Wednesday, January 10

On Punjab & Punjab Panorama

Reading Punjab Panorama, led GURINDERto reflect on the present state of the state, that left him sad, he writes in his blog Home of the Pointless

I stumbled upon this blog that documents the times that my beloved, once proud, state is going through. Though some posts are positive, most have a dim outlook. At the heart of the problem is the state of agriculture in Punjab. It feels sad to be reminded how our primary, definitive occupation is dying a slow death. You are deeply touched because although you do not till lands, farming is an organic part of your self-identity; and you, in turn, are a part of a whole cultural ecosystem built upon agrarian living. You realise that without farming you'll have no songs, no stories that you can call uniquely your own and a whole side of your language will lose its meaning entirely.Nevertheless the rot has begun and it has begun from the roots. The wide base of the social pyramid, the small farmer is, being edged out of the picture. For him growing crops isn't a sustainable business any more.The land that was incomparably fertile once is now nearly giving up. The inexorable repetition of wheat and rice crop sown year after year has depleted the nutrients needed for the two crops. The farmer , therefore, is forced to dump huge amounts of fertilizer to keep his yields up.New pests have arrived on the scene that are more resilient than the earlier ones. The American bollworm, which infests cotton, is one of the toughest bitches. If your crop gets it, you are caught in a long cycle of spending on pesticides to keep the plants standing. Mostly due to this bane of cotton, the pesticide market has grown more then three-folds in last decade. Bathinda, the cotton belt of Punjab, alone consumes about 65% of the total pesticide sold in the state.With the consumption, as well as prices, going seriously up, a farmer with small amount of land has no feet to stand upon. The majority of his earnings end up being buried back into the soil in the form of these chemicals. Other expenditures, such as the imbecility of buying tractors even when you can't afford a bicycle, just so that you can show off to your neighbour is sucking farmers dry.Yeah, part of it is sheer stupidity. It is stupid to not have used crop rotation regularly. It is also stupid not to have moved with the times and adopted newer alternative crops. Also, it is depressingly stupid to spend outrageous money on farm machinery sometimes even when you don't need it.However, a part of it, definitely, is governmental apathy. To this day, a farmer cannot sell his crop directly to the government, leave alone to buyers from outside the country. There is a bustling army of middlemen (called arhtiyas), who purchase the yield from farmers on a far lower prices than what they subsequently sell it to the government for. No wonder that for most farmers an arhtiya is the personification of ultimate villainy. And yet, there's simply no running away from them.Also, a campaign for saner land use is permanently missing. Firstly, it is unrealistic to expect a farmer to ignore the overwhelming market demands and give up wheat and rice in favour of watermelons; there's gotta a be a market for alternative crops if they are to be grown. Secondly, there has not been a single drive in Punjab to educate farmers on the benefits of rotating crops and all that. In the absence of a consolidated effort, the scattered prime movers of market and ignorance have together dragged our people towards cultural and economic (and, not to mention, chemicals-induced health) disasters. For a Jatt, like me, not having land his own is the ultimate ignominy. We are a proud people. Some of us would rather kill themselves than work as landless wage-earners on our own farms. But, just as farmers are dying in Punjab, agriculture is dying too, and, along with it, our spirit and insurmountable vivacity is fading away.Perhaps it is the inevitable change that comes with time. Perhaps it is our own folly. Or, perhaps there's a whole framework of selfish profiteering that is consuming us. Whoever it is that is to be blamed, the whole thing is surely sad ─ enormously sad.

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