Swaraj Bir Singh & Swarajbir. Can one individual have two names, two personae? But then, he has always had it good, twice over. For someone deeply interested in poetry, not just reading other people's verses but penning his own, he went and studied medicine, and became a doctor. And then went on to become an IPS officer. But when was he to be content with living as one individual, dedicated to his field?
He found ways to live a life outside his uniform, and penned some of the greatest contemporary plays in Punjabi literature. During his years in uniform, he was known as Dr S.B. Singh, short for Dr. Swaraj Bir Singh. His books used to spell his name as Swarajbir. He honed the art of not living as two different personae, but instead married both. Having retired as Director General of Police of Meghalaya, he is now the Editor of Punjabi Tribune, bringing to the newspaper a breath of fresh air. Under the good doctor, cop, writer, poet editor, we are dealing with Punjabi journalism par excellence.
At Punjab Today, we take due note of these developments. His signed editorials on Sunday are something to look forward to. We bring you an English translation of his editorial comment published in the February 11, 2019, Monday edition.
– Editor, Punjab Today
The Farm Crisis
The suicide of a leader of Bharti Kisan Union (Ekta Ugrahan), farmer Manjit Singh, has once again brought the focus on the agrarian crisis in Punjab. Death is the supreme truth of our lives. Our individual existence is not eternal.
While death is inevitable, the one due to suicide is more painful because not only does it bring sorrow to the family of the deceased but actually creates a psychological atmosphere for the surviving kin and friends for whom life seems even more difficult.
The suicide of this particular farmer of village Bhucho Khurd of district Bathinda came as a jolt because he wasn't one who did not know the crisis-riven reality of agriculture. In fact, he was endowed with political consciousness and used to enthusiastically participate in the struggle waged by his kisan unions.
In the past, various kisan sabhas and unions have been waging a consistent struggle to ignite political consciousness among the populace. Many a farmer have committed suicide in the last few days. Sukhdev Singh of village Vandar Jatana in Faridkot set himself afire while Beant Singh of village Chak Fatehsingh Wala of Bathinda hung himself to death. In Rampur Chhanna of District Sangrur, a young man named Jagvinder Singh consumed a poisonous substance. Saturday was a most heartbreaking day for the farmers in Punjab.
Apart from debt, the issue of farmer suicides is connected to several other economic and social issues. Statistics show that while farmers with larger land holdings have maximum debt, the instance of suicide was much higher among those with smaller land holdings.
Most suicides have been reported from the districts of Malwa, such as Sangrur, Mansa, Bathinda, Muktsar and Faridkot. Surveys carried out by experts have shown that between 2002 and 2015, a total of 16,606 farmers and farm labourers in Punjab committed suicide. This amounts to more than 1,034 suicides a year. Three farmers or farm labourers kill themselves every single day.
Statistics also show that in one third of such cases, the deceased was the lone earning hand in the family. We need to step back and think about the fate of such families which could not cope with harsh reality of life when their earning member was alive. How will they cope after his death?
Traditionally, it is believed that the farmer enjoys a certain stature in society owing to his ownership of a land parcel. Once the debt-ridden farmer starts feeling that his land will erode away because of the debt, an inferiority complex takes over. He thinks that his social standing and reputation are on the wane.
Alongside all this is the ugly reality of the state progressively withdrawing from health and education, thus leading to increased out of pocket expenditure. The farmer finds it difficult to shoulder the burden of educating his children, looking after his parents and ensuring good health of his family while bearing the unavoidable day to day expenses. Things have been plunging south when it comes to spread of cancer, hepatitis C, arthritis, dental problems and other diseases. Other social changes also impact his life. The increasingly expensive weddings and a culture of drugs also exert mental pressure. He is now a victim of unemployment, corruption and state apathy, all leading towards a serious inferiority complex.
With nepotism in politics, the hijacking of the state structures by the louts leaves him with little hope for a better future in Punjab. If no family member of a farmer, particularly one with smaller land holding, has gone abroad or has failed in such endeavour, then the family thinks it has no future left in Punjab. The biggest debt that Punjabis bear today is the burden of hopelessness about their future.
Why does a person commit suicide? Obviously, he takes such a step only when he thinks no one will help him, no one will listen to him. He is convinced that neither the government nor society, nor family cares about him. Contemporary politics, economics and the psychological paradigm of society besides unmitigated social circumstances and power equations push a man towards suicide.
The farmer of Punjab is the inheritor of a legacy of struggle. He has a history of standing up to the aggressors and the cruel. Imbued with the strength that Sikhism brought to the table, he could stand up to the aggressors during mediaeval times, and he became a ruler in this region. He made great sacrifices during the freedom struggle and continued to wage a struggle for his own rights even after winning independence. Farmers of Punjab went to other states of India and even abroad where they were able to carve a respectable position for themselves, thanks to their legendary hard work. Then why is the same farmer finding himself in a quagmire of such helplessness that he is opting for suicide, something he had never even considered in the past when things were so bad?
Bereft of a vision about the future, the politicians of Punjab neither have any considered idea about resolving the immediate problems, nor do they have any commitment. The same is true of the bureaucracy in the state. Disappointed and disgusted with the government and its various institutions, people have lost further hope. The market has taken over the soul of Punjab. Farmers, particularly those with small land holdings, no more believe in their land. Politicians have contributed little except nepotism, corruption and increasing proliferation of drugs, and have done precious little that could benefit Punjab. They have failed to transcend vested interests and have used the political structures for maintaining a vice-like grip on power. They are least bothered with the fact that our farmers are committing suicide, our youth are dying due to drug overdose, our students are looking for ways to leave this country. It just does not affect them. Most of Punjab's politicians are no more loyal towards Punjab. They are neither bothered about Punjabi language nor Punjabi culture, and neither do they care about our farmers, farm labourers, dalits. While some are reposing their faith in the incumbent party in power, some in the youthful leaders challenging the ruling party. Who will think about Punjab?
To read the original editorial in Punjabi, please click here
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