Going beyond politics and bonding with the farmers of Kashmir | Opinion
A farmer leader returns from a three-day tour of Kashmir to tell a harrowing account to present of the damage and destruction caused to Kashmir’s trade treasures: apples, saffron and walnuts.Updated: Nov 22, 2019 18:16 IST
On November 17, a select gathering in Pune was briefed about farmers’ distress in the districts of Jammu and Kashmir. The farmer leader, Raju Shetti, had just returned from a three-day tour of Kashmir and had a harrowing account to present of the damage and destruction caused to the three main commodities of the troubled union territory: apples, saffron and walnuts.
He was part of a seven-member delegation of the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee and had visited apple orchards and saffron fields and spoken to the farmers and members of the local chambers of commerce.
The purpose of the visit, he had told the Kashmiris, was not to indulge in politics but to bond with the farmers.
For Shetti, a prominent farmer leader from south Maharashtra, this visit was an eye-opener about agricultural issues in Kashmir. It is ironical that it should have taken all these decades for such a visit to happen. His account was revealing also for his audience in Pune, who were otherwise poorly informed of the ground realities of agriculture, agricultural issues and the agricultural distress in Jammu and Kashmir.
This year’s production of apples, saffron and walnuts had been badly hit, he said, because of multiple factors, starting with the communication (telephone and internet) shutdown in the aftermath of the nullification of the special status to Jammu and Kashmir. This was followed by the killing of migrant farm labourers by terrorists in Kashmir and the setting on fire of at least one truck.
This cascaded into the refusal of truckers to ply in the interior villages and transport agricultural produce out of Kashmir to other parts of India. The third factor which had destroyed apple orchards and the saffron crop was the heavy snowfall.
Shetti had pictures and videos to show how entire trees had toppled because of the heavy snowfall which had also destroyed the saffron crop. He invited representatives of Kashmiri farmers’ associations for field visits to Maharashtra to see the manner in which the grape growers’ association and other horticultural associations had advanced their cause. Their model could be replicated by the horticulturists in Kashmir with multi-pronged initiatives to promote exports and agro-processing. The farmers of Maharashtra would be willing to assist their Kashmiri brethren through the purchase of their produce, exchanging of delegations and sharing of expertise in horticulture development, he had told them.
Initially, the Kashmiri farmers were wary of this visit by the Kisan delegation, wondering whether it was another of those visits prompted by the government. However, when they saw that Shetti was moving around without any security cover, they were convinced of the sincerity of his purpose.
Incidentally, Pune has been engaged in another bonding exercise with the people of Kashmir, which is in the field of education. There has been silent progress in the Pune Model proposal mooted by the humanitarian organisation, Sarhad, and associated educational institutes in Pune to focus on higher education by partnering with local land owners and the local people, including retired teachers and education officers.
These are steps in the right direction and must be encouraged.