OPINION
A DOKLAM IN EVERY FIELD
- KANWAR MANJIT SINGH
A DOKLAM IN EVERY FIELD



SPASMODIC JOURNALISM IS the norm in these times when a president can fire a new tweet every morning, and breathless journalists have to engage with another perfidious story. Closer home, things are no different. 

Days of incessant focus on farm loan waiver can be pushed aside from headlines and popular imagination by the shenanigans of a Navjot Singh Sidhu. The threat of violence breaking out in large swathes of Punjab, Haryana and elsewhere hogs the headlines next. Speculation about a Cabinet expansion can be the top story next week.

Amid all of this, guess who is keeping the focus on the grave issue of agrarian crisis? The farmers committing suicide. Hardly a day passes when newspapers do not carry a passport size picture of a farmer's face with details of debt, loan, family condition and name of village. 
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When the government claims something, or issues a press release, journalism takes over. What you get is journalism. When journalism gets lazy, people lose the focus, new headlines push out old issues, the depth of our understanding is decided by what we get to consume.
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By now, the template has been set. This is how farmers will die, and this is how these deaths will be reported. They can even choose to die on Independence Day. The template will not change. They did. It did not.

Anywhere else in a developed democracy, is this how such reportage is done? Where are the back stories of these farmers? They had families - wife, children, parents. They had neighbours. They had friends. There was a street where they walked. They had interests, likes, dislikes, bad or good habits. They were religious, or not. One always used to dress nattily, the other more often than not shabbily. None of that figures in any reportage. It is just the template.

All of this humanity is lost since newspapers and rest of the media cannot afford to chase every suicide. There are other earth-shattering things to cover: Riya Sen married, Hrithik Roshan poses for camera, Varun Sharma is glad he is known by his Fukrey character, Sona Mohapatra did not get work after suing Roshans, Shoojit Sarkar does not care about casting, Kim Kardashian did not like her pregnancy pictures and actor Sangita Ghosh does not like too much fuss on her birthday. I just described to you six pages of coverage in a single day's edition of a national daily. Only thing I hate is having spent an entire para to do so.
This is how farmers and agricultural labourers even in a substantially agrarian state like Punjab are being short-changed. Apart from skewed development patterns, apathetic regimes, agrarian crisis, market driven agri policies, and MNC-driven agendas in labs, lazy journalism is also killing farmers. Editors are not going to figure in too many FIRs, and few are worried to answer a query or two at the Pearly Gates.

How many editors have publicly apologised for characterising the Amarinder government's announcements on farm debt as 'Total Waiver?' 

One would have thought that the media in Punjab would mount a campaign to stress that the entire category of agricultural labourers was completely left out from the relief measure, apart from reminding people that CM Amarinder Singh's promise, repeated ad nauseum in his stump speeches, was much more expansive. 
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Guess who is keeping the focus on the grave issue of agrarian crisis? The farmers committing suicide. Where are the back stories of these farmers? Reporting suicides has been reduced to boilerplate templates. As we mark a new decade of Independent India’s history, get one thing very straight: Farmers not only produce food. They produce peace. Angry farmers are no guarantee of a lasting peace. And all you are worried about is Doklam.
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My lament, today, is however much different. It is not about what Amarinder promised. It is about what Amarinder Singh delivered.

One major announcement was about enhancing the ex gratia relief to families of farmers who have committed suicide from Rs 3 lakh given earlier to Rs 5 lakh. It was announced in mid-June this year. Two months later, when various ministers went around unfurling tricolor on Independence Day in the many districts where farmers have been committing suicide, the government had not issued the notification for enhancing the relief, and not one minister faced a question about it.
 
When the government claims something, or issues a press release, journalism takes over. What you get is journalism. When journalism gets lazy, people lose the focus, new headlines push out old issues, the depth of our understanding is decided by what we get to consume. 

In such a paradigm, statistics are the first casualty. Figures are boring. Of the families which applied for relief after a farmer or a farm labourer committed suicide, a majority were fobbed off by officials. In April 2014, the government had set up five-member committees under respective Deputy Commissioners in districts. Of the 1,783 applications these panels received, 561 received compensation of either Rs 2 lakh or Rs 3 lakh, while 1,047 applications were rejected. Rest of the pleas are still pending.

The relief was not denied because the farmers were found not to have committed suicide. It was not denied because the suicide was found unrelated to debt. An elaborate system was designed to deny relief. First, a condition was introduced that an FIR was a must. Then a post mortem report was added to the list. Now families are asked to produce a pronote or a bank's passbook to prove loan was availed of. 
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How many editors have publicly apologised for characterising the Amarinder government's announcements on farm debt as 'Total Waiver?'
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How much intelligence does it take to understand that farm labourers hardly undertake any documentation when availing of loans? But then, the state's capacity to be apathetic is unlimited. Witness this latest condition: If the father has availed of a loan and is under debt, and the son, unable to cope with incessant depression and tension at home, commits suicide, the family is not entitled to relief. So, the state is now choosing to designate who must commit suicide!
 
Pushed to the wall, farmers are agitating. India saw one of the strongest farmers’ agitations in recent weeks, and August is being marked by yet another round of farmers’ agitation by BKU factions including Ugrahan, Dakaunda, Sidhupur-Ekta, Kirti Kisan Union, Pendu Mazdoor Union etc. But where did you hear a word from the media, or the opposition that the PM’s address on I-Day did not even mention farm suicides.
 
As we mark a new decade of Independent India’s history, get one thing very straight: Farmers not only produce food. They produce peace. And agitated farmers are no guarantee of a lasting peace. Not every danger lurks at Doklam. 
 
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Punjab Today believes in serious, engaging, narrative journalism at a time when mainstream media houses seem to have given up on long-form writing and news television has blurred or altogether erased the lines between news and slapstick entertainment. We at Punjab Today believe that readers such as yourself appreciate cerebral journalism, and would like you to hold us against the best international industry standards. Brickbats are welcome even more than bouquets, though an occasional pat on the back is always encouraging. Good journalism can be a lifeline in these uncertain times worldwide. You can support us in myriad ways. To begin with, by spreading word about us and forwarding this reportage. Stay engaged.

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