Tuesday, March 28

Agrarian Crisis in Punjab

The story of agriculture in modern Punjab is remarkable for its complex plot. Still unfolding, the story has all the ingredients that make it hard for the main actors in the story to shape up the desired climax. Punjab Panorama in its latest issue pieces together different sub-plots of the story.

The exhilaration of green revolution has given way to despair. The state which reaped the benefits of the Green Revolution in the 80s has come to fight a failing battle with farmer suicides. It has been conclusively proven that there is no direct relationship between progress in agriculture and economic lot of those practicing it.
The Punjabi farmer hailed as saviour, once is being pushed to fringes in the overall economic scenario. Never a master of his own destiny, the control is being increasingly taken.

What do our experts have to offer by way of remedy?

The Second Green Revolution
The discourse on the continuing crisis in agriculture has traveled from 'Diversification' to 'second green revolution' with no consensus yet.
The committee led by Dr. S.S. Johl, chairman of Punjab Planning Board, came up with 'Crop Adjustment Programme' asking for compensating the farmers for not sowing wheat and paddy. The scheme envisaged that area with paddy and wheat cultivation would be replaced by alternative crops and the farmers will be paid in cash for opting for this. Experts picked holes in the scheme. It?s impossible to implement for the sheer size being targeted besides other reasons, countered Dr. S.S. Shergill from Panjab University, Chandigarh. According to Dr. S.S. Rangi, currently consultant to State Farmers Commission, "at present, the diversification options are limited and mostly uneconomical for the farmers to adopt." Punjab should stick to wheat and paddy, Dr. Shergill went on to suggest. "The salvation of Punjabi farmers lies in further improving their efficiency and competitive advantage in wheat and rice production," according to him.
Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh reminded in a brain storming meeting on farmers and farming in Punjab organized at PAU in 1998 that the diversification alternatives are capital intensive, risk prone and sensitive to market fluctuations. "It is therefore, important to conduct sensitivity analysis by using modern analytical techniques including probability analysis" he warned at that time.
Incidentally, it is the same Dr. Manmohan Singh, now in his avatar of Prime Minister of India, who is credited with the propagation of the term 'second green revolution' in Indian context. When M.S. Swaminathan, considered the father of the Green Revolution in India and now unabashed promoter of GM crops, called his international conference held in August 2004 in New Delhi, second green revolution, some of the contours of this were made clear. The conference was organized by the MS Swaminathan Research Foundation in partnership with the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) and the biotech industry-backed International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Application.
We don't have all specifics of what this second green revolution would be, yet, but suddenly everybody is talking about it.
President A P J Abdul Kalam in his address to the nation on the eve of the 54th Republic Day said "... It is the right time for India to embark upon the Second Green Revolution, which will enable it to increase its productivity in the agricultural sector." The second green revolution is indeed graduating from grain production to food processing and marketing, he said. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called for private-public sector partnership for ushering in a second green revolution in the country at a different occasion.
A report by a government-appointed task force headed by Professor M. S. Swaminathan, says: "India's nearly 110 million rural families - mostly peasant farmers owning up to two hectares of land - will have to be provided with the ?best available technologies such as biotechnology and information, space, nuclear, renewable energy, and precision farming technologies and scientific organic farming methods."
Science & Technology Minister Kapil Sibal goes a step further, anointing transgenic research the "most crucial component of Indian agriculture."
With our mainstream media echoing what the government and our scientific establishment have to say, it is important to make out what this actually translates to. According to Peter Rosset, the executive director of Food First/The Institute for Food and Development Policy, calls it "green revolution myth" and asserts that for those who remember the original "Green Revolution" promise to end hunger through miracle seeds, this call for "Green Revolution II" should ring hollow. Yet, Monsanto, Novartis, AgrEvo, DuPont, and other chemical companies who are reinventing themselves as biotechnology companies, together with the World Bank and other international agencies, would have the world?s anti-hunger energies aimed down the path of more agrochemicals and genetically modified crops. This second Green Revolution, they tell us, will save the world from hunger and starvation if we just allow these various companies, spurred by the free market, to do their magic.
Dr. Vandana Shiva had a warning as far back as 1991, that second green revolution cannot succeed where first has failed. The Green Revolution has been a failure, according to Dr. Shiva. It has led to reduced genetic diversity, increased vulnerability to pests, soil erosion, water shortages, reduced soil fertility, micronutrient deficiencies, soil contamination, reduced availability of nutritious food crops for the local population, the displacement of vast numbers of small farmers from their land, rural impoverishment and increased tensions and conflicts, she says and the beneficiaries have been the agrochemical industry, large petrochemical companies, manufacturers of agricultural machinery, dam builders and large landowners.
Normal Borlaug, eminent scientist and Nobel laureate credited with ushering in the green revolution in Mexico that led the way to it being replicated in Indian sub-continent, never ever seriously joined the issue with the critics on specific concerns raised by them. While admitting that his work had not transformed the world into utopia, however, he maintained that it was a change in the right direction. On the criticism all he has to offer is that the critics have never experienced the physical sensation of hunger doing their lobbying from comfortable office suites. "If they lived just one month amid the misery of the developing world, as I have for fifty years, they'd be crying out for tractors and fertilizer and irrigation canals and be outraged that fashionable elitists back home were trying to deny them these things," according to Borlaug.

Players in Food Business
Where does all this place the farmer? The establishment would have us believe that the farmer is a player in the international trade in agriculture produce so that agriculture can contribute to India's economic growth. This is the line being pursued by our PM, an economist by training. The big picture scenario, impressive as it sounds, may dwarf the farmer also in the process, is the fear.
The food business is international business and an important business at that, at the core of all human activity. Being played by big players the rules of this business game are decided by those very players.
Devinder Sharma, agricultural scientist and food policy analyst, says the agricultural policies are being launched at the behest of the United States. Sharma warns that in the U.S., which is marketing the second Green Revolution, the industrial-farming systems survive on massive farm subsidies. Despite more than $75 billion being provided every year in farm support, farmers have preferred to exit agriculture. Remove these subsidies, and American agriculture will most likely collapse like the proverbial house of cards. In any case, American farmers too are abandoning agriculture. In 2002, there were some 900,000 farmers. By 2004, in two years time, the number had come down to 700,000.
Devinder Sharma calls it a "faulty model" which is being replicated here. In the European Union, too such an alarming situation exists despite the availability of direct subsidies to farmers. With rural infrastructure in place and the supply chain system linked to retail business in operation, there is no reason why agriculture should still be a losing proposition. Without even questioning the merit and economics of an agribusiness model that displaces farmers, India is aggressively adopting it.
The plan has actually been put to paper and named, 'Indo-U.S. Knowledge Initiative on Agriculture Research and Education'. Rs 1000 crore project will set the agenda for collaborative farm research with Indian laboratories and agricultural universities. Completing the picture of Indian agricultural research yoked to the US private bandwagon is the fact that the US-based multinationals, Wal-Mart and Monsanto, are on the board of the project. The US side has made clear that any funding that comes to this initiative from the US side will be from the private sector.
How is the American private sector going to influence the Indian agricultural scene should not be difficult to fathom. Wal-Mart food chain and the Monsanto Seed Corporation are keen on using the Initiative for retailing in agriculture and on trade aspects. Transgenic research in crops, animals and fisheries would be a substantial part of the collaboration in biotechnology, requiring India to pledge huge funds.
Writing in CPI(M)'s mouthpiece, Prabir Purkayastha argues that corporatising agriculture will do little to help the bulk of the rural population. With its focus on commercial crops, bulk procurement and retail chains, such corporatisation can only weaken the small farmer even more. Already in Punjab, corporate interests such as Monsanto, Reliance and others are making a beeline for agri-retail trade. With gradual withdrawal of the Government from procurement, more and more of retail trade for agriculture is going pass into these hands. The presence of Wal Mart on the US side also makes clear the interest that the US has in opening India?s internal and external trade in agriculture to US companies.
Unlike in the days of first Green Revolution, agricultural research has now been largely privatised in the US. The Green Revolution grew from an international public research system that began in the 1940s and built up a chain of research centres worldwide. These centres collaborated through the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), a consortium of donors including foundations, national governments, United Nations institutions, etc. These centres operated in a world without Intellectual Property Rights and distributed seeds and new varieties all over the world. The striking improvements of yields in a number of crops, particularly wheat, rice and maize came out of this open institutional structure of science and research.
This is a fundamental shift in science that has taken place, argues Purkayashtha. Earlier, all advance stemming from publicly funded research was supposed to be in the public domain. However, in the US, it changed with the Bayh Dole Act of 1984 that allowed knowledge created by public funding to be patented. This has been followed in most countries with public institutions joining the private sector in the rush for patents. The problem here is that such patents held by public institutions are not used for public good but in turn are licensed to private companies. The university or the public institution may get a large revenue as a result, but the public does not get any benefit to this public funding of such research.
Therefore, even the institutions that helped in the first green revolution are pursuing a different agenda today. They are so closely tied up with agribusiness in the US that instead providing help to our agricultural research, they are more likely to be allied with big agribusiness.
Says Anuradha Mittal, Co-director of the Institute for Food and Development Policy, "I wish it were true that U.S. aid came zfrom a generosity of spirit, but it has always been a political tool used to control the behavior of Third World countries ?.. for finding new markets for U.S. agribusiness, and now for dumping foods containing genetically modified organisms, which are being rejected by consumers in the West."
The policymakers have been talking about the need to bring in private capital in a big way in Indian agriculture as the only solution to the agrarian crisis in the country. With its focus on commercial crops, bulk procurement and retail chains, how will this corporate model of agriculture work for farmers is the question that is not being addressed, though.
"It?s strange that the country has already jumped into the second phase of green revolution without first drawing a balance sheet of the first phase of the technology era," laments Devinder Sharma.

No Informed Choices
In the 1970s when they were given the choice of high-yield varieties of seeds along with chemical pesticides, they welcomed both with equal enthusiasm. Desperate enough to try anything the farmers now are welcoming GM technology throwing caution to winds. It has been shown just recently in the cotton belt of the state where farmers took to Bt cotton with gusto.
The farmers don?t have a choice otherwise also. The classic case is the debate on paddy-wheat rotation in Punjab. Paddy is a farmer guzzler, the farmer need not be told that any longer. Then why doesn't he shift to other crops? Ask any farmer and he will shoot back, what choice do I have?

The Economics
It's ironic that the lack of choice does not mean that the choice availed by farmer is economically viable also. Ask any farmers and he has his statistics ready. Nirbhay Singh of village Ahmedgarh near Ludhiana claims he earns Rs. 10 per acre daily from 8 acres he tills. This includes 4 acres taken on theka, less than the labour he employs he earns. So why doesn't he opt out? What else do I do, is the counter question. This is the only vocation he knows and has been doing for more than forty years now.
Things were not as bad back then. Harbans Singh of Mahianwala in Ferozepur district tells as far back as 1997, when he started farming after retiring from army, urea cost around Rs 200 which is Rs 250 now. Diesel was Rs. 15 a litre, which has doubled now. Every input cost has increased manifold but the prices they are getting are not increasing proportionately, is the simple economics of the problem. This economics gets all the more skewed when you factor in the social costs. There has been a tremendous increase in the household expenditure and money spent on marriages and booming consumer goods etc. This brings in the sociological viewpoint to the economic angle marking out the complexity of the crisis.

Political-Ideological Angle
This is the crucial angle on which hinges the roadmap of agriculture. In continuance of the economic policies being followed by state, agriculture model tailored to the needs of market is the government answer to the crisis. There is clear polarisation of views on efficacy of the view that the market that take care of its own will take care of agriculture too or not. However, the government seems to be clear on which direction to go.
It remains for the non-governmental campaigners to strike discordant notes while the state machinery sets upon to implement its agenda for agriculture. Scepticism on this vision of agriculture is no match for the establishment?s unbridled enthusiasm - echoed by the mainstream media.
They have promised light but for now it's a long dark road ahead for the farmers.

-Jatinder Preet

Saturday, March 25

Bhagat Singh : Man and the Symbol

Bhagat Singh has become a symbol going beyond the boundaries of life and death, becoming in the process, part of collective consciousness of our society . Balram tries to capture the essence of the dynamic personality of the legend in this article featured in the latest issue of Punjab Panorama.
More than 66 years after he left his body, Bhagat Singh still provides meaning to our dreams. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the icon has had an influence on the programmes and ideology of every political movement pre and post independence. Be it the RSS or the leftist Naxalites, all have tried to associate his name with Bhagat Singh. However, it's unfortunate that while doing so most of the time they fail to associate with the Bhagat Singh, who is a historic personality. Instead, they create their own Bhagat Singh, who is more of a socio-psychological symbol.
Hence it becomes important to know about the life of Bhagat Singh, in terms of years as well as deeds. Counting in years, Bhagat Singh traversed a long and complex spiritual and intellectual journey. The young Bhagat Singh, who would begin his letters to his uncle with the word Om, became a confirmed atheist in his last days.
And going through Narodism, Anarchism and Romantic Nationalism, Bhagat Singh arrived at the Scientific-Socialist thinking. Beginning with the ways and means of terrorism, he reached the understanding that synergy arrived through consolidated efforts of farmers-labourers would be the foundation of his functioning.
Bhagat Singh, who declares Garibaldi, Sarabha and Kropotkin as his heroes, seems always willing to have a creative dialogue with Gandhi. Not only that, recognizing the need of the hour, Bhagat Singh called upon the youth to actively take part in the Gandhian movement.
Writing the foreword of Lala Ram Saran Das' 'Dreamland', he never tried to belittle its historic significance, despite deep philosophical differences. While he exhorted the youth to take inspiration from Nehru for intellectual leadership, he did not restrain himself from debunking the affinity of ideology of Lala Lajpat Rai with the Hindu Mahasabha. At the same time, when Lala Lajpat Rai passed away, Bhagat Singh recognized the need to tackle defeatist and pessimistic mentality, understanding its influence on national consciousness. Though, at that time also, he was aware of the limitations of violence and individual murders.
This way the Bhagat Singh we encounter is very dynamic and alive to the developments around him.
But if we try to see his life divided in phases and try to understand his deeds by divorcing them from his ideological complexity, it becomes clear as to how he becomes an inspiration for so many diverse and antithetical political movements. It's another matter that while becoming an inspiration for them; he turns into a self-made psychological symbol instead of a historic character.
By appropriating Bhagat Singh thus, as per their own created symbols, these movements betray their own political, social and ideological characters. On one side the Hindutva brigade uses Bhagat Singh?s support for Devnagri script to write Punjabi and his emotional association with Lala Lajpat Rai for their own ends and, on the other, extreme leftists use Bhagat Singh?s differences with Gandhi and his use of empty bombs at Assembly. But while doing so they not only belittle the great hero but expose their own restricted thoughts too.
Obviously if Bhagat Singh became great just because he was martyred in the national struggle then why didn't all those who gave away their lives fighting British rule become martyrs? Bhagat Singh himself, while praising revolutionaries who came before him, criticized them severely for lack of a concrete and constructive programme. He made it clear that his motive was not just to oust Britishers from the country but to construct a society on new lines. He paid with his life so that his dream could be realized.
Bhagat Singh visualised life in all its diversity and fullness free from narrow nationalist angle beyond communal and linguistic boundaries. Extremists born from the womb of violence and hate can never dream of touching those heights.
Let?s come to second question as to what is their historic compulsion which makes political movements of diverse characters embrace Bhagat Singh? Our present society is born out of National Liberation Revolution. Every political movement active in it has to make clear its viewpoint towards national liberation revolution. All political movements present themselves as heirs to that great revolution and are always eager to impose this as a fact in public consciousness. Their role in present political struggles, in fact, lies in how far they are successful in doing so.
Although Gandhi and Nehru are two indisputable heroes of our national revolutions, their areas of influence are constricted due to our failures and sectarian approaches. Due to their being associated with Congress, the present ills of Congress also have had ill-effect on their image and stature. Whereas Bhagat Singh's symbol has been unsullied so far.
Owing to the attraction of his name even organizations like RSS have to accept him as their hero so that they may present his anti-imperialism as another form of their own concept of narrow nationalism.
On the other hand, Naxalites too don't find any other character suitable to cover their own wrongs. They are one with the RSS on this. Their innocent and honest misconception of being committed to socialist society also forces them to construct Bhagat Singh as a symbol. Their immature option of militant struggle too forces them to take refuge in the powerful stature of Bhagat Singh. This has been the lot of other political parties also so far.
Now comes the question that what is the present and future relevance of Bhagat Singh as a man and a symbol amidst the fast changing present day society?
The success of BJP, VHP types in stealing into academics and public consciousness the concept of cultural nationalism is a case in point. This has become possible for first time that a political movement has arisen without the help of heroes of national revolution. Owing to lack of any specific programme for social or economic reorganization, this movement has to take recourse to mythological heroes instead of historic ones, who can be moulded as they like into their programme of cultural reconstruction. Ramjanambhoomi movement is an example.
Another important fact is that after the destruction of Stalinist socialist structure not only have people become sceptic of the immutability of socialist alternative, intellectual circles too have been questioning the Soviet brand of Marxism. Eulogies of Market are being sung. With end of history, death of dreams too is being declared.
Socialist revolution that has been beloved of youth once does not stir same emotions now. The structural changes in farming and labour classes have altered their historic roles also so Bhagat Singh does not fit in as their spokesman. In these market-driven times Bhagat Singh is merely a brand and 'martyr' just another label.
Now arises the question how can the heritage of Bhagat Singh act as a guiding light for modern man? This question can be answered by watching closely the life of Bhagat Singh.
The immense treasure of heritage of Bhagat Singh would be open to us if we could see Bhagat Singh as someone who dared to dream and had it in himself to live or die for it, instead of seeing him simply as a freedom fighter or a person committed to a particular ideology. But while doing so we would have to not only renew Bhagat Singh who has become a symbol of revolution but the dust that has settled on his spiritual relationship with Gandhi will also have to be cleaned up.
It is obvious that it is impossible to safeguard the relevance of Bhagat Singh without Gandhi and of Gandhi without Bhagat Singh.

Punjab Panorama

Agrarian Crisis in Punjab: Groping in Dark
The story of agriculture in modern Punjab is remarkable for its complex plot. Still unfolding, the story has all the ingredients that make it hard for the main actors in the story to shape up the desired climax. Punjab Panorama pieces together different sub-plots of the story.
The cover storty includes a profile of a farmer, Jeeva Singh, who is a miracle in the pesticide-doused fields, crop failures and farmer suicides of the cotton belt. Jeeva Singh does farming the old fashioned way- with hands. In sharp contrast are Sanghas whose profile is the stuff of ?success? stories of Punjab agriculture. The profile of family of Mohinder Singh, whose two sons committed suicide, is a reality-check.
Punjab Farmers' commission's recipe for renewal of agriculture in Punjab and PAU Vice Chancellor's roadmap for salvation are other highlights. Devinder Sharma writes about clueless government as villages go for sale. Peter Rosset's is an interesting case study of Cuba, which has shown that alternative agriculture can work, albeit in a controlled situation. Excerpts from Dr. Vandana Shiva's Violence of Green Revolution and Amartya Sen's The Argumentative Indian complete the story.

The Mar-Apr issue includes

Real Punjabi Cinema
Bhagat Singh: Man and the Symbol Balram
Restore Individual Dignity Ranjit Singh Gill
Equal but not Same Dalip K. Tiwana

Facts 'N' Figures

Monday, March 13

The dubious bogey of Khalistan

first part of series by Kanwar Sandhu, Resident Editor of Hindustan Times' Chandigarh edition on so called Khalistanis

The current controversy over Sikh separatist leader Jagjit Singh Chohan and others asserting their demand for Khalistan in a television programme on Zee is reminiscent of the late 1970s when the demand was first voiced by them much to the delight of the select media, which consisted mainly of newspapers, as television was finding its feet. In 1979, this writer, then cutting teeth into journalism, has vivid recollections of how some newspapers would play up the activities of such elements even though they lacked popular support. Chohan was among those who were extremely active; he reiterated the demand for a Sikh homeland at Tanda on August 7, 1978 and announced in Amritsar on November 4, 1979 that a transmitter would be installed in the premises of the Golden Temple to propagate their activities. Incidentally, like at present, while he hobnobbed with different political groups, the government then also dithered on the line of action against the likes of them. For example, while the Punjab Government has arrested Chohan and others within hours of the Zee programme last week where he made the demand for Khalistan, it chose to ignore similar demands during the past four years, including the one on June 11, 2003 in Chandigarh. The reason was apparent; Chohan had in the same conference charged the former Chief Minister, Parkash Singh Badal of "individualising" Punjab politics and appreciated the talk of his arrest on charges of corruption by the Congress Government. Incidentally, Chohan was allowed to return to India on June 27, 2001 by the NDA government led by Atal Behari Vajpayee (when Badal was in power in Punjab). And it was the Janata Dal Government in 1979 (Badal was the Chief Minister then too) that had earlier allowed Chohan to return to India after the previous government had impounded his passport. Within a day of his arrival in 2001 following a High Court order, he held a press conference in SAS Nagar where he reiterated his demand for Khalistan, of which he said the first step was to change the name of Punjab to Khalistan. Although the Union Government frowned on his statement, which it said was a breach of the understanding reached with Chohan, no action was taken. However, the furore over the telecast of the television programme, which had no immediate provocation, made the government react this time and ordered his and others' arrest. However, the demand of Punjab DGP S.S. Virk, that television programmes should be screened is rife with danger for tomorrow he may demand similar screening of newspaper reports too, just because they bring out police wrongs. Besides, the Punjab Government's stand on the programme is unclear: while on one hand it has criticised it, on the other hand it has acted upon it and police have arrested those who made statements in support of Khalistan (something which was ignored all this while). Sikh separatists like Chohan are not the only ones who have been bitten by the Khalistan bogey. This writer remembers how in 1985 when there was a fair amount of confusion in the Punjab administration, a group of senior Punjab Police officers (now retired) prepared a highly controversial paper titled "Destination Khalistan" (to which this writer is privy) and put it up to the then Governor, Arjun Singh for perusal. Though the paper touched briefly on the background of the demand for Khalistan, it explained at great length how certain civil and police officers had been "abetting and supporting" it. The paper in one broad brush painted almost all Sikh police officers in Punjab pro-Khalistanis. However, the Governor did not play ball with those who had prepared the paper to start a witch-hunt and returned it with his signatures without any comment. Of course in some places in Canada, USA and UK, the Khalistan objective is taken seriously by a section of the Sikhs. This rant could be due to emotional release or the result of an identity crisis. This is often exploited by the local Khalistanis whose occasional outbursts (resulting in a few days in lock-up) pay off handsomely in remittances abroad. Whether or not the Zee programme is a part of a conspiracy is difficult to say but one thing is clear that it failed to put things in perspective (like the newspapers in the 70s). That the thrust of the television programme was pre-decided is apparent from the fact that many of those who had rubbished Chohan and their ilk during their interviews (conducted nearly two months earlier) did not find mention in the programme when it was telecast. Some of them, including this writer, had stated that there was never any mass support for a separate state and that for a lot of people the demand for Khalistan was a synonym for alienation due to one reason or another. As far as media reports are concerned, in the final analysis it is not the government action but the viewership or readership response that determines their success or otherwise. In this case, the public reaction has already forced the television channel to issue regret to the Sikh community for presenting a distorted picture.

Thursday, March 9

The vanished streams of Panchkula

Right through what is now Panchkula, just fifty years ago, ran five water streams. With them, a whole culture and ecology of sustenance have vanished, reports Gagandeep Singh Ghuman
The singular and final proof of a civilisation is its relationship with water
There were times when cities were built by water. That was when water was seen as a resource. These days, when water is seen as a commodity, cities have stopped keeping that company. Anyone who hears of Panchkula ((which means the city of five streams) might imagine a dash of Venice in it. Panchkula may not lack much compared to other cities of India; a scenic expanse in the foothills of lower Shivaliks, wide tree-lined roads and cleanliness, almost a virtue for an Indian city. What it lacks is just its own meaning. No other city belies its name so thoroughly as Panchkula.
Where have the five streams gone? Ask your urban planner. Or ask Gargi Prasad. Just 45 years ago, when Gargi was a little boy, water was as abundant as air or earth or sky. He never knew he would have to think of water just as he thinks of things that you buy and consume. Gargi lived among five streams fed by nearby Ghaggar river. He lived in a Panchkula that was yet to be robbed of its meaning.
He remembers the best game of those days; grabbing fish in the streams. These days children do play in water, but it isn't grabbing fish. Gargi thinks either he is losing his sense of proportion or the world has grown unreasonable. No, it's not that his grandchildren no longer grab fish, it's something else: A ticket for water. He describes the new water game he takes his grandchildren Ankit and Kundan to play: 'You stand in a queue and pay fifty rupees to buy a ticket. All for being put in pools and pipes of stale water.' That's the game at nearby water park, a far cry from his own childhood game of grabbing fish.
The new urban game that leaves out geographical features like water streams, which sustained life for so long, may leave you with a ticket far more expensive than fifty rupees.
"Today it's ticket for water, who knows, tomorrow it may be murder for water," says Gargi. That tomorrow came last summer in Rajiv Colony, Pannchkula's worst slum, and knocked at the doors of Ram Nivas.
It was almost 9 O'clock in the morning and his wife Kala Devi was late for collecting water. Just as she picked her three buckets to start the small 200 mtr journey from her house to the community tap, she wished she would not see what she had seen for years now. The long serpentine queue that was breaking slowly to encircle the tap like a mob. With the heat rising, tempers fraying and water about to make its 9 am exit hastily, she could not imagine the long day without her three buckets of water. In her frantic attempts to claim the water that she had lost because of her coming late, a minor scuffle broke out. Someone hit her on the head with a steel bucket. After 15 days in the bed, she succumbed to her injuries. She got a few columns in newspapers, just like such a death warrants these days.
Not far from Rajiv colony, you can see a faint trail of almost invisible trench filled with small forest shrubs and waste. If you look close enough, you will see here the dying history of Panchkula that unfortunately could not become its present. These are the remains of one of the five kuhls (streams) that gave your city its name and once enough water so that people don't think of water parks or murders.
Fifty years ago, Kanti Prasad Bhalla would have laughed at these improbables. He loved those streams and they are etched in his memory like grooves. "They used to tale off from the upper reaches of the river Ghaggar and flow through several villages. One flowed from Manimajra to Mauli . The second would take off from Chandimandir to the villages of Chandigarh. Another ran along Ghaggar river, irrigating villages as far as Haripur. Yet another ran behind Suraj theatre. All intersected at a point called Panchkula, behind what is now Red Bishop hotel." The kuhls, or streams, quenched their thirst, irrigated their fields, their children bathed in them and by them they also washed their clothes. Kuhls also supported a primitive industry; 'harhats' or flour mills and brick kilns that used water from the kuhls. There was a little bit of the kuhls in every act of the day.
The kuhls, or streams, were both about the new god of democracy and the old god of water. "With no government authority to control or regulate them, the kuhls belonged to the people and the distribution of their water was truly democratic, with everyone getting water according to his land needs," Bhalla remembers. They used to put small dams on the kuhl of Chandimandir to divert water according to community needs. "Twenty people, one from each village, went to the kuhl early morning, putting sticks, mud and wood into it to divert water. What followed was a yajna, where the villagers worshipped the water god. They called it Khwaja Devta," Bhalla narrates.
And then happened what we now know as Panchkula. The new development idiom cared little for the old, indigenous grammar of water conservation. Urbanisation brought in its tow the mining industry that reduced mighty Ghaggar to an expanse of shallow water and kuhls to dirty drains. Now the kuhls bubble only in the old, nostalgic minds or the yellowing maps tucked away in decrepit cupboards at the revenue office.
"Anyone who had seen the kuhls would agree that they were an efficient, dependable, cost-effective and perennial water source," says Bhalla. Talking of perennial, you could still use that adjective for water in today's Panchkula but in a different context ---- Perennial water shortage. Panchkula draws water from the ground reserve and it uses 105 tubewells to do it, which are, well, perennially overworked. As the population increases, five or six new ones are added even as five or six existing ones break down. On the last count, the depth at which they nabbed water was alarmingly low ---- 1,000 feet. The water table receding fast every year, and there is little means to replete it.
From being available round- the-clock to being strictly regulated, water has indeed come a long way in Panchkula. Along this way, it has got dirty too. Water pipes often burst open and carry with them dirt, mud, worms and even snakes. This explains why most people use water purifiers.
Another water game Gargi Prasad remembers playing in the kuhls was 'hold your breath'.
You held your breath in the water, trying to remain down longer than the others. "There was a heady feeling of water around you, about you, over you. Then to come up on the surface finishing last, with your eyes red and head heavy with victory. It was kidding with death," Gargi remembers.
The new urban water game at play in Panchkula may also prove to be kidding with death, but this time without any water.

Wednesday, March 1

George Bush go home

It's not in our power to stop Bush's visit. It is in our power to protest it, and we will, says Arundhati Roy in a write-up in The Hindu

On his triumphalist tour of this part of the world, where he hopes to wave imperiously at people he considers potential subjects, President Bush's itinerary is getting curiouser and curiouser. For his 2nd of March pit stop in New Delhi, the Indian Government tried very hard to have him address our Parliament. A not inconsequential number of MPs threatened to heckle him, so Plan One was hastily shelved. Plan Two was that he address the masses from the ramparts of the magnificent Red Fort where the Indian Prime Minister traditionally delivers his Independence Day address. But the Red Fort, surrounded as it is by the predominantly Muslim population of Old Delhi, was considered a security nightmare. So now we're into Plan Three: President George Bush speaks from Purana Qila, the Old Fort.
Ironic isn't it, that the only safe public space for a man who has recently been so enthusiastic about India's modernity, should be a crumbling medieval fort?
Since the Purana Qila also houses the Delhi zoo, George Bush's audience will be a few hundred caged animals and an approved list of caged human beings who in India go under the category of "eminent persons." They're mostly rich folk who live in our poor country like captive animals, incarcerated by their own wealth, locked and barred in their gilded cages, protecting themselves from the threat of the vulgar and unruly multitudes whom they have systematically dispossessed over the centuries.
So what's going to happen to George W Bush? Will the gorillas cheer him on? Will the gibbons curl their lips? Will the brow-antlered deer sneer? Will the chimps make rude noises? Will the owls hoot? Will the lions yawn and the giraffes bat their beautiful eyelashes? Will the crocs recognise a kindred soul? Will the quails give thanks that Bush isn't travelling with Dick Cheney, his hunting partner with the notoriously bad aim? Will the CEOs agree?
Oh, and on the 2nd of March, Bush will be taken to visit Gandhi's memorial in Rajghat. He's by no means the only war criminal who has been invited by the Indian Government to lay flowers at Rajghat. (Only recently we had the Burmese dictator General Than Shwe ? no shrinking violet himself.) But when George Bush places flowers on that famous slab of highly polished stone, millions of Indians will wince. It will be as though he has poured a pint of blood on the memory of Gandhi.
We really would prefer that he didn't.
It's not in our power to stop Bush's visit. It is in our power to protest it, and we will. The Government, the Police and the Corporate Press will do everything they can to minimise the extent of our outrage. Nothing the Happynews Papers say can change the fact that all over India from the biggest cities to the smallest villages, in public places and private homes ? George W. Bush, incumbent President of the United States of America, world nightmare incarnate, is just not welcome