Voicing farmers' concerns

Voicing farmers' concerns

However, the then Gundu Rao government came down upon the farmers with a heavy hand. The police opened fire on the agitators, killing two farmers. Apart from this historical event, Gejjalagere is also identified with Sunanda Jairam.

A household name in Gejjalagere and its surrounding villages, Sunandakka, as Sunanda Jairam is fondly called by people here, is an activist, mobiliser of several struggles comprising Dalits, women, marginal farmers, agricultural labourers, former zilla panchayat member, literacy activist and home-maker.

Sustainable living

“Devamma, my grandmother, who died at the age of 104 years, was a repository of native intelligence, an expert in seed conservation and other agriculture-based activities. My mother Puttamma and aunt cooked three meals a day for more than 30 people every day of their lives. My father was an efficient agriculturist. All these people left an indelible impression on me as a child. Apart from sugar, salt, mustard and other seasoning stuff, we grew almost everything in our fields. Our home was a beehive of activities at any point of time. My home represented a microcosm of the world where I learnt the rudimentary lessons of life,” recalls Sunanda.

A turning point

The year was 1984-85. The Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha (KRRS) under the leadership of Professor M D Nanjundaswamy had undertaken a state-wide farmers’mobilisation programme in the State. As part of mobilisation, the Professor visited Gejjalagere. He addressed a vast gathering under a tree in the village school premises.

After Prof Nanjundaswamy’s speech, Sunanda was called upon to surmise his talk for the public. “I was awed by my responsibility. But as I was aware of the farmers’ movement in the State and was keenly observing the recent developments, I could gather my wits. My talk seemed to have had an impact on the Professor. But little did I know that a brief talk would draw me into the whirlpool of farmers’ struggle!” remembers Sunanda. In response to the professor’s call seeking women’s participation in the farmers’ movement, Sunanda threw herself headlong into the farmers’ struggle. She participated in the election to the post of office-bearers of the local gram sabha.

Within two years of  her baptism in Gejjalagere, Sunanda emerged as the vice-president of the Maddur taluk unit.  Sunanda was personally responsible for the creation of Krishi Coolie Karmika and Mahila Okkuta, which addressed the woes of marginal farmers, women, Dalits and farm labourers who form the basis of any agrarian economy.

Sunanda was also instrumental in the formation of Mahila Horata Sanghatane, which has been working against dowry harassment and related issues for over a decade. In 2000, she contested successfully as an independent in the zilla panchayat elections.

Farmers’ movement in state

After over 25 years in the vanguard of radical efforts to improve rural living, Sunanda feels that farmers’ movement cannot be carried forward in isolation. It should encompass other struggles like anti-liquor protests, drive against online lottery, rallies against female foeticide and other issues that have a bearing on farmers’ lives. 

The anomie in the countryside and rising instances of farmers’ suicides bother her. Elaborating on the various factors behind the agrarian crisis, she underlines that the gradual loss of farmers’ rights over sowing seeds and their preservation, depleting ground water level, creation of SEZs in fertile lands, inadequate investment in agriculture, especially in irrigation and dwindling access to farm loans, rapid conversion of agricultural land into residential layouts and the shift in the focus from growing staple crops to floriculture for international markets have all dealt a severe blow to the nation’s food security.

The situation is further aggravated by the government’s agrarian policies, unscientific pricing of farm produce, and lack of efficient loan system for farmers, she adds.
Can the woes of farmers be addressed? Yes, of course, says the farmers’ leader with optimism.

A conscious effort among the farming community to practise sustainable organic farming can sound the death knell of the current agrarian crisis, points out Sunanda Jairam. Pricing and storage of agricultural produce should follow the KMF example. The State should be able to provide a market for farmers’ produce irrespective of the yield and should not regulate the price and crop coverage, she feels

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