Farmers march time and again to Delhi, in a desperate effort to make their voices heard. They disrobe in protest. They shave half their faces. They eat the flesh of rats and snakes.
When this doesn’t work, they threaten to consume their own urine. And next, their faeces.
Their attempts to get the attention of the Government may be bizarre. But it is to this point that they have been driven by an apathetic public and the Government. Nearly 50,000 farmers and agricultural labourers from across the country have reached Jantar Mantar today, for what is the fourth biggest protest by farmers this year. Over a lakh are expected to reach the Ramlila ground in Delhi before the day ends.
Tamil Nadu’s farmer leader Ayyakannu, and his National South Indian River Interlinking Agriculturalists, who staged a 41-day long protest at Jantar Mantar last year, have joined the protesters this morning. This time too, their demand is from the center and not the state. Farmers from Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Bengal, and UP have also reached.
Their collective demand is for the Center to address their falling income, free them from loans, and guarantee remunerative pricing for their produce. They are calling for a 21 day parliamentary session, for the recommendations of Swaminathan Commission to be discussed, and for the two private member bills tabled in August by MP Raju Shetti to be passed. The bills will offer a one-time complete waiver of outstanding loans and minimum support prices for their produce.
There has been no word from the government yet, just like there was no action last time. But last year, joining the farmers in protest were people from the film industry. Prakash Raj and Vishal visited the protesting farmers at Jantar Mantar. Director Pandiyaraj spoke against government for not hearing their pleas. Akshay Kumar announced that his next film, after Toilet: Ek Prem Katha and Padman, would revolve around the plight of farmers, even though he also said that the film will be called ‘Lakhpati Kisan’ because he didn’t “believe in adding to problems but in giving solution”.
Actor Vijay, who was then possibly only suggesting his entry to politics, called out on the industry’s silence at an award function, and said, “We are all getting awarded for our hard work, but I feel very sad about the farmers who are working without any reward for their hard work… We will only be aware of the situation when the reality strikes and we don’t get food even if we pay for it,” he said.
Even as they march yet again today in the Kisan Mukti March, in solidarity from the farmers from all over India, news reports of the rally disrupting regular life have started to pour in.
But the disruptions to their regular life are not news. They barely make it to the films even. The silence that Vijay called out, also shows in the lack of films about farmer suicides, particularly landless farmers, and their struggles because of the lack of government support or competition from corporates.
Here’s a look at some movies and movie directors who dared to turn their lens away from the cities, in order to lay bare the miseries and frustrations of a modern day farmer. And also attempted to glorify it for the generations to come.
Kadaikutty Singham (2018)
Karthi is a self confessed Vivasayi in this maudlin family drama that holds personal relationships above all else. That holds good for one’s love for the soil as well. Director Pandiraj makes a case for farming as the future as he makes his hero a selfless man who foregoes formal education to dedicate himself to his agrarian interests. Well meaning dialogues abound in this movie that also wants to show up the society’s indifference to farmers and the kind of work that they do.
In AR Murugadoss’ Kaththi, there’s a corporate criminal of a different kind. Here Neil Nitin Mukesh’s cola company wants to take over land dedicated to farming in order to set up its manufacturing plant. Farmers from the area commit suicide to send a strong message. Poor farmers with arid lands that yield no crop show us a glimpse of the dystopian future we could easily find ourselves in, if we do not immediately act to improve their lot.
The climax scene in which farm equipment seized by the villain is stored in a dark dungeon like space is scary enough. That the villain ultimately succumbs to an injury from one of these equipments is divine justice, Murugadoss says.
While the film itself was disjointed and heavy handed in some areas, it had its heart in the right place. And that scene involving a group of farmers who give their life to protect their land evoked memories of the countless others who have committed suicide as their debts rose and the land they so desperately loved, stopped giving back.
Also heart rending is the way the farmers are forced to resort to desperate measures to make sure their case is heard. Not very different from what is happening today.
MGR plays a son of the soil who uses his education to improve his family’s farms. While the main villain of the piece is MN Nambiar who mistreats the people who work on his land, Vivasayee also makes a case for introducing modernity to agriculture in a bid to improve one’s lot in life.
Pakal is a Malayalam film is is set in Wayanad, and is about the heartless policies of the government which leads to farmer protests and ultimately suicides. The protagonist is a journalist, played by Prithviraj, who covers their issues for a Malayalam channel, but soon realizes the magnitude of the problem. It brings out farmers’ main issues in the area – with the characters of an old farmer who loses everything, and a widower with four daughters who is neck deep in debt.
Peepli Live (2010)
A Hindi satirical film, Peepli Live is the story about a farmer whose family’s lives are falling apart because of his situation, and suicide seems like the only solution to him. It also shows how only when the situation reaches the brink, media and politicians land at the farmer’s doorstep. It directed by Anusha Rizvi and Mahmood Farooqui, and starred Omkar Das, Naseeruddin Shah, and Nawazuddin Siddiqui, among others.
Lagaan is about farmers’ angst against the British government, arrogant officers, and heavy taxes. In the film, the farmers make a deal with the British, and agree to play a cricket match against them in order to be free of taxes for three years. It was set in 1893, and directed by Ashutosh Gowariker, starring Aamir Khan in the lead. It was one of the last commercial Hindi films to feature many in the role of farmers.
Feature Image source: Quint, The News Minute