06 February 2006

Village for Sale: Agrarian Crisis Taking Grotesque Turn

Indian news agencies report that, six entire villages in the Punjab state (Bhutal Kalan and Bhutal Khor in Sangrur district, Malsinghwala in Mansa district, Harkishanpura, Mandikhurd and Ramanwas in Bhatinda district) and one full village in Maharashtra state (Dorli in Wardha district) have been put up for sale. This is the latest development in a series that began with thousands of farmers committing suicide or selling kidneys and blood plasma. It highlights the desperation in India's countryside that has resulted from the economic liberalization and privatization policies running amuck. It comes at a time when the National sample Survey data reveal that more than 40% of agriculturists are keen to quit farming altogether.

When an entire village is put up for sale, it is not merely an uprooting of families from a place they had called their ancestral home. It is a fundamental break with the "immutable village community" that has been the backbone of India’s social-economic structure for millennia. Historically, India’s villages had reproduced themselves exactly as before and perpetuated India's social system through most of history. A change came under the British rule; village communities started to break up as colonial policy forced land ownership to pass from communal ownership to British-created feudal ownership and later to private capitalist ownership. This latest development of an entire village being put up for sale may appear to be land merely changing hands, from private ownership of the members of the village to another form of private ownership, possibly by agribusiness. But in the final analysis, it is a negation of the small proprietor land ownership, a deep-going alienation of land from the tiller. It is the start of a form of capitalist land ownership dictated by finance capital. It heralds the supremacy of financial capital (read parasitic forces) over the countryside in India for which the economic liberalization and privatization policies have prepared the conditions.

An entire village is put up for sale when the majority of its inhabitants are in extreme indebtedness and no single villager is in a position to emerge as the "super farmer" and buy up the land of the distressed farmers. The anarchist transformation of farming from sustenance production to market driven production in the past decades created this indebtedness. The costs for such farming (tractors, fertilizers, special seeds, water, pesticides etc.) rose alongside concurrent cutbacks in subsidies for these inputs; this forced the farmers to borrow money from banks using their land as collateral. With falling procurement prices regulated by the state that favored agribusinesses, farmers could not repay their debts and were driven to destitution. Many are committing suicide and, now, entire collective of villagers en mass are declaring bankruptcy and putting up their entire villages for sale. This is a dream come true for the agribusiness sector which is eagerly waiting to move in to consolidate the small parcels to large holdings and make a fresh start to set up cash crop farms. The evicted villagers, with little money, no land, no house and no skills for employment in modern industry are “free” to fend for themselves. It is a tragedy that did not have to happen and should not be allowed to grow since it will materially affect a majority of India’s people and cause hardship of unseen proportions.

This “villages for sale” phenomenon highlights the displacement of farmers from agriculture without providing alternate means of employment. It also points to an awakening of the peasants and farmers to the awareness that this requires a common solution. After embracing the chemical intensive production method in agriculture, people have realized how the fertility of the land as well as the quality of water and air are being severely compromised from pesticides and fertilizer usage. Not only is people’s material wellbeing under attack, but also the natural environment under threat. A man-made catastrophe is in the making. Conditions to organize the people to fight this anti-people development path and an attack on their social and natural environment are ripening.


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