It was inevitable. The building farmer frustration is ready to explode. If not Gajendra Singh, it would be someone else. The writing has been on the wall. There is torment needing to be heard. A scream in the void.
In 2010 Ramchandra Raut composed his suicide note on non-judicial stamp paper, addressed it to the Prime Minister and President along with local leaders. He remained a statistic. In 2012, another farmer called Gajendra from Yavatmal had written a suicide note to his village warning them to not vote for Congress and NCP before committing suicide. He sank into the statistics without a splash. The suicide notes, last, desperate attempts to be heard went as unheard in death, as the farmer did in life.
Ironically, this morning, while Gajendra Singh was still alive, Devendra Fadnavis, Maharashtra’s Chief Minister endorsed Eknath Khadse’s fantasy method of recognizing farmer suicides as the ones where the farmers left behind suicide notes. From being the undisputed reining champion of farmer suicides to 3 suicides in one clever move. Not that those suicide letters meant anything either.
We are, sadly, an apathetic nation. Our conscience has been mortgaged to the media, which feeds us upstanding people regular doses of what should offend us. Letters written by nobodys don’t reach us. When they reach us, they don’t matter, unless the subject is dramatic enough to trend on social media.
Within minutes of the suicide being declared a “SUCCESS”, media was harvesting the scandal. Politicians, normally serene about routine reports of farmer suicides rushed to establish their innocence and the guilt of their political rivals. Prime Minister Narendra Modi was “shattered”, even as his anonytrolls started pushing a piece profiling Gajendra Singh as everything except a farmer who had jumped political parties and was a member of AAP at last check (well, d’uh, he was at the AAP rally). As astonishing as it was that media managed to dig up his political history within hours of his suicide, what was more astounding was the explanations – from planned political murder to an “AAP stunt” gone wrong. Amaingly, not only did Rajasthan have the records for crop losses and applications for compensation on the tips of their media responses, they even “proved” the family claim of reason for suicide being crop losses wrong. Within hours of his death. So much concern for farmers.
While it is unclear what stopping the rally would have achieved (BJP and Congress fixated on the AAP rally continuing after the suicide as well), it is less clear how a person can kill himself in a packed rally, though I imagine it is not easy to stop someone physically while on a tree. It is even less clear how a massive exhibition of love for our farmers can proceed unfazed by the death of a farmer in their midst. To be fair, from all accounts it appears that initially it seemed like a suicide attempt prevented and injured person taken to hospital. AAP, still recovering from its allergy with intellectuals went on a breath taking demonstration of blame and sarcastic defense with some record breaking insensitivity from leaders, which I don’t care to repeat here. Congress, with its leader newly resurrected and for once speaking well went ahead and got in their points of Ganga-snan for self and blame for others as well.
In summary, both BJP and AAP managed some variation of “committed suicide to make us look bad”.
So far, no one seems to have gotten around to asking “why did he kill himself?” with any level of firm intention or giving voice to the extremely open secret of the why – corporate media promoted and government passed policies that are ruining rural livelihoods and decimating farmers. Farmer suicides aren’t just rising, they are rising in a rapidly dropping population of farmers farming decreasing area of land on an average. Instead, every effort is on to make this about this suicide specifically, and preferrably this suicide shouldn’t be about farmer suicides at all.
To me, a public demonstration of suicide is more a protest than a mere giving up. Media and politicians may be covering their own culpability with a fog of words, but I understood this man to be trying what Mohamed Bouazizi’s self immolation was, in Tunisia when it kicked off the Arab Spring. An expression of intense frustration, seeking echoes far and wide by being as visible as possible and “signing” the genuineness of the protest with own life.
Where BJP anonytrolls saw a political opportunist pinging off parties, I saw that the political experience showed him how he could commit suicide to be heard. If not in life, then in death. And where countless ignorant farmers failed, he succeeded. Farmer suicides are finally prime time content. They will be the weapon of political confrontations, improving chances that someone, somewhere will be forced to change something, pay some more attention because of the one thing farmers so far had not managed to achieve. The one thing government in India understands. Nuisance value.
You may die a thousand deaths in complete silence. Your protest will get fired on. The day you burn a bus and attack a few people is the day the government leaves you alone to get whatever “justice” you want. The day your death causes a problem for important people is the day it gets attention. Till then it will only get murmurs of consolation and pleas to not die and ruin statistics for all of us.
Gajendra Singh managed to be a problem today. He died on the doorstep of politicians and in media’s eye before they could avert it. The plight of farmers is a long way from being addressed, but the “nuisance” and thus the imperative to be at least seen doing something has already begun. In blaming each other, politicians are establishing collective guilt.
Naturally, the wise media has seen this despicable behavior and is busy commenting on how ugly it is without realizing that as they point fingers at the politicians, they fail to see their own role in the plight of farmers. Here are two stills from AlJazeera’s excellent short documentary on the Indian media’s rural blind spot that no TV channel is going to show tonight.
By all accounts, Gajendra Singh has screamed his scream. He will get a short window of time where farmer suicides will be reported diligently and politicians blamed and defended and a massive fog of words giving us the moral superiority of knowing exactly who to blame. Then it will die down into oblivion.
It is up to us left living to decide whether the message he spent his life to communicate to us is important enough for us to carry forward the torch he desperately threw where no one can pretend to not see it.