Its been a few days since the screening, at IISc, of the documentary 'Nero's Guests' by Deepa Bhatia, on P. Sainath and his coverage of farmer suicides in Vidharbha - the cotton belt of India. The film was followed by a discussion session with Sainath. In movie and also the discussions later, Sainath was passionately and brutally honest, unforgiving, hard hitting, persistent in comparisons between our lives and those of Nero's guests who were entertained in the light of people torched to death to illuminate a party.
As usual, in a topic of this nature, I am unable to say "I liked the program". Yet there are key points that hit home and have stayed. Sainath started the discussion with the recent budget announcement. He said that the government's basic philosophy towards the poor, in general, and specifically on food security, was to load the tables of the rich sufficiently that a few crumbs fall off for the hungry masses.
He questioned the focus on a 9% growth in GDP in face of India's 163rd position on the Human Development index. Primarily he focussed on hunger and food and death. He pointed out that the per capita food availability had dropped since 1955 by 100gm per day and despite numerous efforts/reports to re-counting poverty, most conservative Tendulkar report estimates still placed 37% of Indians below poverty line. He strongly argued for an universal food security bill and also minimum assured returns for farmers to stem the growing suicide rates in the cotton belt. He clearly saw the corporatization of the farming sector in a globalised economy as a doomsday for small private farmers.
Sainath said these and many other things - all necessary and true. We all heard him, and heard him well. Now the change will depend on how much we all retain and respond. Listening, thinking, talking and writing are but preliminary steps towards a revolution.
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