Sheep, mutton, fish, Karnataka and Maharashtra

Two exhibits from the newspapers in the last couple of days demonstrate that a sheep is not necessarily the best judge of mutton. And that it is better to teach a farmer how to fish than to gift him a few loaves of fish.

Exhibit A: a sheep is not the best judge of mutton

The Janata Dal (Secular), with the farmer-woman carrying a load on her head, has been in power (first with the Congress, then with the BJP) since 2004. The mannina maga and mannina magana makkalu, with their finger on the farmer pulse, have had a vice-like grip over everything that flies, swims or rolls on the ground in Suvarna Karnataka.

Yet, according to a report by Ajith Athrady in Sunday’s Deccan Herald, the number of suicides of farmers in Karnataka, has increased under the direct watch of H.D. Deve Gowda & Sons. As many as 320 farmers ended their lives during 2006-07, and 73 have committed suicide in the first three months of this fiscal.

That 320 figure is up marginally from the 2004-05 figure of 271, and up more dramatically from the 2005-06 figure of 163.

Worse, of the 827 deaths in the last four years, the most (139) have been reported from—pinch yourself—the hometown of the humble farmers: Hassan. Karnataka stands fourth on the totem-pole for farmer deaths, below Maharashtra (4,189), Andhra Pradesh (2,445) and Kerala (854).

Which begs the question: if the South is ahead of the North on most socio-economic parameters, why are all but one of its States also watching this grisly dance of death?

Exhibit B: teach a farmer how to fish instead of gifting him fish

The number of suicides of farmers in Vidarbha, in the home state of the honourable Union Minister for the Board of Control for Cricket in India, Shri Sharadji Pawar, has apparently increased since Prime Minister Manmohan Singh announced a Rs 4,000-crore package last year.

Social activist Vandana Shiva, founder of Navdanya, is quoted by Deccan Chronicle as saying that there were two basic causes behind the suicides—high costs of inputs and low prices of agricultural produce—neither of which have been addressed in the PM’s package.

The other salient points she makes are:

# Much of the Rs 25,000 crore agricultural package that was recently announced by the Prime Minister is being spent in providing subsidies to MNCs.

# Indian farmers are being paid Rs 8,500 per tonne as minimum support price; but in the international market the government was buying wheat at Rs 16,000-17,000 per tonne.

# Wheat imported at Rs 17,000 per tonne was being sold to the poor at Rs 5 per kilogram (Rs 5,000 per tonne), adding another annual subsidy burden of almost Rs 60,000 crore.

This “irrational and unjustified” import of wheat at double the domestic cost was a direct fallout of the US-India agriculture agreement that was signed by Singh along with the nuclear agreement in July 2005, Vandana Shiva said.

Which begs the question: is the announcement of packages actually prompting the farmers to end their lives and to (momentarily) end their (and their family’s) misery?

Also read: Does death not count if it isn’t due to terrorism?