The Tribune has done an outstanding job of exposing the lie of “prosperous rural Punjab”. Since the phenomenon of rising rural suicide rate began to be noticed in the mid-nineties, the government initially sought to deny rural suicides outright, and when the problem could no longer be hidden, the attempt was made to downplay the number of suicides or throw the blame for these suicides onto the victims themselves who were slandered as drug addicts and alcoholics.
The Tribune’s relentless spotlight, shining on family after family, village after village makes it impossible to deny the reality of long-term and worsening rural emiseration. The series also makes it clear that not only is the farmer driven to the wall but likewise the agricultural labourers and the village artisans. In fact, every section of village society has been ground down by years of unjust policies.
“Punjab sets new wheat-yield record.” “Punjab rice production tops again” How often we have read these headlines … and then we stroll down a village lane noticing the actual physical condition of the people. The chidren are thin with the dry brown hair that signifies malnutrition, the teenage girls have fingernails that show no trace of pink beneath the nail. Their daily diet is roti, salt and green chillies. We are not talking about Bihar – it’s Punjab. Punjab’s villagers starve even as they feed the nation.
There are some who say that the pattern of agriculture not just in Punjab but all of India has to change … to modernize. Farming as a way of life must go to make way for corporate agriculture capable of making investment and absorbing risk. One recalls a Thomas Hardy novel from the college syllabus of long ago: Hardy spoke of the “abandonment of villages for larger cities and towns, a movement humorously designated by statisticians as ‘the tendency of the rural population towards the large towns,’ being really the tendency of water to flow uphill when forced by machinery.”
Water flowing uphill … it is that simple to the proponents of corporate agriculture. Move people off the land. Move them how? Move them where? And then what? How many workers can the “professions” of brick-carrying and street-sweeping absorb? Does an individual’s sense of worth and self-respect count for anything?
The Tribune reporters have done a commendable job. These articles are in the best traditions of journalism and are a service to the people of the state. They should be carried in Punjabi Tribune also.
Inderjit Singh Jaijee
Baba Nanak Educational Society
1501, Sector 36-D Chandigarh-160036
Ph. 0172-2600484, Mb: 9814334314