India: Farmers protesting with mice and human skulls

BBC:-Last week, Chinnagodangy Palanisamy, 65, held a live mouse between his teeth to draw the government’s attention to the plight of farmers in his native state of Tamil Nadu.

“I and my fellow farmers were trying to convey the message that we will be forced to eat mice if things don’t improve,” he told me, sitting in a makeshift tent near Delhi’s Jantar Mantar observatory, one of the areas of the Indian capital where protests are permitted.

The tatty tent and the street outside have been home to Mr Palanisamy and his 100-odd fellow farmers for some 40 days now. They hail from drought-affected districts of the southern state of Tamil Nadu, one of India’s most developed states.

It appears to be a drought that India forgot, so Mr Palanisamy and his spirited co-protesters mounted a unique, eye-catching protest to put pressure on the government to act.

They are demanding ample drought relief funds, pensions for elderly farmers, a waiver of crop and farm loans, better prices for their crops and the interlinking of rivers to irrigate their lands.

Wearing traditional sarong-like garments and turbans, these farmers have brandished human skulls that they claim belong to dead farmers.

They have held live mice in their mouths, shaved half their heads, worn women’s traditional saris, slashed their hands and oozed “protest blood”, rolled bare-bodied on boiling hot macadam, and conducted mock funerals.

The protesters have also eaten food off the road, and stripped near the prime minister’s office in the heart of the city after they were reportedly refused a meeting.

Fire-fighters rescued a protestor who tied a noose around his neck and tried to hang himself from a tree at the venue. Many of them have been taken to the hospital and treated for acute dehydration.

Some complain that the famously inward-looking Delhi media have painted their protest as an exotic freak show, often missing the pain and desperation driving it.

One commentator wrote that the protest had taken on a “farcical proportion where the performance seems to have become the point of it, and the protest itself is lost”.

In Tamil Nadu, where more than 40% of the people make a living from farming, lack of water due to poor rainfall, low crop prices, and dwindling access to formal credit has created what is possibly the state’s worst agrarian crisis in decades.

The jury is out on whether this protest will fetch results.

India, after all, has seen many abortive uprisings. But this Delhi protest shines the spotlight on how drought, debt and dysfunctional policies continue to blight India’s farmers: agriculture growth has shrunk to a worrying 1.2%, and tens of thousands of farmers are struggling with debt and little income.

There was a time not so long ago, recounts Mr Palanisamy, when his 4.5-acre farm in Tiruchirappalli would yield abundant rice, sugarcane, pulses and cotton. There was also a bountiful crop of fruit from his mango and coconut trees.

Crippled by a debilitating drought brought on by years of poor rainfall, Mr Palanisamy’s farm is now largely barren.

Two of his sons, who helped their father farm, have been forced to take up small jobs to keep the home fires burning. There’s no money to pay his five workers. Loans worth 6,00,000 rupees ($9,287; £7,247) have piled up, and he’s already pawned a lot of family gold as collateral.

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