential export earnings. The foundation of the new path for agriculture is therefore based on macro-economic reasoning, just like the reasoning for the .green revolution., which does not seem to take into account the micro-economic, social, cultural and environmental implications. This type of diversification is not taking into account the real needs and interests of the primary producers. The Government of India is again making the same mistake it made in the .Green Revolution., whereby they are forcing a top down technocratic-economic solution on farmers. During the Green Revolution the aim was raising production for self-sufficiency and the current neo-liberal agricultural policy introduced in the 1990.s has the objective of raising production for exports earnings. The parallel between the .Green Revolution. and the current diversification for export policy becomes even more apparent if we are to consider that both of these policies were steered and imported from outside of India, and therefore were completely disassociated with the agricultural strengths and reality of India.
The Indian government is slowly committing Indian farmers with an on average operational landholding of one hectare, with farmers of the Western world with holdings exceeding 1000 hectares from most parts (Arlagh, 2003). This huge discrepancy in opportunity and power between Indian and Western farmers gives us to question the sanity of Indian policymakers. The government solutions to the agricultural crisis are flawed because they are only thinking of changing the structure of the agricultural system a little without ever coming to the core of the crisis and thereby this crisis for marginal and small farmers will be perpetuated. The government just as it did in the .Green Revolution. is again looking for .technological fixes. to raise production and for top down solutions that have been created outside their own borders and outside the local context of the agricultural diversity of India .
Thereby the approach of the government to the agricultural crisis in India is not based on
solving the agricultural crisis and aiding the marginal and small farmers, in essence they are denying their existence and the government is merely planning to phase out these farmers in the name of economic .progress. and growth. It seems that the government has not learnt from the failures of the .Green Revolution. and is prepared to make the same mistakes again.
In India the marginal and small farmers are being passively sacrificed in the name of progress. and policymakers with their lack of creativity and their narrow economic thinking are unable or maybe unwilling to resolve this major crisis although it is happening right underneath their eyes. There need not be a one track solution to the agrarian crisis and steps should be taken that fit the profile of the diverse needs of small and large farmers. Modern farming and focus on marketing might bring prosperity to a few farmers but it is not the solution for all farmers. The first and utmost important step to take at this stage of the crisis is to reduce the costs of production of farmers and a good method of doing this is to have farmers switch to organic farming which can if properly guided, bring down the costs to zero furthermore in the Western world there is fast growing market for organic produce and fair trade agriculture.
In any case if the negative atmosphere and the agriculture crisis are to be relieved, it will be important to look at those people who might be capable of bringing the positive change. Those people who are able to move beyond personal motifs and are truly involved and moved by the human tragedy that is occurring on a day to day basis. This would mean that we need to look beyond government, as they seem incapable and to entrenched to create such a positive move. The change must come from inspired individuals and organisations that work from the grassroots and in participation with the villagers to find solutions for the problems. Such a change should break through clogging traditions and include all villagers young and old, women and men. Only if there is a situation of openness can positive change grows.
(Conclusion of the final thesis ‘Signing the death sentence of Indian farmers - The implications of development strategies and neoliberal globalisation for small and marginal farmers in India’ submitted to University of Amsterdam)

Tuesday, October 17

Women in the Two Punjabs ­

Poverty, low status, and stigma deriving from the caste system in the Indian Punjab and its variant of biradari system on the Pakistani side, combine to deny millions of human beings their basic right to be recognised as human beings writes Ishtiaq Ahmed

The information one gets from human rights organisations from both the Pakistani and Indian Punjab is that sexual harassment of low caste/low community women is widespreadI have had the privilege of freely visiting both sides of the Punjab. The two Punjabs are similar, but also different in many ways, one being the situation of women.The differences are easily noticeable. East Punjab has been a progressive state within the Indian Union and has done well economically and educationally. Girls and women enjoy much greater freedom of movement in that part and have higher visibility in the social and cultural life of towns and cities.In my search for oral histories on Punjab’s partition in 1947 my assistant Vicky and I and later Hitesh Gosain and Virinder Singh visited many villages. To my great surprise the doors were almost always open and one could literally walk into any house and talk to the women ­ young, middle-aged and old. Often we would ask for the male head of the family, and if he were not home we would be told where to find him.In sharp contrast, when Ahmad Salim and I visited villages in the Pakistani Punjab there was no question of seeing a female face. I don’t know if it was always like this since I am a city bird, having lived all my 26 years in Pakistan in the urban centres.There is, however, no doubt that more and more girls in the Pakistani Punjab go to school and college and the old Lahore-Rawalpindi Grand Trunk road is filled with girls going to and coming back from school and college. Invariably, they move in groups and are almost always on foot.I am told that during the Khalistan insurgency women were forced away from the public sphere in East Punjab too. But that has changed for the better. In Pakistan the grip of fundamentalist Islam remains firm and I don’t know when moderate Islam will begin to make a difference to the lives of ordinary people. Arranging one mixed marathon in Gujranwala ­ once a sleepy old town of pehalwans (wrestlers) and their akharas (wrestling and training arenas) but now a stronghold of gun-totting jihadis and their madrassas ­ is hardly indicative of any change.However, common to both Punjabs is the fact that women who belong to the lowest sections of society ­ low status communities in the Pakistani Punjab and Dalits in the Indian Punjab ­ continue to be sexually exploited by the affluent and those exercising authority within the rural social structures. Let me give two examples.I received an urgent appeal issued by the Asian Human Rights Commission that Miss G and her mother M were gang-raped in Kabirwala (a hamlet close to Multan) and the criminals were the henchmen of a provincial law minister. Please note that we were dealing with someone supposed to uphold law and monitor human rights violations in the Pakistani Punjab!The two unfortunate women belonged to a depressed community or caste called Batti (presumably a different caste altogether from Bhatti who are Rajputs). The mother and daughter were first abducted and then gang-raped. Miss G had managed to educate herself and secured an MA in Education, notwithstanding opposition from the upper castes. She was working as a teacher in a school, but her services were terminated and she and her family were allegedly told to leave Kabirwala by the police and the civil administration.The second case is that of a Dalit girl, B, of village Burj Jhabbar in Mansa district, East Punjab. She was gang-raped on 6 July 2002. Her father went to the police who initially refused to file an FIR. However, public protests forced the police to register an FIR a month later. It led to convictions of three assaulters, all of whom were sentenced to life imprisonment.However, the Sarpanch (headman) of the Panchayat and his elder brother, an ex-sarpanch ­ both local leaders of the Congress party ­ became sworn enemies of the girl’s father. He was first attacked in August 2005, then again a second time in December 2005 and finally on 5 January 2006 allegedly by minions of the headmen. His arms and one leg were badly injured and had to be amputated. Those involved in the atrocity have not been arrested yet.Throughout this terrible ordeal the police and the civil administration were most reluctant to help even though the girl’s father belonged to a radical peasant organisation, the Mazdoor Mukti Morcha, and was able to mobilise mass protests and demonstration all the way to the capital Delhi. Even the Indian Zee TV showed a defiant and fearless fellow lying on a cot with his arms and one leg severed from his frail body. An FIR has now been registered against the headman and his brother.It can be argued that gang rape is rare and one should not pass a harsh judgment on the overall situation in the two Punjabs. But the information one gets from human rights organisations from both the Pakistani and Indian Punjab is that sexual harassment of low caste/low community women is widespread. Short of rape and grievous physical assault, many other injuries and indignities can be inflicted on the poor in the rural areas.Poverty, low status, and stigma deriving from the caste system in the Indian Punjab and its variant of biradari system on the Pakistani side, combine to deny millions of human beings their basic right to be recognised as human beings. It also renders them vulnerable to unpaid or underpaid labour, and in the case of women to sexual exploitation. That is surely not the type of Punjab we want to idolise and idealise on both sides of the border.
(Ishtiaq Ahmed is Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, Stockholm University, Sweden. He wrote this article for Daily Times)

Sunday, October 15

Learning Through Activism

Each historic building or site demands its own language for understanding, interpretation and intervention, according to Gurmit Rai, as she shares her experiences of working on heritage sites in Punjab

The Quila Mubarak, a fortified palace complex in Patiala, comprises of numerous buildings. Until 1994, the inner palace known as the Quila Androon, was the sole building protected by the State Department of Archaeology. Between the Androon and the wall are several buildings and the quila wall has many shops that open onto the street outside. Further, most historical buildings inside the quila house various government offices even though their ownership vests with the Public Works Department. As these department administrators do not own them, the buildings are not cared for and end up being abused.
Not only were new structures added to the complex in response to the growing needs of the offices, but lack of regular maintenance allowed growth of thick vegetation and damp in the walls. The PWD, as a consequence, decided to demolish these outer walls and buildings, declaring them as unsafe. This is not uncommon. Despite the absence of a mandate and expertise, the PWD routinely classifies such buildings unsafe and at times even willfully demolishes them. Some of the recently demolished buildings include the Sangrur fort and the Kanwar Sahib ki haveli in Patiala.
As regards the Quila Mubarak the PWD decided to pull down the periphery wall of the fort and make space for a shopping complex. It did not appreciate that the entire ensemble of buildings within the complex collectively contributes to the cultural significance of the site. Following a public interest litigation, the Punjab and Haryana High Court stayed the demolition and ordered the Secretary, Department of Culture, Government of Punjab, to constitute a technical committee to review the condition of the complex and submit a report within six months.
The five-member committee set up essentially included engineers and only one representative from the field of conservation (an activist). It so happened that at the end of the six months the committee failed to come up with the report required by the court. However, on the day after the hearing, the petitioner, INTACH, submitted its preliminary report. Among other matters it pointed out that the committee did not have any representation of experienced conservation professionals of historic buildings. It was only following this plea that heritage conservation professionals were included in the committee.
Differences with the chief engineer, PWD soon came to the fore because he was not sympathetic to the suggestion made by the newly formed committee that the quila complex was a cohesive whole. In protest, the newly appointed members boycotted the committee and prepared their own report. From their point of view, the integrity of a historic precinct had to be central to any proposed recommendations.
The technical committee (chaired by the chief engineer of the Public Works Department) was principally concerned with the structural condition of the historic fabric and economic factors. It applied a single criterion to the different parts of the complex – the ‘structural stability’ of the building or of its parts. These were graded as of A, B or C value – ‘A’ denoted parts in good condition; ‘B’ those that could be repaired and ‘C’ those that were unstable and thus recommended for demolition. In contrast, the report prepared by the committee (which included heritage specialists), laid down three criteria for assessment of the buildings: historic significance, architectural significance and structural condition.
As a consequence of the PIL, 17 public offices, including the Punjab Forensic Department, Punjab Government Department of Weights and Measures, District Treasury and many others, which till then were housed in the quila, were relocated. This was possible only because of the cooperation of the district administration that found alternative accommodation for the offices. Clearly, without the support and political will of the administration, this directive of the High Court, like many others, would have remained unattended for years.
The location of shops within the precints of the quila walls raised critical issues that need to be addressed. The shopkeepers are tenants of the Department of Culture of the Government of Punjab, which technically owns the shops. They have physically expanded the floor space of the shops by burrowing into the quila walls and by replacing the arches that spanned the shops by columns and beams. This has caused structural distress to the building that can potentially lead to collapse, thereby causing threat to life and property. While the shops are part of the original fabric of the building, and their continued use is recommended, it is important for shopkeepers to respect the built fabric and repair and maintain it appropriately. Issues of expenditure on care of the shops and rent paid needed to be addressed through negotiation and dialogue among the stakeholders. This was not done.
The above case highlights the many issues affecting the conservation of heritage, specially relating to protection. There are several buildings like the Quila Mubarak in Punjab where only a part of the complex is protected. This is on account of the lacuna in the system of listing and protection of monuments.
Inadequacies in the understanding and application of ‘protection’ to monuments create concern since they impact the care of key historic buildings of the state. In most cases protection is only limited to the physical structure of the monument. There is no consensus on criteria for determining either the extent to which the area around the monument directly impacts the heritage site, nor about the role of the many agencies involved with most of the historic properties in our urban areas.
Most of the state departments that own historic buildings lack an appropriate system to maintain them. For example, the PWD, one of the largest owners of historic buildings in the state, does not even have a separate division to manage and maintain the structures under its care. Nor does it have requisite knowledge for the conservation and maintenance of historic buildings. Most distressing is the absence of adequate information on the historic buildings, even within the department responsible for management and maintenance of such buildings and sites. Few on-site managers, inadequate staffing, insufficient information on conservation work being undertaken, lack of precise documentation and poor records of buildings and sites, and a dearth of in-house expertise within the Department of Archaeology are some matters the state government needs to look into, as also an inadequate budget allocation and the absence of operational systems for prioritizing sites for conservation. Nor is there any government policy on integrating the historic buildings through development programmes into the urban fabric. Finally, the inappropriate composition of committees constituted to look into conservation matters makes them of no practical use as they are technically ill-equipped and insensitive to cultural issues.

Let us now look at the Anandpur Sahib litigation of 1999. This public interest litigation was concerned with the proposal of the Anandpur Sahib Urban Development Authority (ASUDA) to bulldoze an 80 foot wide road connecting two historic gurudwaras – Sri Keshgarh Sahib and the Sheeshganj Sahib through the historic town. The background to this litigation can be traced to the setting up of the Anandpur Sahib Urban Development Authority (ASUDA) with the authority to undertake interventions such as widening of roads.
Subsequently, in the year 1999 another organization, the Anandpur Sahib Foundation (ASF), was set up by the Punjab government to undertake various activities for the celebrations proposed in the Anandpur Sahib town marking 300 years of the Khalsa. The ASF commissioned a heritage project – to prepare a list of historic buildings and sites in the historic town of Anandpur – as one of its first activities.
The Punjab Regional and Town Planning and Development Act, 1995 provides for the preparation of Town Development Schemes with the provision among others, for ‘the preservation and protection of objects of historical importance of national interest or natural beauty and of buildings actually used for religious purpose’ [91(2)(l)]. The ASUDA, despite a mandate to prepare a town development scheme for the area, chose to bulldoze an 80 foot road which was originally built on a pedestrian scale through the historic town.
The PIL was filed in the Punjab and Haryana High Court around February 1999. The case was admitted and concerned parties asked to present their viewpoint. Since the ASUDA persisted with road widening, despite the matter being subjudice, the petitioners informed the court that the impact of this intervention could change the character of the old town. They also drew attention to the fact that while the Constitution of India provides for a ‘right to culture’, no existing legislation provides an inclusive enough definition of culture.

Some issues that emerged from this case were as follows:
* In the absence of a comprehensive definition of ‘heritage’ and a well-formulated understanding about urban conservation, the destruction of the historic urban fabric on account of development projects is inevitable. This is because on the one hand the Ancient and Historical Monuments and Archeological Sites and Remains Act of 1958 looks only at individual monuments and, on the other, concerned departments are only interested in conserving within the site. Moreover, extant legislation governing urban development does not lay down guidelines for urban heritage conservation.
* There is an inadequate use of existing provisions in the Regional and Town Planning and Development Act for making special schemes for a historic zone.
* Despite numerous international charters that recommend special attention to historic precinct and zones when drawing up development plans for urban areas, none of these are made use of for developing concepts for urban conservation in any of our historic cities.
* Amendments are being made to existing legislations impacting urban development (town and regional planning acts) and management of urban areas (for example the Municipal Corporation Act) without adequate concern for the forward and backward linkages between these various legislations. No structural changes are being made to ensure implementation of these newly made provisions and little thought is being given to the financial mechanisms. Consequently, existing legislative provisions serve those who are literate enough to use them for public interest litigation and not for cultural heritage and community sensitive developments within historic cities and zones.
Unlike the earlier cases, the Kishankot Temple is a good example of community initiative to conserve its heritage. The temple was for years an unprotected building. The original owners had abandoned the village, for Delhi, over 20 years ago and no information about the temple was readily available in the revenue records. In this case the community took the judicial route to protect the monument.
Unfortunately, the rights and responsibilities of a community towards its heritage, which could empower it to protect the buildings from vandalism and encroachment, remain undefined. In this case the temple trust and the panchayat were in conflict – the village panchayat had no control over the land and the trust was not eligible to receive government funds. As part of the conservation effort to protect the temple, a joint committee was set up with members from both the temple trust as well as the panchayat so as to involve the people from the village in the conservation programme. Unfortunately, due to political interference the effort at setting up a common platform did not succeed.
Some of the activities closely linked to the conservation programme were capacity building of the temple trust and empowerment of subgroups within the community to participate in the management of the temple trust work. This was based on a critical understanding that cultural heritage belongs to the entire community. In conservation work it is important to ensure that conflicting political ideologies do not impact the work culture necessary for protecting and maintaining shared heritage. This was demonstrated by allowing for the participation of all members of the community who were interested in working on the conservation site. The youth in particular were enthusiastic about the new job at hand. Discussion on subjects deemed political and partisan in nature was discouraged on the work site and this became a fundamental principle respected by all.
In the Sri Harimandir Sahib complex at Amritsar, the original gold sheets covering the dome were applied in the early 19th century, during the reign of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. They were replaced between 1996-99 as part of renovation. Fresh sheets were placed over a layer of cement plaster, even though application of cement plaster over lime-based brick masonry is known to have a detrimental impact on the building fabric. This has been extensively researched worldwide in the conservation field.
The complex experiences intense pressure from urban development in the surrounding areas. The basic issues relate to inadequate urban regulation, visual clutter caused by hoardings and billboards, chaotic traffic and parking, poor waste management and inadequate facilities for visitors. Further, development projects are undertaken without coordination between the various organizations responsible for planning, developing and managing the city (District Town Planning Office, Municipal Corporation, Improvement Trust). There is also no participation of the local community in the development initiatives.
Since the State Department of Archaeology Act or the Central ASI Act does not protect the complex, despite its immense cultural value, urban development around the site remains unregulated. (The ASI Act earmarks a zone of 100 metres around protected monuments as a no development zone and another 200 metres as a zone for regulated development). No special provisions exist in any legislation which makes application of heritage sensitive rules and regulations mandatory for the management of the historic settings of such significant cultural sites.
The Lahori Gate in Sri Hargobindpur, one of the few surviving 17th century gates of this medieval city, is significant from both a historical and cultural perspective. It is as old as the gates of Shahjahanabad, the Mughal city of Delhi. It still survives in its original form and its architectural and historical integrity is intact. However, its structural condition is precarious. Though residents occasionally complain of falling bricks, the local government remains unconcerned about its upkeep. The ownership of the gate, however, lies with the local municipal authority and there are no funds allocated for its maintenance.
The gate houses 4-5 shops that were rented out in the 1950s. Though the shopkeepers have made additions to the shops, no one spends any money on the common spaces, viz. the roof of the gate at the second floor level. If the municipality were to remove the original roof and replace it with one of reinforced cement concrete, the building would both lose its original character and be harmed as well. Nevertheless the exterior walls of the building were repaired by applying a layer of cement plaster. In the absence of an understanding of the traditional materials and techniques, such ad hoc intervention effort for repair and consolidation can introduce other problems in these historic buildings.
The problem became magnified as it was proposed to sell the gate to the tenant shopkeepers. This was the result of a cabinet decision of the Government of Punjab in 1998, whereby all municipalities were ordered to sell shops that were on rent to the tenants at 40 per cent of the cost. The order was to be executed with the involvement of the district administration. A committee was set-up with the district collector as the chair to evaluate and fix a price for the buildings. No criteria, however, were drawn up for the evaluation of the historicity of the building. As a result many historic buildings, which house shops and are properties of the municipalities, became a casualty of the same policy.
These committees had representatives from the municipal corporations, as in the case of Sri Hargobindpur. In places where large PWD-owned properties were identified to be demolished to make way for new commercial complexes, the department involved was PUDA (Punjab Urban Development Authority).
Had the concerned authority proceeded with the sale and the ownership transferred to private hands, the protection and conservation of these buildings would have become impossible even for the state. In the absence of town development plans, which is the case in almost all small towns in India, such a policy of the government would have resulted in large-scale loss of our heritage.
Conflicts around sacred sites are commonplace in these troubled times. There are many instances in Punjab where oral tradition has become the source of history and not facts as recorded in history texts. An example is the Guru ki Maseet which according to both oral and written folk traditions was built by Guru Hargobind, the sixth Sikh Guru.
Many Islamic buildings in Punjab were abandoned after the Partition of India. Some are in use today though not as originally envisaged. These sites carry great potential for conflict. It is easier therefore to reclaim existing buildings that were abandoned. Since there are no papers to establish legal rights on the building, it is easier to undertake conservation work with the consent of the caretakers. In such cases it becomes imperative to determine the sources of oral tradition for establishing the historic value of buildings, especially because no written records exist. The methodology of conservation work and the definition of ‘community’ also need to be worked out.
The Sikh community maintained the Guru ki Maseet, even though the ownership lay with the Punjab Wakf Board. A principle challenge for the conservation project was to create conditions for dialogue and participation. This was a guiding principle to develop a methodology. One reason why this was possible is due to the fact that the building was neither state protected and nor was there any state funding for conservation.
The Kalanaur mosque in Gurdaspur was initially located in the midst of large open grounds. At the time of the conservation of the building, the land around the mosque had been ‘encroached’ or ‘developed’ with houses all around. Muslim Gujjars, who had settled in the vicinity of the city in more recent times, wanted to use the mosque. Such a situation exists in many other sites as well. The people living close to the mosque claimed that the Gujjars wanted to bury their dead there, in turn generating resistance by the local community.
The mosque is included in the list of notified properties of the Wakf Board that subsequently funded the conservation work. The Wakf was concerned about the education of the Gujjars, who normally do not send their children to school. They were keen on a small education programme to be run out of the mosque for very young children, to prepare them for admission to government schools.
This project raised some important questions for conservation methodology: How does one define the scope of conservation work in such situations? Should conservation work only seek to repair and restore the physical fabric of the building or should it also include the aspirations of the community while respecting the ‘idea’ of the building? What therefore, is the minimum list of things to be done in such conservation work?
The project ran into trouble once the first phase was completed following a change of Wakf Board officials. As the second installment of funds failed to materialize, the work was left incomplete. This is not unusual; funds often dry up when officers within government departments change. In the people’s perception of conservation work, this is a major cause for concern.
As one works on the various cultural sites there is much to learn. We professionals usually insist on understanding ‘conservation’ as a profession. It is, however, clear that conservation in India is not a static subject. Each historic building or site demands its own language for understanding, interpretation and intervention. While conservation is an applied science, it has its own philosophical and theoretical basis. Good conservation practice must evolve its methods and tools within this framework.

(Gurmit Rai is a heritage conservationist and Director of Cultural Resource Conservation Initiative. She wrote this article for October 2004 issue of Seminar on protecting our culture and heritage)