Cultural Bias Killing Villages, Farming in the Country
By S Gurumurthy | Published: 07th May 2015 06:00 AM |
The shocking public suicide by a farmer in Delhi has brought to the fore the long neglected issue of agriculture and villages in India. The neglect is not from the day before yesterday. A continuing story of decades, it is not just economic neglect. It is deeper in its drive. It is sourced in civilisational bias for the urban and cultural prejudice against the rural.
Bordering on dislike if not hate for persons and things rural, long back elite India began celebrating the urban as the modern. And rural people as “backward” and prone to “violence” as Nehru wrote to Gandhiji in 1945 and as ‘semi-barbaric’ as Karl Marx commented in 1853.
Jawaharlal Nehru castigated Gandhiji for the latter’s love of gram-swaraj [village republic]. He wrote to his mentor on October 9, 1945 that villages were “backward intellectually and culturally” and villagers were “narrow minded” and so “likely to be untruthful violent” This was his angry response to Gandhiji, who wrote to him four days earlier that crore of people “living in towns and palaces” would “never be able to live in peace and harmony” and “will have to resort to violence and untruth”. Gandhiji wanted a public debate on the issue with Nehru, to which the latter replied that democratic polity of Independent India would debate the issue. But with Gandhiji gone, the debate never took place. The country went the Nehru way without a debate.
Consequently, the post-Independence development philosophy evolved on the theoretical premise that urbanisation was a precondition for development. It rested on the dominance of urban India with marginalised villages as appendage. It meant that till full urbanisation occurred backward villages would have to be tolerated. This underlying socio-economic philosophy of Socialist India became the open narrative with the advent of globalisation. This bias against villages is taught today to bright young Indians in schools of Sociology and Economics. This is what media expounds, intellectuals insist and economists advocate. But politics being a game of numbers where ruralites dominate, politicians have to conceal the urban bias implicit in the polity and celebrate villages, ruralites and farming. All parties raise rural friendly slogans. Also, some leaders even undertake padyatra in rural India to be on TV screens, after enjoying long and secret holidays outside India. Given the explicit urban bias in national discourse, the rural people are the real untouchables in modern economics and sociology. It is not respectable to be a farmer and to be in a village in a country where two thirds of the people are dependent on farming. Farmers are keen to give up farming.
The NSSO  study reveals that 40 per cent of the farmers do not wish to continue cultivation if sustainable employment out side agriculture were available. The agro-economic crisis in India is the direct result of the prejudice against farming and villages implicit in modern economics. In this is inherent the greatest danger to farming and food security in India. Without understanding this background the real causes behind the rural and agrarian economic crisis cannot be fathomed. Indeed, an honest reality check is needed.
The post-1950 economic discourse, which equated rural living to under-development, was indeed blind to the basic facts about agriculture. Now, a quick look at the fundamentals of Indian agriculture. Rural life is inseparable from agriculture. The fortunes of Indian agriculture rest on the villages. Those espousing farming say that villages live on agriculture. But it is the other way round. Agriculture survives on villages. And neither farming nor villages can exist without the other. Farming in India will die with-- and without--villages. Now, look at why farming needs villages. Small and marginal farmers, who own less than five acres of land, constitute 85 per cent of the farming population. They can live only in the villages. And without them Indian agriculture will die. Rural population in India will continue to outnumber the urban for the next two generations. Even by 2050 the rural population will be one half of the total population of 160 crore. Now, there are 117 million small and marginal farming families in India-- up by almost a fifth from the 98 million 10 years ago. According to Agricultural Census 2011, small and marginal farmers now constitute 85 per cent of the total of 138 million farming households. They constituted 62 per cent of farm households in 1961; 78 per cent in 1991; 81 per cent in 2001 and 85 per cent in 2011. It must have surprised modern economists. When Indian GDP was growing by 9-10 per cent from 2003 to 2011 the number of small and marginal farmers did not go down, as modern economics would assure, but increased by 18 million. The rise in the population of small and marginal farmers absolutely and relatively disproves the modern economic theories which assert that growth and urbanisation would automatically shift-- rather lift-- people from farming to non-farming work.
Surprisingly, the marginal and small farmers are no less efficient than large farms, but more productive. They cultivate 46 per cent of the farm land in the country but produce 52 percent of grains, 70 per cent of vegetables, 55 per cent of fruits and 69 per cent of milk. The world realised late, very late, that economics of scale does not apply to agriculture. In the 1920s, Russian economist Alexander Chayanov was the first to find that small and family farming was more economic than large ones. For telling this truth and insisting that family farms were neither socialist nor capitalist, he was first tortured by Lenin and later killed by Stalin.
After Lenin and Stalin failed Russia, the post-Socialist Russia went back to Chayanov’s economics and permitted household farming. See the result. Now, Russia’s household farms account for 3 per cent of arable lands, but grow an astounding 50 per cent by value of the food eaten byRus sians. According to Russian Government  35 million plus families [71 per cent of Russians] engage in household gardening and produce 92 per cent of Russia’s potato, 77 per cent of vegetables, 87 per cent of berries and fruits, 59 per cent of meat and 49 per cent of milk. Russian family farming approximates to the small and marginal farmer agro-economic model in India.
Small and marginal farmers of India produce mostly for themselves. They also contribute 20 per cent of the total marketable surplus of food [UNDP 2009]. Food security of India rests on them. Food and Agriculture Organisation [FAO] concluded: “India’s agricultural economy and food security depend vitally on the small-holder farmers” [Smallholder farmers in India: Food Security and Agriculture 2002]. Five years later, a Working Group of the Planning Commission for the XI Plan admitted in 2007 that the “Small and marginal farmers are certainly going to stay for a long time in India”, but globalisation would hit them hard. Small and marginal farmers are the reality of India for a long time to come.
With the FAO having declared 2014 as the International Year of Family Farming, experts feel that it presents immense opportunities to India to make family farms food secure. FAO Director General Graziano da Silva describes “ a family farm is managed and operated by a family and predominantly reliant on family labour, including that of both women and men”.
Interestingly, marginal farmers who share 67 per cent in total number of holdings and 22 per cent of cultivated area aptly fit in the definition described by the FAO Director General. It is this class of farmers whom Chayanov asserted as neither socialists nor capitalists.
Does it need a seer to say that food security and farm economy in India mean survival of small farming and small farmers? Small farmers do not just live on their farms. They live by their side.
They can’t be separated from their farms. They can’t live in towns and manage their farms. They have to live in the villages. They need villages to live. The equation is clear. There is no agriculture without small and marginal farmers. And there is no small and marginal farming without villages. And there is no agriculture or food security for India without small farming or villages. And they are indeed a great national asset.
FAO  study says:”It is socially beneficial to the nation that the number of small-holdings should continue to increase. It is therefore incumbent upon the nation to assist the small-holder families to increase their productivity and to augment their assets and entitlements.” And yet modern economists treat them as a burden and want to phase them out.
They celebrate urbanisation as development and rural living as backward, making villagers hate themselves. How will small and marginal farming survive if villagers hate villages? In effect our educational system, media, and national civilisational and economic narrative make it conditional for those, who would otherwise like to live in villages to migrate to towns for dignity even if they have to live in slums. This seeds and fertilises India’s agrarian crisis.
QED: Bias for the urban and prejudice against the rural in modern economics and lifestyle is killing villages and farming.