We seemed to have entered that part of Madhya Pradesh where the recipe for an agricultural disaster is in the making. Meghnagar, Thandla and Petlawad areas of Jhabua district of MP. Vegetable cultivation, especially of tomatos seems to be on the high. Chemical fertilizer use is higher here than even in Punjab, going by the discussions we had with farmers throughout the day. Further, deadly chemical pesticides are being used. Bhils and Bhilalas are being lured towards intensive cultivation and borrowing on high interest from moneylenders is the norm.
Our first meeting was with men and women farmers in Meghnagar. Three Rajasthani folk singers joined the Yatra this morning with their inimitable musical reprtoire and our entry into this meeting drew great attention. Ratnakar Sahoo, Umendra Dutt, Brajkishore Chaurasia and Nilesh Desai spoke in this meeting apart from our host, Antun Khatara. By the end of the meeting, the meeting room was abuzz with plans from the local group for joining the Rajghat event on December 11th.
The second meeting was an impromptu meet with farmers in a roadside dhaba – the village was on both sides of the highway and we decided to sit at the dhaba for an informal meeting with the farmers there. Scores of children came running when they heard the slogans and the music played by the Rajasthani Yatris….Here, one woman farmer explained to others, all of whom were tribal farmers owning smallholdings, how she is now controlling pests in her field by non-chemical methods and how her crop performed well with these methods. The other farmers clearly have not heard about such organic methods for pest control. This is something that is repeatedly coming up in several meetings…how no awareness has been created on alternatives by any agency whereas only one kind of information is constantly being given to the farmers – of using more and more chemicals in their agriculture and of newer seeds coming into the market.
A few more names of farmers in the area who were practicing ecological farming came up soon and the group that gathered at the dhaba decided that they will go and visit these farmers soon and try and give up chemical use soonest.
We moved on. To first pay homage to Gandhiji in the campus of Sampark, where every year, a Gandhi Saptah is marked from October 2nd onwards.
The next half hour was very touching for all yatris – it was our interaction with around 30 Bhil girls studying in the Sampark residential school. Their everyday prayers reflect the main message from the Yatra: “Desi beej rakhna hai, gulaami se bachna hai”, “deshi beej bachana hai, kisan ko bachana hai”, “ugaane waale ki jai, khaana banaane wale ki jai”. The students were so well informed of all the perils of the community at large and as future stakeholders, they had wisely taken a consciously right path. Very heartening it was. Many of the yatris were moved, some with tears, many overjoyed. The students apparently have a ‘student panchayat’ and ‘student nyayalay’, which are mock parliament and mock judicial system with which they address all their differences and disagreements too. Some early experience to handle more tomorrow, eh?
The very fact that these young school kids in one corner of the country reflected the mood and message of the yatra (and yatris) was not seen as a mere coincidence but added more zing and verve to all of us, apart from tons of hope that they infused! We felt, maybe the future may just go to safe hands, but for now let’s take it to the present generation that has been unnecessarily corrupted by the corporations for sheer commercial gains, we said.
The last meeting was at Petlawad, in the town, with consumers, traders and farmers. The people present gave a unanimous endorsement to the Yatra’s message – that enlightened self interest of urban consumers should at least tell them that unless they support ecological farming and sustainable livelihoods of farmers, their own future is in jeopardy too. We met Gokul bhai, a local trader and organic farmer who shared the story of his family, where his son, an MBA topper, came back to take up organic farming successfully.
The meeting ended at 10.15 pm, with much interaction between the yatris and the Petlawad citizens.
Who knows, we might just be able to forge that relationship between urban consumers and farmers, who are traditional portrayed to be in conflict with each other! After all, shouldn’t all citizens of this country come forward to keep alive those people who are keeping us all alive, our anna daatas?