Thursday, May 4, 2017

Days of Drought

Climate change brings about dramatic catastrophes. One of our problems is ofcourse, to be alert to the facts of history. The dinosaurs were killed by a meteor strike, or by their own avarciousness. After their extinction, or miniaturisation, life continued to evolve. As humans, we know our consciousness allows for both alertness and detachment. The elite have access to water, because they can afford to buy water. The debates on water sharing have been the most volatile of political histories of the 21st century. South India is experiencing its fourth year of drought and the wells remain resolutely empty. Social scientists have continually drawn attention to the fact that the water tables are being depleted because of the ownership of pumps by  agrarian landlords and urban dwellers, and that there is no way that the resources which were built up over aeons, can be substituted by one or two rainfalls.
Farming practices since the 19th century have meant that agricultural ownership of pumps and land meant an uncontrolled use of water for various reasons. Farhat Naz (2014) in a densely collated, but lucid work “The Socio-Cultual Context of Water”  argues that unless the policies on water management are made public and transparent, we will not be able to control the way in which privatisation of water takes over the subcontinent. Water is what we have always taken for granted, and the way in which we use it communicates that we believe, optimistically, that rain when it comes, will sort out all our problems. However, because of over pumping in rural and urban areas, and because overbuild has been characteristic of our expansionist world views, the future is grim.
Platitudes apart, we have to take responsibility for how industrialised farming uses seeds which are not renewable, but must be purchased each year by the farmer. These seeds require an immense amount of water, fertiliser and pesticide. It's optimum yield celebrated as surplus and green revolution, requires both machines and manual labour to harvest. The problem lies in that this over productivity does not have the granaries required to store. A well known aspect of the lag between cost of production, and sale value was absorbed by the public distribution system. This meant that the contradiction of yearly debt, ( purchase of new seeds, electricity, water, fertiliser, pesticide) was borne by the farmer. The government purchased his/her crop just a little above the cost of it' s production. This gave the farmer the meagre income required to conduct annual cycle of sacred rituals, and the family obligations of marriage, birth and death ceremonies. For the rest, he/she borrowed from the money lender and entered further into debt. The public distribution system (20 kgs of rice per month for the family) became a source of staying away from death. The subsistence farmer grew his own food, which included rice, grains, lentils and maize and sugar cane. Whether in Bihar or in Tamil Nadu, for the average farmer, it was sufficient to manage his/her daily requirements from the land around the house. Yams and bannanas, mangoes, sapota or chikoos...these were all part  of  a daily diet.
 During drought, farmers become refugees in their own region. There is no manual labour available in the fields. Starvation, or fear of death are paramount, as they are forced into non  skilled work, or become urban mercenaries.
The rates of suicide begin to rise, and society responds by a certain numbing of senses. Politicians make the most absurd promises, and are famously known not to keep them. People fear the backlash of what they  consider to be surveillance society, and tend to become even more quiet. There is a complicity between the banal and the tyrannical. Since fate or destiny is thought to be the only way in which individuals can cope, they submit to the ardor  of ritual, and submit to the anger of the Gods, who with hold blessings. Since education is no longer prioritised, karmic theory holds sway.  However, since the ideology of Malthusianism is general, not specific to any religion, the fate of the poor is always dramatically posed as their problem, not ours. Education provides us a distinctive understanding of causes and effects. We know that mobility in the post modern world is made possible by computer literacy and global languages such as English, French, Chinese and Hindi. We also know that since India is now projected as a developed country (mission to Mars being the key symbol) our ability to define our scientific expertise is continually put to the test. Can we desalinate sea water? Will this allow human beings to live on planet earth for a couple of millennia more? As Fidel Castro once said, “ We live in the shadow of a dying sun.”