by Javed Iqbal
Gajendra Singh Rajput’s death is the atrocity of the week in an age of atrocities. A man standing high above a crowd, is soon hanging from a tree branch, whether suicide or accident. If he truly did wish to die, I wonder what he felt in those last few moments of his life, what he thought as he saw a sea of people under him, some jeering, some asking him to come down: did he feel he was truly and finally alone? Did he feel at peace at the knowledge that it would be no more? Yet like all farmers in a mainstream discourse, he is first a victim, and his death, is now a very public suicide in a sea of silent suicides.
As victims, do farmers become helpless and hapless or can the farmer rebel? In the mainstream perception, farmers are not meant to stand up and fight back against systematic structural violence.
So how many farmers committed suicide standing in front of the bullets fired by the police on 2 January, 2006, when they were protesting against the Tata’s industrial corridor at Kalinganagar, Odisha? Or at Nandigram, Singur, or Bhatta Parsaul just a few years ago? Or at Forbesganj in Bihar on the 2 July, 2010, protesting against the blocking of their road by a private company? Or at Sompeta in Andhra Pradesh when they (fishermen/fisherwomen, not just farmers) committed suicide standing in front of more police bullets, protesting against a thermal power plant? How many farmers committed suicide in Bihar in the 1980’s and 1990’s when the Ranvir Senas of the world came and murdered them at Bathani Tola or Laxmanpur-Bathe, after they stood up for their land rights? How many of them committed suicide again when they went to the courts and had to watch their Bhumihar murderers get acquitted by the courts?
How many farmers committed suicide on this year’s Ambedkar Jayanti by standing in front of police bullets at Kanhar Valley, Sonbhadra, Uttar Pradesh, protesting against the Kanhar dam? And again when they were fired upon four days later? Well, the police chased away the media and the human rights activists from there. And then there are those pesky farmers committing suicide again by submerging themselves in rising waters as a protest against the whole Narmada nonsense at Omkareshwar, which has gone on for too long anyway.
How many farmers, I mean labourers, I mean farm-labourers, I mean Dalits, I mean Maha-dalits, I mean Dalit farmers, I mean people who want land to survive/sustain themselves, commit suicide when they stand up to the landed castes? How many farmers are murdered by other farmers of dominant castes when they merely stand up for their dignity? When they fight for their land, their identity, their right to equality?
How many farmers, I mean Adivasis, I mean Adivasi farmers, have committed suicide by protesting against private corporations and public mining companies since independence?
How many Adivasi farmers committed suicide by jumping in front of the railway tracks leading to Rourkela, Odisha on 20 January, 2015, protesting against losing their Adivasi rights (PESA) to the forcible establishment of the Rourkela Municipal Corporation? Those adivasis stopped a train actually, the train committed suicide there. These adivasis farmers of Sundergarh committed suicide by blockading the entire steel town of Rourkela, for they certainly didn’t want to die, or to give up, they wanted the state to stop and listen, they wanted the courts to pay attention.
How many farmers whose homes and grains were burnt down by the police and the Salwa Judum in Bastar, Chhattisgarh since 2004 have committed suicide by joining the CPI Maoist party? How many farmers have committed suicide by being tortured by the police for information about the above mentioned ‘rebels’? How many farmers have committed suicide by their protest when the administration called them ‘Maoist’ just because they had said no to the state’s idea of development? And how many sons of farmers have committed suicide by joining the CRPF and fighting an insurgency which is not their war?
Did Dasrath Majhi commit suicide by chiseling through a mountain so his village could have access to a hospital? How many farmers commit suicide during childbirth thanks to inadequate healthcare infrastructure with further thanks to a budget allocation that doesn’t focus on public healhcare? How many sons and daughters of farmers commit suicide by dying of malnutrition, thanks to the fact that there still isn’t a universal public distribution system?
How many farmers commit suicide when they argue sustainability and environment, against industrial development and mining, with the free market economists who don’t listen? How many farmers fought and protested against debt and GM crops, before they committed suicide?
So really, how many farmers really commit suicide by fighting back? How many farmers refuse to be victims?
No, no farmer ever commits suicide.