ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Agrarian Crisis

A Ringside View—II

After the implementation of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, the economic and political situation of Dalit agricultural workers seems to be improving. However, rising incomes of Dalit labourers vis-à-vis falling incomes of farmers make the situation difficult for farmers. Both are looking for escape routes: education, migration, mechanisation, and non-farm occupations. Casteism still prevails, although people avoid practising untouchability in an overt manner. This is the second and last part of the article which has been published in two parts.

Much of the material in this article is derived from Dilemmas in Agriculture: A Personal Story written by Gorrepati Narendranath and edited and supplemented by me. I thank the reviewer for their insightful comments.

I acknowledge with gratitude the valuable inputs and suggestions on an earlier draft of the article by my friends, Ramana Murthy, Uma Chakravarti, Ananda Chakravarti and Jasvir Singh.

Hundred years ago, Naren’s grandfather, and later, his father had around 10–15 families of farm servants working throughout the year to cultivate approximately 100 acres of land and for doing household activities. One to look after the hundred odd sheep, one for the 20–40 buffaloes, at least two persons for the 40–60 cattle, of which there were four pairs of bullocks, apart from servants for domestic help, especially one or two persons only in the kitchen. This went on till the 1970s. There was hardly any tenancy. All agricultural work would be done with farm servants and hired labour. Unless a severe drought struck, once in 15–20 years, there was always work as well as food. No one had to sleep on an empty stomach.

The food was simple—rice cooked with ragi (finger millet) made into balls, called sankatti, with some pickle or hot curry to gulp it down, with buttermilk—all home-grown. Occasionally, on festival days or when visitors came, there was meat from the home-bred chicken or sheep. There were also jowar and other millets, which were more cumbersome to cook. Even smaller farmers had paid servants working on an annual basis. The children would start their work as cattle-grazers or shepherds, and later, would move on to tougher jobs like ploughing with bullocks and preparing the paddy fields. The forest was rich with plenty of bamboo and wood; villagers collected these materials to construct their houses and for making their implements.

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