“I have a feeling that I have lost both my hands and legs,” says Veerpal Singh, a marginal farmer from the Kalena village of Bulandshahr district of UP. The frail-looking farmer cuts a sorry figure; his words are hardly audible with helplessness written all over his face. In his late 60s, Veerpal Singh, like most of the marginal peasants in the most populous state of India, is drowning in a veritable vortex of alienation and anomie. Puffing a beedi and squatting in a peculiar way with one hand supporting his head, demonstrating his pitiable situation, he asks, “Why should I live now? How should I live now?”
When Tehelka visited several villages of this western UP district to understand the agrarian conditions after the recent unseasonal rain and hailstorm which destroyed crops, it was evident that the question raised by Veerpal precisely sums up the anxieties of the farmers in this agrarian belt. “The hailstorm had a devastating impact on the livelihood of farmers. Crops are severely damaged. And due to flawed policies of central and state governments, farmers are not going to get the right compensation. But it is absolutely wrong to say that the farmers were otherwise fine. They are immersed in an unfathomable crisis and hailstorm havoc has acted as a catalyst,” says Jagweer Singh, a small farmer and district secretary of All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS).
Veerpal Singh’s life is testimony to ‘immersion in crisis’ as well as uncertainties faced by Indian farmers due to global climate change. Crushed after successive crop failures and price fluctuations, Veerpal decided to focus more on the dairy sector. He approached public sector banks and other institutionalised credit agencies to make that happen. Unable to get credit, he approached the village ‘Sahukar’ (moneylender). He borrowed Rs 60,000 at a monthly interest of 3%. He managed another Rs 5,000 from relatives and his meagre savings and purchased a milk-yielding buffalo last year November. But unfortunately buffalo died after two months.
“I have to pay Rs 1,800 per month to the moneylender. Now I’m unable to pay the amount. So after 6 months, my principal amount will be Rs 70,800 and corresponding monthly interest. I thought I will pay the interest once Rabi crop harvesting is over. Now with hailstorm destroying my entire wheat crop in one acre farm, I don’t know what to do. I feel suffocated. I have tilled the land from my childhood. I don’t want to leave farming. But I don’t know how I will survive. Hope my two young buffalos will grow and give milk,” he says, the slight glimmer of hope visible in his teary eyes.
“His dream of surviving with young buffalos may not work out. Our cattle is perishing as if symbolic of deep agrarian crisis,” says Ajith Kumar, another small farmer. “This is a cattle belt. But you cannot find veterinary services nearby. Buffalos cannot go to doctor and doctors won’t come to buffalos until they are bribed beyond our means.”
Taking advantage of the situation, a veterinary quack mafia is active in these areas. They adopt primitive methods of diagnosis and treatment. The farmers are forced to depend on quacks at the time of emergency. “Bhori, my pet cow fell ill last October. There was no veterinary help available and I couldn’t watch suffering. Getting a hint of my pathetic condition, a quack appeared from somewhere. He injected wrong medicine and she died. Later I came to know that scientific medicine could have saved her life,” says Ajith. One can find large number of farmers whose cattle died due to treatment by quacks in the villages of the surrounding area. Quacks have been making huge money exploiting the desperation of the poor farmers. This should be viewed in the context of diminishing services in the agriculture sector and increased focus by the state on ‘industry’.