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)

The Captain Sank this Ship

Manpreet Badal

As a member of the Punjab Legislative Assembly for the last 11 years and a Punjabi pained by the accelerated administrative downfall in Punjab in the last four and a half years, I have been an anguished spectator as my state has been systematically devastated by scandalous misgovernance of the incumbent Congress government led by Captain Amarinder Singh. I have been witness to the tragic effects of his ill-considered and utopian initiatives that have reduced golden green Punjab and its proud martial and progressive people to disaster and suicide. I now feel it my duty to set the record right.
After hearing the rubric of falsehood and untruthful claims regarding development and good governance on September 19 by the CM in the last Assembly session, I wish to state that development on the ground is not feasible in conditions of continuing instability of government machinery. Development, progress and good effective governance are based on stability in prices and controlled law and order situation. The earning capacity of a citizen in the agricultural, industry or professional sectors, must be co-related to the prevailing cost index and the price of essential commodities. Development is a progressive movement and it is based on peace, social stability and a realistic economic nexus between income and expenditure.
Development also dictates prioritised planning, therefore, if we were to look at development as a series of concentric circles moving outwards, the prerequisite would be starting with drinking water, food, electricity, village roads, basic education and health and veterinary infrastructure and then moving outwards.
This hasn’t been the case in Punjab under the present Congress government. Ranked 29th, Punjab is the second last amongst all India’s states in respect to vital programmes for rural areas. According to the union ministry of programme implementation, Punjab’s poor, and particularly those from the scheduled castes, are lagging in the matter of supply of drinking water in villages. So also in being provided assistance in building houses. Whereas neighbouring Himachal Pradesh topped and Haryana was 15th on the same list. Last year, Punjab had ranked 27th, while Haryana and Himachal Pradesh were placed at 9th and 5th position respectively.
This alarming downfall of Punjab is illustrated by the fact that only 0.81 per cent of the state’s rural children have had the benefit of higher education. Eighty five per cent of Punjab’s schools are without head teachers. Forty thousand teaching posts are lying vacant and 3.5 lakh school children failed the school examination this year. In the three medical colleges 204 posts out of 441 are lying vacant; the student professor ratio at an unbelievable 160:1. And due to the new excise policy there are liquor vends outside schools, colleges and hospitals.
So, Punjab lags behind in the matter of education, health, law and order, investment of industries and infrastructure. The weekly magazine India Today has clarified that using parameters of agriculture, infrastructure, budget, prosperity and consumer market, Punjab was adjudged the country’s best- governed state based on the state government’s past performance. And it thus sums up the situation of the government before Captain Amarinder Singh took over as CM in February 2002. In fact, the same report that has been advertised to prop up Amarinder Singh’s image actually indicts the present government as its performance has slipped in the last 3 years. If Punjab holds the number one slot, it owes its position to the cumulative effect and the past performance of irrigated area, rural roads and electrification. Thus the government is wrongly trying to claim credit for the achievements of the previous regimes.
The CAG report for the year ending March, 2005 revealed that the state government high cost borrowing for investment which yielded little return indicated implicit subsidy and the most serious indictment in the report is the curtailment of development expenditure from 49% in 2001 to 44% in 2005. The state government has further been indicted by the CAG in non-utilisation of funds released by the Centre for construction and maintenance of roads. The report also says Punjab failed to utilise Rs. 54.76 crores between 2002-2004, so substantial funds for development weren’t released by the Centre.
The Punjab government, in its financial arrangement with Reliance, stands to lose Rs 1,500 crores in concessions; it has also let go of the Bathinda Refinery Project inaugurated by then prime minister Vajpayee, which would have given thousands of rural youth employment.
The focus of the Congress government has been on profligate extravagance in the matter of organizing music and heritage festivals at the cost of a groaning treasury. Hundreds of crores of rupees have been spent on cultural programmes with Punjabi Pakistan.
There has been no check on the growth of the bureaucracy; the secretary to the government is equated with a commissioner of a division in the field. A parallel situation exists in the police and other departments with the result that about 80-90% of the revenue receipt is used by the government to maintain itself. Therefore, there is no money for development and World Bank experts who visited Punjab found that the state, under the present government, does not have the capacity to usefully absorb any loan or grant for development.
The diversification of agriculture is totally unrealistic, for on the one hand the granary of India would turn into a foreign hinterland and on the other the country would have to import grains. No attention has been given to unemployment, nor to the rapidly increasing cancer deaths in the cotton belt including Gidderbaha and Muktsar. No attention has been given to the farming communities for supply of electricity and water, waiver of loans in genuine cases or allowing more time for repayment, leading to hundreds of suicides by farmers.
There is a grave malaise in the state’s governance. Sixty years after British rule ended we witness an evil mafia bartering Punjab’s exchequer to Dubai and alien shores, moneys due to the peasantry being siphoned off to alibi accounts, starving children and widowed women stretching out their hands for sustenance, looking for succour. Farmers who stood tall in their fields till yesterday are victims of cancer and the moneylender’s stick, commission agents from abroad declare that Punjab is for sale. Everywhere there is despair.

Monday, October 9

Helping hand from Holland

Jatinder Preet

Tom Deiters, a student of political science, specializing in international relations at the University of Amsterdam and Suzanne Nievaart a student of Cultural Anthropology at the University of Amsterdam came in the summer of 2005 to Sangrur to conduct research on farmer suicides. During their stay, they conducted countless interviews with widows, farmers, neighbours, family members, and children. One of their translators was Kawaljeet Singh, the Managing Director of the SEABA School in Lehragaga. They visited the school and were very impressed with the quality of the education and the atmosphere at the school. They termed it of an "exceptional level, considering the other schools they visited in the area". They came to know of the scholarship program at SEABA, a programme that allows children from poverty-stricken households to attend high quality education. They found that the main reason for the farmer suicides in the area is of an economic source, and there are many suicide cases in the area. The widows are often unable to pay for their children's education and other expenses, which results in the children going to work instead of going to school. They decided to sponsor one girl, who had to discontinue studies because his father and then his uncle, the remaining bread-earner of the family committed suicides (see earlier post Hope Comes to children in farmer' suicide belt ). Back home after their sojourn in the area of Lehragaga they decided to look for more sponsorships. While they are still at it, four more students from suicide-victim families have been enrolled in the school with the money they have collected.

Rashbir Singh, 5 years old, vill. Khokhar Kalan, Teh. Sunam, Distt. Sangrur

Rashbir with mother Shinder Pal Kaur and grandmother

A poor farmer family with 3 acres land holding. 18 years ago head of the family, Rashbir Singh's grand father, Chhaju Singh committed suicide by hanging himself. It fell upon Makhan Singh, father of Rashbir, to repay the family debt. He too committed suicide by drinking pesticide.

Sandeep Kaur, 9 years old, Vill. Lehal Khurd, Teh. Moonak, Distt. Sangrur

Sandeep with her grandmother Sujan Kaur
Sandeep's father Rohi Singh and uncle Binder Singh both committed suicides in 2002 and 2003 respectively. 70 years old Jasram Singh, grandfather, is immobile due to problem in knees. The family is left with three-acres land.

Gurpreet Singh, 3 years old, Vill. Lehal khurd, Teh. Moonak, Distt. Sangrur

Gurpreet with mother Kulwinder Kaur

Gurpreet's father Kala Singh committed suicide last year. Dhan Singh, grandfather of Gurpreet Singh is a small farmer with two unmarried daughters besides looking after his widowed daughter-in-law and another grandson, 6 years old Gurdeep Singh

Arshdeep Singh, 8 years old, studying in standard III

Arshdeep with his widowed aunt Kulwinder Kaur

Arshdeep's father Jagga Singh and uncle, Balwinder Singh both committed suicides in 2000 and 2003 respectively. Their widows, both real sisters refused any share of land by in laws family, survive doing labor and small income through handicrafts.