Bonding it together

They had come to attend a wedding ceremony. After blessing the newly weds, they were quietly ushered to their seats in front. They sat glued to their chairs, not even once looking adroitly to the pandal where food was laid out. Instead, they listened attentively to speakers who talked on various aspects of the prevailing agrarian crisis and the resulting rural distress.

Ever attended or heard of such a unique marriage? Well, welcome to Hosdurga village in Chitradurga district of Karnataka (in south India). This village is surely a trend-setter, which should put to shame the neorich in the cities who unabashedly put up obscene display of wealth at the time of marriages.

It was an exceptional, innovative and a stimulating marriage ceremony. For hundreds of villagers from Chitradurga and adjoining districts in Karnataka who trudged in along with their wives to attend the wedding ceremony of Ravi Shankar and Shakunthala in Hosdurga village in the last week of December 2008, it wasn’t the sombre mood in Mumbai that made them avoid the festivities. It was their own plight, the terrible agrarian crisis afflicting rural Karnataka, drawing them to deliberate on their own future, and the future of their children of marriageable age.

Some 2000 guests who had assembled were surely taken in by surprise when the hosts told them they had invited four guest speakers to dwell on some of the burning issues the farming communities were grappling with. “I knew for sure they would be surprised. But I wanted to provide them not only some gourmet delights but also food for thought. And what better way then to make them talk about their own pain, their own grief, and their own struggles,” says Siddaveerappa, a village elder and the brain behind the entire show. He is also the general secretary of Karnataka Rajya Ryota Sangha (KRRS).

They didn’t disappoint. They sat patiently, men with their traditional green shawls tucked on their shoulders and the women in colourful saris, listening to each of the four speakers. Such was the intensity of discussions that followed that dinner had to be delayed again and again, finally to be served at about 2 am. No one complained, not even the bride and bridegroom. In fact, the young couple sat through the entire discussions, beginning at about 11 in the morning and finally ending past 3 the next morning, only to be interspersed with some one walking and blessing them.

They talked about the environmental destruction wrought by green revolution technologies, about how their soil have been plundered making them dependent for all times upon chemical fertilisers and pesticides, the resulting mining of the groundwater adding to their woes. They talked about the virtues of organic farming, deliberated on various aspects of the natural farming systems seeking answers to some of the commonly asked questions as to whether the crop yield would fall, and would it result in low incomes. Chandrashekhar, an activist originally from Kolar but now based in Bangalore, answered their queries on organic farming systems.

Krishnamurthy, a lecturer for a rural college in Tipturu spoke about the alternatives and the challenges facing the faming community, the spate of suicides in the dryland regions of Karnataka, and the failure of the State to rescue the farmers. Siddaveerappa later explained that his objective was to make farmers realise that they were a victim of agribusiness. “A big disconnect has set in between culture and agriculture. Farmers have forgotten that agriculture was a culture and not business. We are paying for treading on the wrong path. No wonder farmers are dying.”

Ujjajji Rajanna, a newspaper journalist, also from Tipturu, spoke about the special economic zones (SEZ), land being grabbed in the name of development, the resulting displacement of the farmers, and the social, economic and political repercussion of the flawed policy approach. Dr T N Prakash, a professor of economics from the University of Agricultural Sciences (UAS) in Bangalore, addressed them on issues relating to the importance of biodiversity in the context of dryland agriculture, and the role of millets in assuring nutritional security.

“Chitradurga district,” says Dr Prakash, “was once rich in millets. Sorghum, ragi, kodu millet and some small millets used to be cultivated in this region. Not only millets, farmers have even stopped cultivating vegetables.” Growing vegetables is one of the best ways to encourage sustainable farming systems. During the discussions that followed, women showed a lot of interest in reverting back to vegetable cultivation. The district horticulture and agriculture officers were also present.

So much interest was generated on the nutritional aspect of farming that a resolution was eventually passed wherein it was agreed that every household in the district would have a kitchen garden. It was also agreed that each farm would grow at least one millet crop. “Ever heard of a marriage resolution,” asks Dr Prakash, adding “this was something I could have never anticipated even in the wildest of my dreams.”

“If we grow vegetables and millets, we can surely ensure self-sufficiency in primary health care,” says a beaming Siddaveerappa. No wonder, it was decided that KRRS, women organisations and some local NGOs would work collectively to ensure that each farming household kitchen should have a kitchen garden within a year. It was also resolved that in future marriages, at least half of the dishes served should be traditional. Therein lies an important lesson for the farming population not only in Karnataka but in the entire country. If only they stopped aping the urban elite and instead focus on their own survival, they would find the right answers. #

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