Recent census and NSSO data point to several disturbing trends in rural areas, including the loss of food security for a vast number of people in the country, writes bharat dogra
Some disturbing aspects of the changing rural scene have been highlighted by recent census data. Briefly, the available statistics indicate that between 2001 and 2011, the number of cultivators (or those engaged mainly in cultivating their farm) has declined by 8.6 million (or 86 lakh). Another way of looking at this figure would be to say that during this decade, over 2000 farmers per day bid goodbye to (or more likely were forced to bid goodbye to) cultivating their own farms.
The same census statistics also reveal that during this period, there was an even bigger increase in the number of agricultural workers. While the number of cultivators declined by 8.6 million, the number of agricultural labourers increased by 37.5 million, a much higher rise (see Table 1).
If this is true, it means, firstly, that members of some farmer households also reported themselves as agricultural workers. At a practical level of course, many small farmer families also supplement their family earnings by agricultural labour or other labour, including seasonal migration.
Secondly, it is likely that the traditional livelihood of many artisan households such as weavers, potters, blacksmiths and oil-expellers, among others, has also dwindled rapidly; this has also led to a swelling in the numbers of agricultural labourers, even though opportunities for agricultural labour also are likely to have declined due to increasing mechanisation. Suicides of a large number of farmers reflect their unbearable distress, and also further add to distress and difficulty in continuing the family occupation.
Inequalities in land-ownership have persisted despite sporadic efforts at land reforms. In fact, available statistics suggest that in the bottom categories, about 60 per cent of the total rural households have access to only 5 per cent of the total farmland (as per farm land ownership data from the National Sample Survey Organisation, see Table 2).
Inter-generational division of land among family members is only one of the reasons why a large number of farmers are being driven to a status of near landlessness. Indebtedness and land alienation caused by this is another big factor, whose ferocity could’ve been greatly reduced by helpful polices. Land of small farmers, particularly tribal farmers, is alienated in several unjust ways. In recent years, displacement caused by massive mining, industrial and infrastructure projects, as well as urbanisation, has added greatly to the tragedy of farmers deprived of their ancestral land.
Ownership of at least some land has been the main guarantee of minimal food and nutrition security for millions of households in India. Now, for many of them, this security is being snatched or reduced.
The poorest, landless rural households now have lesser access to those kinds of farm work which brought food security. Harvesting work was generally the time when they were paid in the form of a part of the staple food crops harvested by them. In many parts of the country, employment in crop harvesting has suffered the most due to the advent of combine harvesters.
The writer is a freelance journalist who has been involved with several social movements