Millennium Post

Misplaced focus

In a recent interview, one of the foremost commentators on rural India, P. Sainath, made an assertion that has become all too familiar. “Rural India is either altogether absent or very poorly represented in our media,” he said. Even though most of India lives in her villages, there is a startling absence of importance given to issues that actually resonate in the countryside. The recent furore in Tamil Nadu over the Supreme Court’s decision to ban Jallikattu is a case in point. In the run up to Pongal (harvest festival), which begins on January 14 this year, discussions of the court’s ban on the traditional sport have evoked calls of Tamil nationalist pride. On Wednesday, Chief Minister O Panneerselvam announced that the government would ensure that Jallikattu bouts are not stopped. “We will not back off even a bit,” said Panneerselvam. “I would like to assure the people of Tamil Nadu that we will uphold the heritage and culture of the Tamils.” In other words, he is emboldening his people to flout the law. The media has gone to town over this apparent slight to Tamil pride, with intense panel discussions on news channels and many column inches dedicated the subject. What has largely escaped the attention of the media is the severe drought that has afflicted Tamil Nadu. Following the worst North-East monsoon in 140 years, all districts in the state have been declared drought hit. Reports indicate that at least 140 farmers have committed suicide during the drought between October and December. In the run-up to the harvest festival of Pongal, it seems painfully ironic that all the focus has been on a bull-taming sport instead of the state’s worst agricultural crisis in years. Questions should be asked of the Tamil Nadu government. Are they doing enough to alleviate the pains of their farmers? Indebtedness has become the primary reason for the increase in farmer suicides and deaths. Chief Minister Paneerselvam had announced earlier this week that crop loans taken by the farmers from cooperative banks and commercial banks would be treated as medium-term loans. In other words, the repayment period will be extended to more than one year. It is hard to see how this measure will bring any succour, considering the cloud of indebtedness that hangs over the heads of farmers. Without any yield due to the drought, it will take them more than a year to overcome the current spate of distress. And whether any relief will be forthcoming depends on the next monsoon. In the midst of this crisis, how can farmers repay medium-term loans? Of course, under these circumstances, crop insurance would have been a fantastic move. But reports from the ground indicate that there is a lack of awareness among farmers, besides their suspicions surrounding the fine details of these crop insurance schemes.
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