Last week P. Sainath delivered a Parisar annual lecture 2010. I jotted some notes and am sharing them here. As I heard him, the only thought in my mind was – when would we – “we” as in people like me – become sensitive to the debilitating wounds inflicted on 800+ million people of the country, who are not like us. Will we ever stop wearing our ideologies on our sleeves and instead focus on the human side of the story? We never tire of saying “there is no such thing as a free lunch” or that “development is necessary – and some price has to be paid for it” . But do we ever notice the irony that the folks who enjoy the lunch are not the ones footing the bill? It is shocking to see how our rulers, bureaucrats and corporates manufacture the inequality – and we, who participate as consumers in this game, hail the development story.
During the talk, Sainath quoted Alex Carey, a noted Australian activist: “The twentieth century has been characterized by three developments of great political importance: the growth of democracy, the growth of corporate power, and the growth of corporate propaganda as a means of protecting corporate power against democracy”.
What’s going on outside?
To drive home the magnitude of the inequality faced by our nation, Sainath described what would happen in a typical 3 hour window in our country.
- 6 farmers would commit suicide.
- 8 to 12 farmers would attempt suicide.
Jaao, Utho, Looto, Bhago - that should have been the CWG anthem!
- 274 farmers would quit agriculture.
- 513 children will be malnourished – and more will suffer grade 3 and 4 of malnourishment.
- 171 crores of taxes for the rich will be written off – not counting any subsidy. This is just about 3 types of taxes: direct, custom duty and excise duty. (A total of 500 thousand crores per annum.)
Where do we stand amongst the nations of the world?
Some 846 million of Indians subsist on less than half a dollar per day – on about Rs. 20 per day. If you earn Rs. 20 a day in Mumbai, you are not “poor” by the Government definition. The slab is Rs. 11 and Rs. 9 in rural parts. Who are these poor? 88% of tribal and 85% of muslims are in this 846 million poor. While CEO salaries are at an all time high, ILO reports that the salary of workmen fell by 60% in real terms, and as the production doubled, the workforce got reduced by half. The story of the huge unorganized sector is far worse.
The processes at work
Sainath then enumerated the processes that are at work driving this inequality.
1. Withdrawal of the state from the sectors that matter most to the poor . Prime examples : Health, education, food.
2. Massive cuts in the subsidies for the poor.
3. Privatization of everything.
4. RISE OF THE CORPORATE POWER.
5. Unprecedented level of the “constructed” inequality.
6. Rapid transfer of wealth – from poor to the rich.
7. Delegitimization of public sphere.
8. Huge cuts in public services – Capitalism everywhere.
9. Loot of the natural resources.
What are the poor eating?
When they are forced to act, Government appoints a committee. And they go on appointing committees till they get a report they want. On poverty, they
appointed three committees – one headed by Suresh Tendukar, the other by MC Saxena on BPL (that included Sainath) and the third one called National Commission of Unorganized Sector. Ideologies of these committees were, may be, a few light years apart. However all agreed on one thing – that the government’s data on poverty needs to be sharply revised upwards.
And when the Government wants to kill an idea, they constitute a GoM – Group of Ministers. Pranab-da heads more GoMs than he could count.
No surprise that there is a GoM on Food Security. The first recorded minute of their first meeting says – we are discussing food security and nutritional security is not in our scope!
For the first time since 1990 the rate of food production is LAGGING behind the the rate of growth of population. And rate of population growth has slowed down. The net per capita grain (cereals+pulses) per day was 440 grams in the period 1955-58. It rose to 510 grams in 1990 – and it is 432 fo 2005-08!
The food cake is shrinking. You and me are eating much better. Then what the heck are the poor eating?
And our Food and Agriculture minister announces bumper crops every year. He is a very busy man. He is not just the ICC chief. Name any outdoor sport, and he heads the national body for that sport.
We often hear that the Government has no money. We have 45 crores for UID. We can write off 500 thousand crores of corporate taxes . But have no money for universalization of PDS (public distribution system).
What is this hunger anyway?
Poor families in villages often “rotate” their hunger. Here is what they do. Two out of eight eat well and go to work for 10 hrs in 49 degree celsius. Next day they starve and let 2 other members eat well and work. Somebody has to keep working everyday.
It is not just about remote villages in Bihar or Chhattisgarh. Teachers in schools near Thane can not teach before noon on Mondays. They asked for double the quota of grains for Mondays. Why? Because children’s last meal happens on Friday noon – in the school. Hungry for three days, it is impossible to handle them before they have a mid day meal on Monday.
Hunger and thirst are the bumper crops. Ultimate revenue producers. Sources of profit.
Look at the NREGA camps anywhere in India. You would see 60 and 70 year olds – men and women in the line looking for work. Old members of the family are the first ones to be sidelined as they can not earn.
What’s the lot of our farmers?
7 out of 9 Vidharbha people are in distress says a Govt study of 5 districts.
There is no food security to those who produce food. You won’t get a cup of tea, leave alone a glass of milk, when you visit farms in Marathwada and Andhra anymore. All that is produced is sold. More than 70% of food producers buy food from the market. They are the worst hit by the unprecedented price rise.
Who is the culprit? Government encourages cash crops. When the crops do well, thy ban the exports. Most of the farmers who have committed suicide were growers of cash crops.
Most of the suicides notes by Maharashtra’s farmer were not addressed to their families – or even the police. They were addressed to the PM and CM. They knew well that it’s the policies that drove them to take this step.
Ramchandra Raut of Washim wanted to be taken seriously – and he made his last attempt. He bought Rs 100 stamp paper, notarized it (blank) and wrote his suicide note on it. Sainath choked as he recounted his visit to Raut’s house.
How rural is the India’s agricultural credit
– asks the Aug 13, Hindu article. Nearly 50% of it was disbursed in metro and urban bank branches! Corporates like Reliance grab the agriculture credit when they set up cold storages. It is the predatory commercialization of the countryside that is doing the farmers in.
The water crisis is HUGE. Do you know we produce roses and tulips for export – and a rose takes 5 litres of water! Nobody has ever planned for rain-fed farmers. No wonder there have been 200,000+ suicides in the last 10 years. On the potability front, dirty water kills more people than Malaria and HIV put together. Is water a commodity or a human right?
And then Sainath said – the biggest concern is how we, the people, are losing our sensitivity.
He asked – did I say “Globalization” even once in my talk? No! People like to call it by many names – but being old-fashioned, I just say capitalism. ALL OF THIS MAYHEM IS DRIVEN BY POLICIES.
He added, this monstrous inequality is not sustainable!
However global the forces be – their manifestation is going to be local. It will be your street that would have traffic jams and pollution. It would be your building that won’t get water. So the resistance has to be local. And it will make the difference. We have to say NO to corporatization of public services.
In response to a question Sainath elaborated how Dr. Narendra Jadhav (now member of the planning commission) recalculated farmer suicide ratio to show Maharashtra in better light! Instead of calculating the ratio as number of farmer suicides by the farmer population, he chose the total population as his denominator or the base. And, then he concluded that Goa and Pondicherry were the worst states for the farmers!