Who is a farmer? Perhaps someone who owns a piece of land, which an industrialist, real estate agent or a politician for that matter could take over at any later stage by Khuswant Singh
One day while sipping my early morning tea, I felt this urgent desire to revisit the meaning of the word ‘farmer’. A very strange and moronic desire indeed, but the urge I felt was because somewhere, along the years, we lost the meaning of the word and its significance. We lost track of its meaning to the rhetoric and the abuse it underwent, be it in the parliament, media or the intellectual space, thus making a revisit imperative.
So who is a farmer? I asked myself pacing up and down on my terrace and ‘googling’ it on my ever so slow internet connection. If one were to derive its meaning from the ongoing debate on the land acquisition bill, the closest one could get was that a farmer was someone who owns a piece of land, which an industrialist, real estate agent or a politician could take over at any later stage. No questions asked, a price is paid and off with you.
In other words, the din of the political tamasha has twisted the meaning so much that the farmer now appears as someone with a land bank, rather than a person who toils hard under unfavourable conditions to produce food for billions. And of course, for that canteen in the Parliament, which boasts of cheap food.
And while I was mulling over this thought, Google finally started to throw up meanings, one of which said that a farmer is a person who owns or manages a farm, implying that he is a worker who produces food. Interestingly, if one were to pose the same question to a Tata, Adani or an Ambani, my bet is he'll say "oh the chap with the land", totally ignoring the aspect which suggests that their most expensive dinner has been produced by someone who has toiled hard on land.
I am of the view that great nations are those that respect their food producers and not exploit them. Unfortunately, in India we have reduced the farmer to a vote bank or a land bank.
No doubt land is required for industrial growth and other infrastructure projects, but goddamn be fair and considerate at least. We all are aware of how the Land Acquisition Act 1894 was abused in Chandigarh, Haryana, Punjab and elsewhere until a more sensible law was brought in place on January 1, 2014 to stop the rampant politician-private sector nexus of SEZs, etc which were nothing but exploitations of the old law.
The parliament revisited the law in 2015 and through an ordinance made it more industry friendly with changes in the consent part of the act. The approval of a farmer is a very important part, just as much as determining the market value of the land even though the approval ceases to be a contentious issue if a fair price is paid.
However, contentiousness can arise when a farmer thinks about life after losing his land, and rightly so since he has no other skill than farming.
He is usually an illiterate who rules out adopting another profession and feels insecure about migrating from his familiar surroundings which will change forever once he is uprooted. And even if he does have a transition plan, by no means can it happen overnight.
I think the missing link in this political debate is the part that no one seems to be interested in working on: strategies for farmer rehabilitation and to use their skills productively. The spirit of the present policy is ‘pay the cheque and wash off your hands from responsibility’, which shouldn't be the case since the acquisition is a forced event and not an outcome of volunteer selling.
For example, if you look at New Chandigarh, most farmers whose lands were acquired have become property dealers. Not only has a skill been lost, there is no value addition happening in terms of farmers undertaking professions which could contribute to the growth of the nation either. They have the money, but no pride to keep with it.
And while all this was churning in my heart, my slow internet connection threw up another definition, this one, by a website called urbandictionary.com. It says "an almost respectable person, who grows the food that the general public so ungraciously eats. Don't take farmers for granted. Hell, love us. We feed you people."
Yes, take care of your ann datta folks.