The Big Story: Perception and reality
Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday attacked those criticising his government for the economic slow down, claiming that only a “handful” of people were trying to spread despair. “There are some people who sleep well only after they spread a feeling of pessimism,” he told participants at a conference. “We need to recognise such people.” India had a glimpse of some of those pessimists earlier in the day, as images purportedly shot in Madhya Pradesh’s Tikamgarh town, in Bundelkhand, began to circulate. The photographs and videos claimed to show that farmers attending protest rally had been had forced to strip to their undergarments by the Tikamgarh police.
Congress leader Yadvendra Singh, who had helped organised the rally on Tuesday, said he heard about farmers being detained and stripped inside the police station. “I went there and found they had been beaten up,” Singh said, according to the Hindustan Times. “They were made to sit just in their underwear.” The farmers were released afterwards, but the images prompted an inquiry from the State Human Right Commission.
Sadly, Tikamgarh is not the only instance of farmers struggling to make their voices heard amidst an administrative crackdown. Last month, it has happened in Chhattisgarh, when 129 farmers were arrested and prohibitory orders were imposed in five districts of the state. A fortnight before, it happened in Punjab, where 230 farmer leaders were kept in preventive custody before they could start a five-day protest in Patiala. In June, it happened most infamously in Mandsaur, Madhya Pradesh, where five farmers were killed by gunfire after a protest.
Speaking to the Indian Express, an unidentified senior government leader in Chhattisgarh explained why the authorities choose to employ such heavy-handed tactics against protestors. “What we wanted to prevent were these messages of thousands of farmers protesting and the chance of things going wrong, like in Sikar or Mandsaur,” the leader said after the arrests and prohibitory orders in September. “That has been prevented, but the crackdown might leave a longstanding problem for us.”
As always, it is the message that matters for the government. But underlying these efforts at controlling the message is serious economic distress that goes far beyond a handful of pessimists. While much of the country received plentiful rain, as many as 219 of 630 districts received 20% less than normal. Many of these districts are concentrated in central India, including Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Uttar Pradesh. The agriculture department has said that production of the kharif crop will be 3% lower than previous years in central India, a significant drop.
Faced by an unresponsive government, farmers have been finding ever-more vocal ways to protest, such as Tamil Nadu farmers drinking their own urine or the mass agitations in Sikar, Rajasthan (when the government eventually agreed to some demands). Farm loan waivers have been promised and even handed out by some state governments, but in many cases, they turned into a cruel joke. In Uttar Pradesh, for instance, some farmers received waivers of Re 1. In many ways, the problem is the result of the government simply refusing to acknowledge any distress, let alone work with farmers to alleviate it. If this doesn’t change, more pessimists will be begin to spread despair.
The Big Scroll
- Interview: We are witnessing the beginning of a peasant rebellion in India, says Yogendra Yadav.
- Farmers protest: Madhya Pradesh was supposed to be an agriculture success story. What went wrong, asked Rakesh Dixit earlier this year.
- In Rajasthan, the BJP faces the first serious challenge to its cow politics – from angry farmers, Shoaib Daniyal reported.
- Zee News reported on and slammed a leaked confidential note which appears to have come from the office of the channel owner, Essel Group Chairman Subhash Chandra, whose company was among those the document said was a tax defaulter, Manisha Pande reveals in Newslaundry.
- “The lack of ideological or programmatic differentiation between parties [in Gujarat] plays to the advantage of the BJP, who can distinguish itself by projecting a strong leadership,” write Christophe Jaffrelot and Gilles Verniers in the Indian Express.
- “Ironically for a government elected on the basis of an appeal to a market-friendly constituency, its performance on welfare schemes like Jan Dhan Yojana and the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana is commendable,” writes Rohit Prasad in Mint. “But in the absence of a solid growth engine, achievements like these are merely decorations in a party hall where the guests refuse to come.”
- In the Farooqui verdict, writes Latika Vashisht in the Hindu, the focus has been shifted from what the woman said to what the man understood.
- India should join hands with Myanmar and Bangladesh to collectively solve the Rohingya problem, writes G Parthasarathy in the Tribune.
Rayan Naqash writes about a new play that is chronicling Kashmir’s pain, even as the Valley’s traditional storytellers have disappeared.
“‘Theories of theatre of the oppressed evolved in Western societies around mid-19th century,’ said Arshad Mushtaq, filmmaker and theatre director. ‘There was already something similar happening in Kashmir for centuries. Bhand pather would only pick contemporary issues, it was a resistance against the power centre and it sought justice.’
The theatrical form has been described by scholars as a powerful instrument against social cruelty. Small groups of actors would enact pathers or plays at open air shows across the Kashmir Valley, highlighting political and social issues faced by Kashmiri society at that time. More often than not, the current moment would be laced with turmoil and uncertainty.
Scholar Triloki Nath Ganjoo said: ‘It was never an amusement. They were lamenting, they were mourning, trying to get their cries and sorrow to reach the king’s ear. It was a people’s instrument that was very strong and communicative.’
Historically, according to Ganjoo, bhand pather aimed at doing away with the ills of the rulers, society, and governments. Ganjoo traces its existence in Kashmir to the 5th or 6th century CE. ‘Almost every zilla of the Valley had a group,’ said Ganjoo. ‘Their traditions and styles differed, they were not educated but belonged to families that had been in the art for generations.’