Mallika Writes: Just Speaking

Rich Now Poor Tomorrow?

“Sanand farmers minting money” scream the newspaper headlines. GIDC is offering farmers around the Nano plant, and in several other places in Gujarat, many times the money that they could have sold their land for a couple of years ago. In fact, it is making some of the farmers into crorepatis. And every one is happy and smiling all the way to the bank. Or so the newspapers would have us believe. I decided to set off to interview as many of the farmers and families I could meet to figure out if, in fact, they were thrilled with the new found wealth.

Here are transcripts from the video I shot.

Lakhabhai from Motipura. “I am worried about where to go. Where will I find land? Where can I make a life? We sold the land because everyone was selling. What was the point of being the only one to oppose? And we were told that whether or not we agreed, the land would be acquired. I have two children. Now they will need to find work as labourers of course. They don’t know anything but farming. They didn’t study. We have six heads of cattle. There is nowhere to graze them so they will probably starve. Nobody will buy them as we all have the same issue. “ On being asked if he would like his land back, he was voluble in saying yes. Was he not happy with the huge sum of money, we asked. “we haven’t seen any money yet. We have just signed papers. I am worried about whether the money  will actually come.”

Kanabhai of the same village feels governmental pressure. “We have to do what the government wants”, he says. “We would prefer to keep our lands”. Naranbhai has 40 vighas between his four brothers. He says he sold the land because he was terrified that if he did not agree, the government would acquire it for free. So I thought it better to get the money promised. But I will spend all the money. What will my children and theirs’ live off? At least with land you have enough to eat.”

Ramiben has other worries. However old and slow she gets, she could always work her land. And not be at the total mercy of her children. Now, with the land gone, she is dependent. Would the new companies and factories employ old women? She sits fretting all day. “I can’t even eat. I don’t like the taste of the food any more. I sit idle all day, with nothing to do. I am getting weak and old and lazy. And I ma sure we will see just a part of the promised money. There are so many in between who will take their cuts. But if the agevan of the village tell us we must sign, what choice is there?”

Manjuben is cynical and mistrusts the system. “I have been running from pillar to post for my widow’s pension and still don’t have it. And that is a paltry sum. Who will ever see this money? My child was 13 days old when I was widowed. I begged to feed them. That is how they have grown up. I don’t even have the bus fare to go to the mamlatdar’s. I have scrounged around working on other’s farms, as have my children. With all the farms gone where will we earn? I don’t have land. I don’t have anything to sell. How will I survive? My brothers give me nothing. Where will I go?”

One physically challenged young man mourned, “If there is money but no land what will buy and what will we eat?”

In some neighbouring villages the farmers are still adamant that they will not be coerced into selling. With my colleague Bharatsinh Jhala, they have made an appeal to the CMO and to the Revenue Department where they were greeted courteously and helpfully by Mr Gamit and Mr Makad who have promised to pass the necessary files up? But will “up” listen and relent? Only time will tell.

July 25th, 2010, DNA


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