Agriculture Stagnates, Bharat Suffers

The annual Union Budget is a powerful indicator of the priorities of the government in power, and after this Budget presentation it is clear to all but the very partisan that the Narendra Modi Cabinet is clearly pro-urban and pro-corporate India. Everything in this budget is based around benefits and growth for the corporate and urban elite (like me, and you reading this), in the expectation that trickle down will work. Agriculture, rural India, peasant, landless laborer – these are out of sight of the ruling elite, and out of mind.


Bullocks !

Bullocks !


Himanshu is a professor at JNU, and he wrote this after the recent Arun Jaitley budget: If he is too radical for you (considering he is from JNU), then please read Ashok Gulati a Professor at ICRIER and a former Chairman of the Union Government’s agricultural pricing commission

These two academics are a part of a murmur of dissenting voices that are increasingly critical of this Government’s neglect of agriculture, and of issues of grave import to the majority of India that continues to live in the rural areas. However, the neglect of agriculture by all post Independence governments and urban elites (other than the brief interregnum of the Janata Party from 1977 to 1979)  is a secular trend and the BJP is just an exemplary and current representative of this deeply entrenched Cities First worldview.

Profitability continues to decline in farming and our already miniscule farms continue to fragment, a land far away from our comfortable Parliament and pashmina-a-day Arun Jaitley – Agricultural Census data shows that there were about 121 million agricultural holdings in India in 2000-01. Around 99 million were small and marginal farmers. Average size has declined from 2.3 ha. In 1970-71 to 1.37 ha. In 2000-2001”.

Farm size in the USA is a stark contrast, ” In 2012, the average farm size was 434 acres. This was a 3.8 percent increase over 2007, when the average farm was 418 acres.”

In India … “The average size of operational land holdings has reduced by half from 2.28 ha in 1970-71 to 1.16 ha in 2010-11. Consequently, the number of land holdings in the marginal and small categories have swelled by 56 million and 11 million respectively, during the same period ……… Small (1 to 2 ha.) and marginal holdings (less than 1 ha.) together, constitute 85 per cent in terms of number of operational holdings and 44 per cent of the operated area in the country. Thus, over the period, the marginal category has emerged as a distinct and dominant class by itself with its average size dwindling to a mere 0.38 ha.”

Prices of farmers produce stagnates (in 2014, the BJP government allowed one of the smallest increases in agricultural prices in a decade), input prices continue to increase and profitabilty declines, weather becomes even more erratic and the risk continues to be borne by the increasingly impoverished peasant, and uncontrolled chemical fertilizer and pesticide that cause massive – even irreversible – harm to humans and the environment remains central to farming in the rice and wheat bowls of India. In short, the farmer buckles under the weight of unequal terms of trade versus his urban entrepreneur while the ways of modern ‘scientific’ agriculture and the mostly parasitic and urban rooted agricultural bureaucracy continue to viciously undermine the efforts of chemical free farming as they poison our soil, air and food. The added player in this potent mix is the global farming conglomerate and Indian corporations looking for profits through this very same chemical intensive farming, hybrid and GMO seeds and fossil fuel based mechanization.

This is not another tilting at the capitalists, but a sober look at reality of the lives of marginal and small farmers (defined above as those with less than 5 acres of land) after having organically farmed with intellectual and time intensity for 3 years on land that is slightly more than 2 hectares or at the higher end of the small and marginal farmers who constitute the vast majority (84%) of  holdings : . I’m financially well-off and do not depend on my farm for my livelihood; and I farm (organically, using the ways of my ancestors) to provide pure and healthy food for my family and friends; and as a proof of concept that traditional methods can be self sustainable and financially viable.

My experiment with truth after three years is bitter sweet – my family and the occasional friend now eats healthy cereals, lentils and vegetables grown organically under my watch; but it is also clear to me that a peasant on 5 acres can at best break even – using either chemical or organic methods. No savings, no luxuries, no consumer goods. Just subsistence. The land holding is the critical factor, not the method – the production difference between these two methods is clearly not significant, especially after I factor in the many benefits that accrue to society from farming without chemicals.

We call this the ‘Life Cycle Cost of Ownership’ in business management and what that means is that the cost of he HP laser jet printing is not just the cost of the printer and the paper, but the ink cartridge over the life of the period you hold the printer – no wonder HP makes billions for the innocuous cartridge, and you and I feel we won by buying a ‘cheap’ printer. Similarly, the poisoning of our water bodies by pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers; the increasing use of groundwater for crops that need more water and more fertilizer; the dead soil generated after decades of application of enormous quantities of chemical fertilizers that kills all macrobiotic life; the use of polluting diesel for intensive and mechanized farming using tractors and combine harvesters – all these have rupee costs that end up in the count of families in villages who have modern lifestyle diseases including cancer. It would be an interesting system study to calculate the immediate benefits in terms of increase of production through fertilizers, hybrid seeds and pesticides Versus the long term costs to society as I have enumerated above.

One practical solution, especially as agriculture is a state subject, is for every Indian state to commit that 10% of their land goes organic in 5 years – and will double every ten years. The government owes the people pure water, land and air; it is without doubt financially viable if you calculate the full life cycle cost. I attended the 5th National Organic Farming Convention ( held in Chandigarh from 28 Feb to 2 March 2015, the Haryana CM stated he would do some of this, but I wonder if he really will. This means setting up extensive organic farming education and extension services that reach the farmers to parallel the chemical farming bureaucracy; desi cow and bull breeding and use programs and incentives; an effective traditional and alternative medicine veterinary extension service to dairy farmers; a widespread gobar gas plant construction program; an organic fertilizer and pest repellant industry; free range chicken development program; solar power use in agriculture; a vibrant and quality desi seed production industry and a host of other methods that support the farmer in re-applying the ways of his ancestors that are enriched by traditional methods from across India and by modern technology that support nature.

As usual, all of this can all be done as people much more knowledgeable than me have the policy answers – all it needs is a leader with an alternate and long term vision of development, a team that believes in him, and the will as well as the political ability to consistently execute.

Exhale, don’t hold your breath. Mr. Modi, Mr. Jaitley or Mr Khattar are most probably not the answer. They look to Adani and Ambani, not to Agriculture.





Posted in Policy & Politics | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Mangarbani: The fight to keep Delhi’s last sacred forest alive

Mangarbani, Delhi’s last sacred forest is located in the Aravalli range that runs through Haryana, ending in Delhi. Mining and Urban Development pose a threat to the forest which many say is the green lung of the National Capital Region. Fateh Singh, resident of Mangar village, tells the story of Gudariya Baba, the force that the villagers believe guards the forest. Environment Analyst, Chetan Agarwal, explains the importance of the forest rich in species of trees which have vanished from elsewhere. Amina Shervani, Environment Activist, sheds light on the vulnerability of the Aravalli region because of its location in the NCR making it prime land. Finally, Sunil Harsana, explains the tug of war between the central government and the state government in saving the forest and the locals role in keeping the fight for Mangarbani alive.

via Mangarbani: The fight to keep Delhi’s last sacred forest alive.

Posted in Rural Village Life | Leave a comment

The Disappeared Village

Three articles in the Indian Express last week caught my imagination. The first two are worth reading for alternate views of what is going on in India today, and the third by Himanshu of JNU for what went on in the name of development over the past 10 years when the Congress was in power in Delhi.

Famous 6 of Aman Bagh

Famous 6 of Aman Bagh

The social activists (BJP minister Goyal calls them ‘obstructionists’) Nikhil Dey and Aruna Roy wrote on 03 January 2014 about the farce that is the Adarsh Gram scheme of the central government

The next one was by economically right wing ideologue and ardent Modi supporter Surjit S Bhalla. on 27 December 2014

On the same day (opposite Bhalla’s article), JNU professor Himanshu wrote on The Great Forgetting where he says ‘in the golden decade of Indian agriculture, farmers’ situation has not improved’.

Two conclusions from these articles: one, the ruling urban elite continues to ignore the village economy, the small and marginal peasant and the rural poor; just as it has done since independence and before. The second is about the realization by urban (necessarily elite) opinion makers who had come to support Modi that he is not quite the reformer they thought he would be. As Arun Shourie said famously some weeks back “After all is said and done, more is said than done”.

Invisible Rural India: where has the villager disappeared from ‘civil’ discourse?

Dey and Roy boldly assert The first nine months of the new BJP government has only underscored its anti-poor, anti-rural image. The substantive and substantial changes in rural development have been restrictive in nature.” Symbolism is the only winner in the Adarsh Gaon Yojana. My post of 17 November 2014, predates Dey and Roy.

This scheme is the token parliamentary nod to the village, leaving the ruling elite even freer to pursue its path to self-enrichment in the city, for the city. All Members of Parliament are co-opted urban elites, even if they represent overwhelmingly rural constituency (and at last count, 65% of our population yet lived there). These MPs are busy making money for themselves, for their next parliamentary or state or district election, organizing communal or caste or some similar chauvinistic polarization and in general not doing anything substantial that could bring systemic economic and social change to rural India. How many of these elected elites live in or even visit the village? Do they ever spend time listening to the issues of rural India? How many of them attempt to find solutions to these issues?

The government machinery – bureaucrats, politicians, police – does not understand the village or is too distanced to want to do anything other than pay lip service and launch schemes for patronage till the next election. Caste and class elites flee the strife, backwardness and poverty of village life instead of engaging with it.

Himanshu is clear that the government has failed the farmer when he says But the fact that most government interventions have failed to reach farmers, despite increased financial outflow, is evidence of the government’s failure to understand the nature of farming in this country, or the situation of farmers.”

The BJP government and the media savvy PM is busy ‘tweeting’ (how horrible does that sound) its business friendly policy changes through the social media. The English general and business press is filled with breathless reports on the steps taken to attract foreign capital, to make it easier to do business in India and investor summits are being held from Gandhinagar to Ahmedabad to attract investments in industry or services.

Where is serious engagement of this government machinery with thinking society? Defense manufacturing and IT services will solve the myriad issues of our myriad hued poverty struck population in the villages? Really? Won’t these jobs – when they do come online in 5 years – be cornered by the urban educated and skilled? Most of our 800 million rural citizens live on the edge of subsistence, many of them in poverty and hopelessness.

Himanshu says “But this is not surprising, given that, for the majority of small and marginal farmers, agriculture is the only livelihood. Even though the report suggests a growing diversification of their income portfolio, agriculture still accounts for roughly half of their total income. The vulnerability of farmer households becomes apparent in the fact that, in most cases, the income from agriculture is barely enough to keep the household above the poverty line. For most small and marginal farmers, even those with other sources of income, consumption expenditure exceeds income from all activities.”


This is My Land

This is My Land


There is absolute silence on the issues of employment generation in the rural areas, and of making the village a place to live in. Its called agriculture, stupid! Even in the Eighties and Nineties, when there was heated public debate on the terms of trade for farmers there was little change in the ground realities – public and private investments continued to flow into industry that generated returns for those with the capital, away from rural livelihood and employment generation where the market is not developed. Since then, neither has there been any significant enhancement in government investment or efficiency of services in areas relevant to long term rural livelihood sustainability like animal husbandry, means of traditional organic farming, rural supply chain enhancement, local seed preservation, small and cottage industry and for appropriate rural services. And obviously there is no sustained investment and measurement of progress in the quality village sanitation, education or health.

Himanshu is prescient when he states The growth of agricultural productivity in the last decade appears to be driven by the private initiative of small and marginal farmers rather than the efforts of the government.” I haven’t had a single government functionary visit my farm in rural Faridabad, Haryana in 3 years, and all the benefits we derive are solely on the basis of the hard work of the marginal peasants who work my land. The government is absent, away partying in nearby Gurgaon, Faridabad or distant Chandigarh.

More Is Said Than Done

Arun Shourie has recently been critical about this BJP government, and Surjit Bhalla and his ilk – vociferous and jingoistic supporters of Modi as the development messiah – are depressed by the divisive and backward agenda the BJP and its associate organizations are following.

The problem with the BJP phenomenon is the strange premise that a backward and conservative social agenda can co-exist without contradiction in with a message of economic development and prosperity. I believe the BJP has never had an independent and thought out economic policy that is targeted at enhancing the prosperity of our overwhelmingly rural and poor populaions, and that they are defined primarily by a socially regressive agenda of which being stridently anti Islam and anti Christianity is a key unifying strategy to get around strong caste affiliations. The BJP faithful and the neo-faithful believe in the great antiquity and greatness of a monolithic Hindu civilization, in the achievements (real or otherwise) of Hindu ancestors in the undocumented past, in the need for caste as a unifying authority in changing Hindu society. All is well if a Hindu Samrat rules Bharat, forget the poor. Our schools and society has grown up on the drivel of ruling or dominant caste elites defending Hindu honor, when in historical reality every Hindu ruler and landlord was as self-seeking, rapacious and exploitative as the Muslim ruler or landlord. The intent is to go back to Ram Rajya in a socially retrogressive manner, where a benevolent dictator feeds the population on a diet of dreams and global greatness. Hindu strength based on a militarily powerful nation. Dreams of world domination in the (now not so distant) future.

We know Modi is an urban and urbanizing leader, as is his finance minister Arun Jaitley so is it surprising their policies are urban oriented, with little for the village? Has anyone seen or read a detailed framework and execution plan of a pro-poor, pro-rural economic and social worldview of the BJP? That’s because it has none, and the only truly mass and rural oriented political party manifesto was that of the Janata Party in 1977 where the BJP was a reluctant participant. The corrupt Congress launched some reasonably good programs for the rural poor, while they stole the country blind through urban and capital intensive oriented policies – they rode two horses, the capitalist one which supported urban consumption manufacturing, and the jholawala programs. They needed the shield of the poor to steal from them.

The BJP doesn’t know quite what to do with the Congress rural poor handouts and employment generation programs, as it had no economic view or policy or plan. Should it oppose these as they were ‘Congress programs’, or reform them to make them targeted and more effective? So, Smart Cities and Bullet Trains. And export teachers, manufacture guns also for export, and be happy we had an Aeronautical Division in 5000 BC.

Fast Forward as we Muddle Along

Over the coming 9 years when the BJP will be in power, I can safely predict that the village economy will remain neglected by the ruling urban elite, the small and marginal farmer (80% of Indian peasants who own less than 5 acres of land) will become even more impoverished, our land and water and bodies will get further poisoned by chemical farming, capital shall flow to areas where the urban elite and aspiring urban wannabes hold sway, the rich shall get much richer and inequality shall grow by leaps and bounds.

That is par for the course since 1910, or 1940 or 2015 – so, in a sense, we are not not worse off; other than living with the comfort that the exploiter is one of us and not British or a Raja or Zamindar. We continue to excel at exploiting others, in dominating those weaker than us, in hating the Other. Its not a pretty picture.

Where we will become worse off is as our society becomes increasingly Hindutva-ised, which to me means less accepting of differences, less open to social change, more socially backward and conservative. Or will I be proved wrong by a new generation who will rebel, fight conservatism, open their arms to the Other, and to embracing humanist and universalist ideals that topple the heady power of capital, religion and caste. I live in hope, and do what I can where I can.  For sure, my Aman Bagh is increasingly within me.




Posted in Policy & Politics, Rural Village Life | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Tendulkar and the Village

Sachin met Puttamrajuvari Kandrika gaon in Andhra Pradesh. And he was surprised that “the village did not have safe drinking water, or LPG connections, and people were still using firewood”. 

I am not surprised that he is surprised as an overwhelming majority of my urban compatriots are in the exact same situation, not having seen how the vast majority of our population lives in our unfortunate villages. Its actually worse, as the economic interests of the city and the village dwellers remain at odds and the city dweller moves ahead at an ever-increasing speed.

Most of our villages do not have a functional school, and the few that do have a run down school building have no teachers and those who have teachers do not know how and what to teach. LPG? No distributor delivers LPG to a village – there are estimated to be anywhere from 90 million to 160 million LPG connections in India. 67% of our population resides in the villages, and has no access to any of these connections. They use firewood or dung as fuel. Water has been driven down deeper into the bowels of the earth by the green revolution, and there is increasingly less to drink in many parts of the country. In short – on just these three parameters that surprised our bemused Bharat Ratna – rural India is under high stress. He, obviously, lives in another planet.

There is a lot more Sachin would be surprised with had he spent some time – real time, like 6 months – in the village. Inequality is endemic, compared even to what we have in our cities no matter how poorly endowed with infrastructure. He would have seen rampant and widespread casteism that blights the life of most of rural India on a daily basis in terms of occupation and ability to better their lives. He would have also seen the sorry status of young girls and women, and the feudal and backward attitudes of men towards them. As well as the frustration of the unemployed male youth waiting for a better life. And what to say about electricity – a village gets 10 hours of erratic quality supply and a city 5 kilometers away gets 24 x 7; 5 kilometers on rural roads can take 45 minutes to navigate; health facilities of any caliber just don’t exist – free or paid. We can go on and on counting the injustice at every level, rural loses out to urban.

I am not surprised to discover the social and economic morass rural India is mired in as I see it every day. But don’t believe me, listen to P Sainath – a raconteur par excellence, with a grasp of data and depth that I cannot bring to bear. Please view his speech in October 2014 at Hyderabad University “Predicament of the Rural “at

The issue is what Tendulkar represents, and what the government of this day and indeed every government since independence represents, is a turning away of the elite of the city from the village, without even as much as a furtive glance behind to see how far away the villager is and how quickly he recedes into the far distance as urban India accelerates. No politician, bureaucrat, businessman spends or wants to spend any more time in the village than he has to as all his interests – family, education, health, consumer goods, the arts, friends – are all in the city.

Short Term Thinking

The current government brings another modern twist to this criminal neglect of our villages – the media spin. Image is everything, how and what you say is critical so that the elite can be dazzled by the Modi product and the masses silenced by the ruling party’s regional and district leaders in anticipation of the good days around the corner. And our cultural Achilles heel of jugar and short term thinking continues to come in the way of process thinking, root cause analysis and long-term solution finding.

Politicians sweep the road, and sweep the garbage behind the nearest wall. When it is picked up, it goes to the same choked landfill where our modern, indestructible wastes inextricably mixed with our home refuse has been dumped for years and is now a toxic bomb gone off. Where is the discussion on local community solutions to eliminate waste production? I learnt about elimination of wasteful processes at the root as a cure all for developing software and running companies alike – call it what you will (the PDCA cycle, the Toyota Way, The Deming or Juran Way) it’s all about eliminating process and product waste. This also works to find ways to segregate our urban garbage, to compost the organic and recycle the rest in a uniquely Indian way through the Kabari – the equivalent of recycling. It’s a simple solution really and isolated urban community models exist in India, but to be replicated it needs the joint efforts of our urban institutions to work together with local communities, city planning, schools and colleges. But that’s too much real work, so a few of our political leaders just wield the broom and we all go to sleep satisfied they have done our bit and that good days are around the corner.

In this Member of Parliament village development fund where an ‘ideal village’ is to be ‘adopted’ by an MP– how patronizing can you get, how colonial British can you be – where he gives away largesse of Rs 2.8 Crores (why not round it off to 3?), this same short sightedness can clearly be seen. Witness his process of identification of the village “.. Tendulkar decided to adopt the village … after a chance meeting on a flight with the Nellore joint collector who convinced him over the course of the flight to adopt the village”. Voila, the rich man ‘adopts’ the poor, orphaned village on the spur of the moment as a sign of his large heartedness where his heart goes out to the desperately poor natives. The Rs 2.8 Crores he gives them will create infrastructure but there will not be any process or institution setup to ensure this same infrastructure is working 5 or 10 years from now what to say of 25 years. All short sighted, all mostly not what the villagers require, and much of it will end in the hands of contractors.

Tendulkar asked them to give up alcohol and tobacco, and later an oath was administered to the villagers in this regard. “The village will look beautiful very soon” said Tendulkar, waving to the crowds as he took off in his helicopter. Beauty, as they say, is skin deep. Serenity lies deep within, in institutions and independently standing systems that lean on people steeped in a common set of values and principles. Certainly not in steel and cement buildings.

Another irrelevant VVVIP came, gave our money away, and no real solution was found to any village problem. I’d bet Rs 2.8 Crores that all the 700 MPs who give away Rs 3 Crores each (or Rs 2.8 Crores – what is with this number?) will come to naught in 5 years time, and there won’t be any ideal village (whatever that means) as none of the root causes would have been addressed.

Politicians have a 5 years view, none can think beyond that. Give grass roots leaders like Rajender Singh or P Sainath the Rs 2,100 Crores given to the MPs and see real solutions come up for rural India.

Can the government not find 50 such real people who know rural India and who can weave a 25 year vision of what the future can be, and to lead change in securing appropriate livelihoods for small and marginal farmers; promote organic farming with market linkages – and gobar gas plants; encourage labor intensive farming and their markets to take the pressure off the cities; breed desi cattle and the supporting extension veterinary services; develop cottage industry and services in and around the villages; reinvigorate water management; institutionalize rural education and health solutions; as well as setup relevant infrastructure like 24×7 rural electricity and motorable rural roads? Can the politicians and bureaucrats spend 180 days in the villages each year? Can they become servants of the people instead of urban parasites? Can the frog become a prince?

And while I am asking for the impossible – can we take the Bharat Ratna back from Sachin Tendulkar for being a silly, well-meaning, shallow minded do-gooder, without any knowledge in anything he does outside cricket?

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

Hello Winter

The season is changing, winter is on its way. With warm days at 25 degrees Centigrade, and cool nights at 12 degrees this is ideal time to plant the crops that have evolved in the alluvial plains of North India over the millennia.

It’s great to be part of this tradition, it makes me feel what we do at Aman Bagh has value beyond what we do today. We preserve, and improve on, the ways of our ancestor peasants to grow healthy food for healthy human beings without chemical or related artificial means.

Bajra Reaped

Bajra Field Ploughed

Agriculturally, we are at the start of the Rabi (derived from the Arabic for ‘spring’) cropping season – following the Kharif (autumn) crops that were planted in June / July. The crops we are planting now are Gehun (wheat), sarson (mustard), kala chana (black gram), kabuli chana (chick pea) and masoor. In addition, the exciting winter vegetables are on their way to fruiting – cabbage, cauliflower, carrot, brinjal, peas, radish of many kinds, onions, garlic, and greens like mustard and methi.

It’s a happy time for food diversity.

All our seeds are desi – that means these were the only ones sown before the ‘green revolution’ commenced in 1966-67. This period changed our seed habits forever – it brought ‘high yielding’ seed varieties that responded more to the application of large quantities of chemical fertilizers (produced – please note – from crude oil) and enhanced irrigation than purely the nature of the seed. Combined with the use of pesticides, output shot up and commercialization of agriculture commenced in India in a sequence that is yet to play out.

As I have 10 cattle – cows, calves, bulls – on the farm, we needed a wheat variety that is tall and hence gives us hay for these animals throughout the year. Post the 1960s, wheat increasingly moved to varieties that were ‘dwarf’ with more grain and less hay as the focus of society moved to increasing surplus for the market from food security for the peasant and his family. Today, only a very few desi wheat varieties are around and only in areas where irrigation is not assured – Madhya Pradesh was one such area with traditional varieties, but MP too has moved ‘forward’ with increased irrigation and fertilization. We use the desi MP-306 seed, from Navdanya ( This year, like before, we are using seed from the crop that was sown on our land year before. Our intent of being self sufficient in seed inputs is being met.

Mustard was sown on 30 October, the shoots are already breaking through the soil. Chana too was sown. Wheat will be sown in the next 5 days as we are a bit behind from the target sowing date of 10 November – the Arhar crop was planted late by 15 days than it should have been earlier this year, and this delayed its reaping; and hence the 5 days delay in the planting of wheat this season. Farming needs great project planning, with minute focus on planting time and a host of other issues that if not managed well have a cascading effect. I am learning, and that is satisfying.

See you soon at Aman Bagh.

This is My Land

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Eid Mubarak, My Brothers !

” Ramadan, the holiest month in the Islamic calendar, is the period when man is subjected to a supreme test. Without compulsion, without coercion, Muslims throughout the world obey Allah; and every day from dawn to sunset abstain not only from sensual pleasures but even from the necessities of life like food and drink. Some do this in shivering cold, some in burning heat, some do it where days are short and others where days are interminably long. The rich fast as well as the poor, the master as well as the servant; the parents as well as the child; the ruler as well as the subject. They all fast, regardless of the colour or their social position.

Having done this, for one whole month, today on this auspicious day of Eid Al-Fitr, every Muslim should be ready to face the year that lies ahead with renewed strength, greater understanding and universal goodwill. He has fasted to acquire piety, discipline and self-control. Now the habit of unquestioning obedience to Allah is cultivated in his heart and mind. He is now trained to accept the commands of Allah, in the remaining eleven months of the year, with the same unwavering loyalty. He has emerged from the month of Ramadan with a new personality and a stronger character, confident of his ability to subordinate his desire to his will, his emotion to his intellect.”

Great stuff – subordinating desire to will, and emotion to intellect. Discipline, self control, sharing with others, self improvement, introspection – all worth-emulating secular ideals. Submitting to God’s will is the central reason for my Muslim farm hands to observe 30 days of fasting. And it was truly incredible to see them work in the fields through the entire month of July in 2014, without any rain, with the merciless sun beating down at 45 degree Centigrade. I asked Sattar to take it easy, and he retorted it is Allah’s test to see them work while fasting. How could he and his men not work? No, no it was inconceivable. And so it went, each of the days of this Ramzan. No food, no water, no complaints. Yes, the tempo of work slowed down as Ramzan progressed and they were 25% less productive.

Sattar was the clearest of the four when we discussed why Ramzan ”  Babuji, not eating or drinking water is simply the outward manifestation, and is a waste if we don’t fast simultaneously with our tongue, our eyes, our legs, our hands and with our minds “.


All four of them are solid, honest, hard working, decent men. It’s difficult to believe these kind exist in this world, but they truly are the final word in dependability and high character. I have had two long years to observe them closely, almost every day of the week. They work seven days a week, despite my insisting they take a weekly day off – they do take leave when they need for as long as they need without questions asked, but that they choose to work more than less is nothing short of amazing. Not once have they taken advantage of this trust.

Their oral and experiential knowledge is simply enormous – they know everything that is to be known about growing cereals and dals, about managing cattle and in general the ways of the rugged peasant passed down to them from generations. And three of them have not even attended school – yes, no school at all – while one passed the 10th grade : but their maturity in life is way beyond what I see in the highly educated and wealthy.

They go about their work selflessly, and with clockwork. One steps in for the other when death or sickness or weddings or births happen. Their prayers five times a day are a necessary and unquestioned ritual. Who am I to judge their piety – Allah gives them hope and belief in a secure life an after life. There is little in their lives that is economically secure – they each own less than one acre, have large families to feed and there is no pension or health security in their lives – or there wasn’t till they joined Aman Bagh.

I could not have re-discovered the artisanal (and incidentally organic) ways of my ancestors if it was not for these band of four sincere and hardy peasants. And my irrational belief in the ‘sincere, honest, hard working peasant’ gets reinforced. Their interpretation of Islam for the workplace is beneficial to Aman Bagh, and their adherence to the ritual of daily prayer a talisman that keeps them secure in their faith.

I was loaded with sewain and meetha chawal, and saw happy faces who could now go back  contemplating their inner selves during the next 11 months till Ramzan comes around again.

How I wish the world could observe Ramzan like my band of men.

Kallu, Taciturn


Nooru, Inquisitive


Momi, Sincere


Eid Mubarak.


Posted in A Day in The Life | Leave a comment

When Chameli Died, and Was Born Again

It was devastating news, in the early morning of 2 May. A shaky voiced Sattar was on the line,  Chameli had just died.

Chameli Aug 2013

Chameli (tan, on the left) in mid 2013

She was a beautiful Sahiwal, partly cross bred as purity in Indian breeds is now only in the history books, but as good a representative of her line as I am likely to find. We bought her in September 2012 from a cattle fair in Muzaffarnagar, and since then all of us at Aman Bagh had got attached to this gentle giant – the star of our little herd. She gave a stable 8-9 kg of milk a day, had not fallen sick for a single day till now, she ate everything offered, heartily and greedily, and loved her neck being massaged. The moment she saw me come in, she would move towards me, put her head down inviting me to rub her down – which I dutifully did each time, and rewarded her for my efforts by feeding her bananas or gur (jaggery).

She was pregnant, and was due to deliver 4 May. Her 9 month pregnancy was uneventful, peaceful and happy – Aman Bagh has warm and caring caretakers, a clean and hygienic cattle shed for the winter, sufficient shaded areas under massive Jamun & Bargad trees for the warmer weather, enough healthy green fodder and hay grown on our land, additional feed of lentils and oil cake, vitamins & minerals as supplements, and fresh clean water.  Chameli was in fine fettle, and we were all hoping for a female calf  knowing the ancestry was strong.

On the 28 April, she stopped eating and chewing the cud, and became listless – first sign of distress. We called the local government employed vet assistant Dharamvir, who treated her for 4 days for what he called foetal complications. Antibiotics, glucose, Liv 52 – I had little idea what was needed, but we were hoping he knew what was going on inside her. This is where the problem lay, as she grew steadily worse and collapsed and died on the early morning of the 5th day of treatment. He appetite never came back, she seemed to perk up a bit but only to revert to listlessness with her head down. She chewed the cud a bit, but only to slow down again. The vet assistant kept rushing in and out to administer this or that injection, and we paid out Rs 2,500 over these brief 4 days.

The evening before she died, I rubbed her down and spoke to her for some time. Halfway through she did what I never saw her or indeed any cow do – she licked my hand, and repeatedly did so many times. Cows are not supposed to act like affectionate dogs, you know. Thinking she wanted to eat, I quickly offered  her gur but after one small bite she turned her head away. I left then, and that was the last I saw of her. I can only imagine that she knew she would not see me again, isn’t that why she thanked me for looking after her ?

Dharamvir is the issue at the operational level, and he also represents the systemic rot in the state of cattle health in Haryana. He is one of two assistant vets for a large area under the government run Pali cattle hospital in Faridabad district 10 minutes by road from Aman Bagh. For every visit he makes to treat our animals he takes Rs. 500 to a 1,000; depending on which ‘tika’ he gives to the animal; he brings semen from the hospital and charges Rs. 1,000 for each shot. I learnt yesterday that Dharamvir is reputed to earn Rs. 15,000-20,000 a day. Yes, a day. He is always on the road on his motorcycle, not really knowing what medicine to give, not really connected to the animal, just bothered about his fees. He doesn’t want to get posted elsewhere, and has stymied his transfer from Faridabad multiple times in 20 years. The last time he was sent elsewhere was in mid 2013, when he told me he stopped it went directly to Deepinder Hooda. We have no choice, as  it seems the other assistant vet is even more venal and greedy.

It all clicked over these past 3 days – he was protecting his illicit little ‘business’ ! Little did I know that his greed and the systems apathy would take the life of our cow. How many more cattle has he killed till now? I am told many, and people from the nearby village of Dhauj have complained but he shut them up with bribes.

How many more cattle die each day in Haryana due to the lack of knowledge of these half baked vets? Why are there not enough Veterinary doctors in an agricultural state like Haryana? Why do I have to pay private doctor fees to a government doctor? Does the government know he takes semen and sells it at a fees? And what do I do now? I cannot call him back, but the other vet assistant option is worse. There is one “Class IV” employee – not even a vet assistant – who it seems is less venal, and we have been advised to use him. Am I not acquiescing in systemic corruption by agreeing to pay Dharamvir and now this new quack? No easy answers in real life, only doubts and fears.

Life surprises, kicking us when we are up and lifting us when we are down. It requires effort to maintain equanimity, samata, in the midst of so much churn.

A New Life is Born

A New Life is Born

Our other gentle Hariana breed cow – Dhanno – was impregnated on the same day in August 2013 as Chameli. Sattar just called with happiness in his voice – Dhanno has given birth to a female calf. We have named her Chameli.



Posted in Cattle, Indian breed cows, Rural Village Life, Veterinary medicine | Tagged | 2 Comments

Violence in the Village


Mangar Village, Faridabad

I recollect the threat of lurking violence when I visited the village as a child through the Seventies. My grandmother protected this city kid by dictat to sundry country cousins; she knew the village community had a lot not going for it. Despite her attempts at censorship, whispers reached us – one uncle and his brothers had gone at another branch of the family with lathi’s over property, ‘faujdari’ took place, and much blood and skulls were spilt.  Another uncle lost an eye when he was waylaid and shot at while on route to the village from the highway, a 6-kilometer distance on a deserted dirt road. And then there were a legion of stories of distant cousins from neighboring villages who took to the path of dacoity as a way of life. The state law and order machinery was absent, and the rough and ready justice of the villagers was what worked.

Villages where you kept your doors open at night, where women walked free, and there were no thefts or violence might have existed in prehistoric Ram Rajya but not in the real villages of northern India. Violence was omnipresent, the response by the strong was swift and right was might. Usually, it was the oppressed and weak – women, low castes – got it the worst.

In retrospect, however, the Seventies were simpler times – village society was slow and ‘backward’; agriculture was the unquestioned & a respected occupation; youth unemployment did not seem quite so immense; and everyone expected the rule of the law to improve as we developed. How wrong we were.


Violence is accepted as part of life in village Mangar, Faridabad (the periphery of which Aman Bagh is located), and is far far worse off than I recollect of my ancestral village in Bulandshahr, UP. The majority Gujjar community here had very little agricultural land and most lived off their cattle (located in a valley, till recently much of it was a lake, with land just about enough for subsistence farming) and till a decade back had no tarred road to connect them to the outside world. Over the past 5 years, Mangar’s picture perfect valley surrounded by the Aravali range and proximity to the urban centers of Gurgaon and Faridabad have brought city people like me to their village, the price of land has shot through the heavens and has violated their rudimentary rhythm of life. The restless, corrupting influence of land commerce has intruded, land has become the (only) currency, and the Gujjar has lost his balance. He needed to be educated, and slowly eased into the new world – he was pushed into the punishing sunlight way before he was ready.

Witness the recent horrific attack by the Mangar Bani temple ‘baba’ and his many young village goons on Vijay Dhasmana, his wife and other bird watchers on 30 March 2014. This self styled ‘baba’ is in no way a ‘holy’ man; he drinks, dopes and keeps a watch on the Mangar Bani for his sponsors in the land mafia (he is related by marriage to a former Mangar Sarpanch). To him, and many like him, city folk are cowards and easy prey, they come to the bani for fornicating and drinking, all city women are fair game, so beat these f***ers hard so the cars they have and the money they have and the life they live is revenged. The villagers have lived with the violence of this ‘baba’ for decades, and everyone overlooks his ways; he is one of them.

The New Violence

Mangar smolders with a new violence – one generated out of unmet expectations, and youth with literacy but no real education.

The mobile and internet revolution has brought the world of aspirations to them while new tarred roads and motorcycles took them to the world. Poor education has left them intellectually crippled and unemployable, ever more frustrated and dangerous to society. They want a lot, but have few means to achieve it; other than land deals which has a downward spiral of its own – the youth get partly educated so that working on the land in not good enough for them, and they are not good enough for the jobs the nearby city has. Both the desperate wanting and the inability to acquire what they desire are an integral part of the lives of the youth of Mangar – and of rural Haryana, and nearby UP. It’s a time bomb whose fuse is shortening, and we cannot ignore it because these youth live next to us no matter how high we raise the walls of our condominiums. “500 millions jobs needed in the next 9 years, 12 million people entering the labor force each year, 30% graduates are unemployable” Who will create these jobs? Who will train these youth? Who will educate them? Read the April 1-15 cover story of Down To Earth, and lets do something about it.

Mangar Youth

The many Twenty something youth loitering around the village during the day, with tight shorts, low waist jeans, insolent eyes and unshaven faces, are the first sign that everything is not well in my rural paradise. At times, they stroll away ever so slowly from the path of my Jeep to let it pass. At times, they glower with the frustration of the uneducated and unemployed. At night, you do not slow down at the groups of gossiping youth – you speed by. The village theka does brisk business, and I am told all (all) the men in the village are drunk every night. Alcohol and violence, how can they be separated? That is the claim to fame of all villages in this area in Haryana. After all, alcohol revenue pays the politicians and bureaucrats.

And who are are the role models for, and leaders of, the villagers in Mangar, especially from within the dominant Gujjar community? The land wheeler dealers with the white suits, white shoes and white Scorpio’s with a political party’s (any party) flag; and their lack of values are what the young Gujjar boys aspire to – selling land works, makes them money today. Wealth at all costs, breaking rules.


All is not lost, but we must have a deep sense of urgency to contribute. I have worked to open opportunities for some who want to escape the vortex of this new violence. Like Jagdish Harsana’s earnest 22 year son Brahm Singh, who surprised me with his meticulous record of academic certificates stored neatly  in multiple plastic folders – from his school, B Tech and M Tech.  A Mangar graduate ! I was glad a stereotype cracked, he is a exception who gives me hope. Brahm Singh is now undergoing a 6 month apprenticeship under a friend in an IT company in NOIDA – he gets Rs. 5,000 a month, and the opportunity to learn a skill under a compassionate mentor (himself from a village) that will surely transform his life and provide him a career.

Or like Sattar’s son 19 year old Mustapha, who another kind friend agreed to take on as an apprentice man Friday in his furnishing export company in Gurgaon. Mustapha is 10th Grade pass, but a fine young man who does not drink (that’s a positive in this area, as you can imagine); is sincere, works hard and is handy with getting things done. A Jugar boy. He will make a career here, and move up as he skills himself.

Witness the two sample cases – the Gujjar (however surprisingly) has gathered a M Tech and will soon be skilled with real abilities on how to succeed in the organized workplace; while the Muslim boy (not surprisingly) cannot hope to progress beyond what will come his way for loyalty, honesty and hard work. It’s not my case that all Gujjar’s in Faridabad, Haryana are IT ready and all Muslims are unskilled labor; but I would be surprised if this were not the case.

I need companies in Gurgaon, Faridabad, Delhi and NOIDA who will select youth like Brahm Singh and Mustapha for on-the-job apprenticeships; where they learn for 6 months and get paid a small stipend during the apprenticeship period, and where they can be absorbed if the company needs those skills – or the young man moves on to other companies and leverages these hard earned skills.

As of now, unfortunately, these are only young men as the girls are hidden away to be married by the 12th Grade – if not the 10th.

These youth need companies and mentors who will give them hope; and lift them up on their shoulders to look beyond the ‘baba’ and the property sharks, beyond wealth-at-all-costs role models. Companies and mentor individuals who show them a life of values, hard work, diligent application and constant learning. We need to change these young men with hurt and anger in their eyes to a youth who spy a better future.

Any takers?

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

Vasanta Ritu, Spring in my Step

The Indian Spring – Basant Ritu – is upon us from the 23rd of March, and the flowers are in full bloom. Another winter – Shishir Ritu –  has been wistfully bid adieu as we gird up for the onslaught of heat – Grishm Ritu – from May end.

Aman Bagh April 2014

Aman Bagh April 2014

Crops Do Well

The good news is our mustard crop was 800 kilograms on 1 acre, which is as at par with the yield from a chemical farm. We will extract 250 kg of golden mustard oil, and the left over 500 kg of oil cake will go towards feeding our cows and reducing what we buy from outside the farm. Sustainability and self-sufficiency comes a step closer.  And we will not have poisoned the soil, or ourselves or friends who will consume this oil, with chemical pesticides or fertilizers.

The Sarson (mustard) crop lies in the shade to dry before it goes to the sole remaining village Kohlu in our vicinity which yet extracts the oil from the seed given to it – not oil in exchange of dropping off the seed. The Masoor crop has been cut and lies drying on the terrace, and the Jau (Barley) plants wait in the field for the thresher. The Wheat crop is ripened to be cut any day now, the green field of a couple of weeks back heavy with golden grain of our desi MP seed, and the Chana is ready too. It’s all suddenly done, and nature is eager to move all of us at Aman Bagh to the next cycle of sowing. Periods of crazy activity interspersed with lots of inactivity. It’s the contradiction that teaches me to be always on alert.

I hope to have similar results from the wheat crop – will we match the Punjab / Haryana output of 1,800+ kg / acre? The systemic benefits of our farm are way more than a chemical farm – healthier crops and healthy soil without chemicals, recycling cow dung as manure and using the methane for cooking, more employment (as we don’t use a tractor and as have bullocks) plus lower diesel use. But the agricultural system measures produce per acre is the only critical output factor – and we beat or meet that in Mustard. It can be done, but the system is convinced we organic types are theoretical.

Bullocks Dalsher and Shamsher

These two have had a good time of doing nothing for the last 4 months other than eating and resting, so they were naturally surprised and disgruntled when Momi yoked them 2 weeks back and got them to plough the land for the Jowar. Sorry buddies, all have to earn their livelihood.

Freshly Planted JowardField

Freshly Planted Jowar Field

Today was hot in the sun for these two who did most of the heavy lifting, and I ended up spending most of my time out on the fields. We seeded our Moong crop in one plot – we have many natural plots on our undulating land, on many levels – and will seed the Lobhia (Chaulia) dal crop tomorrow. The Jowar (Sorghum) was planted on 14 March on over 1 acre as cattle fodder, it will last us till November. The cows love this green food. Next will be Urad dal, and then Bhutta (maize), Arhar dal and Moongphali (peanut) after the wheat is cut. It sounds confusing and more complex than it is, really – you get into the rhythm within a couple of seasons.

I ploughed the land today with our two bullocks, for the first time on my own, with my Ph D mentor watching from a distance. The plough wobbled with a life of its own in my hand – I tried to hold it down into the earth with a firm wrist as the bullocks made their way forward; attempted to plough a straight furrow and ‘tik tik‘ ed Shamsher on the left and ‘aah aah’ ed Dalsher on the right; while trying to keep the sharp end of the plough away from the legs of the bullocks – and me. Sattar informed me with complete seriousness that should I happen to cut into their legs, I should immediately piddle on the cut – woman around or not, I should forget niceties and drop my pants to aim at the cut. He swore it is a master cure, and I wondered if it would work if I cut myself.

Shamsher & Dalsher Resting

Shamsher & Dalsher Resting

Driving a pair of bulls is kind of like driving a car, except that the bull power is alive with a mind of its own – especially as they spy green fodder on the side and stop to bite it off without any reference to my entreaties and threats to move. Maybe I will get a hang of it in a couple of years. Sattar took over and smartly moved the bullocks at a pace twice that of mine, straightening out my nervous furrows with a deft hand.

Hailstorm Last Week

It rained small balls of ice for 20 minutes last week, and as it hit our wheat crop it flattened almost all the golden stalks to the ground as well as broke numerous stems. I expect the crop to be affected – maybe 10% – as the final 10 days of ripening have been reduced for most of the crop. Farmers in our area in Faridabad were lucky, not so those in Maharashtra where hail devastated entire crops and peasants in debt have committed suicide. I am continually humbled by the realization that my hobby is a question of survival for most Indian farmers. 80% of land owning peasants own less than the 6 acres Isky and I own.


Wheat Flattened by Hail

Wheat Flattened by Hail

Another season, another series of crops reaped, the next seasons sown – enabling me learn more of the ways of peasant life, from the peasants themselves. Close to nature, to animals, and to some of the most wonderful men and women from the village; in addition doing what I enjoy  – sweat-of-my-brow hard work, discipline, executing to a plan, measuring its success, and continually improving.

Posted in A Day in The Life, Bullocks, Crops, Rural Village Life | 1 Comment

Backward in Muzaffarnagar

A visit to the heart of the recent communal conflict in Muzaffarnagar confirmed two truths – that the rural, peasant Jat is polarized along religious lines; and that he is rudderless on how to progress in the 21st Century. The Jat gotra panchayats in Western UP and across the Yamuna in Haryana are controlled by status-quoist leadership, and their alignment with the Sangh Parivar has spread like a wildfire sweeping across a forest welcoming destruction.

The Jats are pitted against their own interests, which this obdurate community is often wont to do – they are head to head against the Muslims on whom they inter-depend for agricultural survival, they are increasingly aligned politically with the divisive thinking of the BJP which is using them for its ruthless political ends to gain political power in 2014 at any cost, and thanks to the crutches of job reservation the community is arrayed in self-defeating terms against the modern word that has beckoned them to progress for 30 years since their emergence as progressive peasants. Whether the BJP wins or the RLD does, the Jats lose.

Chaudhary Charan Singh

The Jats are a agricultural land owning, peasant community spread across Haryana, North Rajasthan, Delhi and Western Uttar Pradesh – they are numerically dominant in a limited number of districts in Western U.P., but they comprise a small 1.7% of UP’s 195 plus million population. The Jats were resurgent in the Seventies as part of Chaudhary Charan Singh’s rural alliance of the peasant Other Backward Castes (OBCs) along with the Yadavs (9% of UP’s population), and the sub 1% Gujjars, Tyagis, Kurmi, Lodh; and the numerically superior Muslims (18.5% of UP, and more than 30% in many West UP districts). Charan Singh was a peasant leader, painting an evocative picture of the hard working, small peasant oppressed by a self-seeking urban educated class comprised of the higher castes. He brought the OBCs together as a powerful political force for the first time in North Indian history, and the peasant communities amongst the Muslims were aligned with him as part of this unique combination of caste, class and religion. His grouse was economic, and so were the solutions he espoused in many well-argued books in his long political career that embraced legislation and advocacy of the peasant; while his political base was clearly caste and religion based. This conundrum – caste based politics that tried to subsume and transcend caste – was his most significant political strength, and his biggest hurdle to true greatness. He forged links of solidarity between disparate groups often arrayed in competition, and his personal incorruptibility, ability to deliver to his constituents and his clear rural ideology created a ferociously loyal base of followers across castes and religions who, since his passing, have been split unequally between Mulayam Singh Yadav (his long terms political protégé) and Ajit Singh (his son).

The Division Becomes Increasingly Complete

Congratulations, Sapa & Bhajpa. The Muzaffarnagar riots have turned out as you planned. It serves your interests to keep the Muslims socially, educationally, economically backward; and the once agnostic Jats more integrated into the Hindutva fold and vote bank. More masjids and Tablighi thinking; more temples, mindless rituals and superstition; and a sad loss of Insaniyat.

Tirath Mein To Sab Pani Hain

There is nothing but water at the holy bathing places; and I know that they are

useless, for I have bathed in them.

The images are lifeless, they cannot speak; I know, for I have cried aloud to them.

The Purana and the Qu’ran are mere words; lifting up the curtain I have seen.

Kabir gives utterance to the words of experience; and he knows

very well that all other things are untrue

The Songs of Kabir”, Translated by Rabindranath Tagore. 1915.

The riots troubled me no end since the fires first burned in September 2013  ( and I wanted to go and see for myself once the rawness settled down, and not manufacture opinions from secondary sources with their own axes to grind.

I am able to wade fearlessly into the Jat community with opinions that cause them consternation. I was born of Jat parents, the term having no meaning for me now other than as a statement of origin of nomadic tribes that migrated into North India from Central Asia millennia back; and as another term for a peasant nurturing the values of thrift, hard work, honesty, integrity, humor and a fierce commitment to securing the ways of nature. I like to believe there was a tribal past, pre-absorption by Hinduism, where community feeling was based on these shared values. More likely it was not, and my commitment to humanism is a result of education in a Jesuit school, marriage to a Muslim and my continuing attempts to understand Islam in India, a Masters in the US, and 25 years in the software services industry meeting people of many nationalities and realizing that the economic root of exploitation, and the desire to dominate the weak, is common to people across the globe. My antipathy towards the leadership of organized religions is balanced by compassion for the mass of followers, who after all seek that elusive peace and happiness in a life marked by suffering.

Onto Muzaffarnagar

These are said to be the first riots to have infected the rural fabric in West UP. My intent was not to find on whom to lay blame or castigate one or the other for the riots, but to understand current Jat community thinking in the aftermath of the conflict. In any case, data proves that the Muslims in Muzaffarnagar villages were the ones who suffered most in terms of the dead and those displaced from their homes; so there was no need to further probe who is the oppressor.

I have often wondered why the social and political leadership amongst the Jats in the wide geographic swath – ranging from Saharanpur, Muzaffarnagar, Bareilly, Moradabad, Meerut, Bulandshahr, Ghaziabad, Mathura, Aligarh and Agra – has not urged the community to educate itself as the true long term cure for backwardness. I wrestle why the leadership fights for reservation as OBC as the only solution to backwardness, why there is no effort at setting up schools and colleges of caliber and leapfrogging other backward rural communities on the back of agricultural income invested in education of the intellect and the soul.  There are enough educated, erudite, professional role models amongst the Jats who have progressed beyond their caste roots, and can be held as ideals, but these remain in the background and in their stead regressive leaders remain in the fore. Short-term populism wins over at the cost of a long-term transformation of the community; and it without doubt the nature of their leadership who has an interest in the status quo.

In the early morning of a cold February day, I left Gurgaon to visit a village at the heart of the conflict. The drive took a quick 2 hours and a half on the highway well past Meerut, but a hour and fifteen on the last 30 kilometers as the potholes were to be seen to be believed on this rural stretch. This is the famous agricultural belt that feeds India with sugar, and huge trucks carrying enormous loads of sugarcane tortuously navigated the non-existent roads; and I wondered as my Jeep hit another 2 feet deep crater. I wondered if this horrible infrastructure is one of the causes of increased social tension. The peasant has no roads to take his produce to the markets, and the money earned by the state government is spent in other parts of the state – some say 70% income from West UP, and only 20% is spent here. In this highly politically literate area, no one has data to back opinions (the government obviously fudges it, and no legislator has either the time or capability to ask intelligent questions) but everyone paints floating visions of a conspiracy to eliminate Ajit Singh by Yadav badshah Mulayam.

Cleansing and Character

The entire population of Muslims had fled the village in October itself, at the start of the riots. Unlike the Jat converts to Islam – Moole Jats, peasant cultivators with land holdings and a robust self concept like the unconverted Jats – the 1,000 plus Muslims in this village were low castes: carpenters, blacksmiths, cobblers, petty shopkeepers, landless laborers. Today, their homes are deserted and not one Muslim remains behind. Not one. I can only imagine the violence, but the impact on the minds of those who stayed behind cannot be underestimated.

Now that I am farming in the peasant traditions of my ancestors, it was not difficult to connect with Pradhanji whose home we reached, past the eerily deserted homes of the Muslims at the edge of the village, after navigating narrow village lanes. I had taken the precaution of bringing along two other Jats from the area as insurance, with instructions to not share that I was Ch. Charan Singh’s grandson.

At Pradhanji’s home, where a cow chewed the cud under the peepul tree in the spacious and shaded courtyard, we also met with Masterji. Both are educated, one a BA and lawyer, and the other MA and retired head of a school. Both have large land holdings, one with over 10 acres and one with over 5 acres – great wealth in a region where most land holding peasants own less than 5 acres. These rough hewn men, pillars of the village community, were in their sixties, tall, robust and healthy neither looking a day above fifty. Both were gracious in their hospitality – tea, sweets, namkeen, milk – and surprisingly open in their conversation, and in their prejudice. Perhaps because they were sharing thoughts with a fellow Jat, they could not quite believe I would think different. When it dawned on them during the course of my 3 hours there that I was in disagreement, they were bemused at what they thought were my theoretical statements about amity and co-existence. They welcomed me to stay as a guest for a couple of nights, to really understand how disastrous these Muslims were.

What would they have said had they known that I employ 4 Meo Muslims and 1 Dalit (the cook, at that) at my farm in Faridabad, Haryana?

Pradhanji had the distinction of having given shelter to a couple of Muslim families for a night till they were handed over to the police to be safely escorted out of the village. He did this out of his sense of responsibility, he said, to Insaniyat. But he had no sympathy for their actions and way of being. Here his grey eyes flashed with anger, and we were off of the next couple of hours on a trail of half-truths and misunderstandings that have been formed into strongly held opinions by a majority of the non-Muslim communities in West UP. Surprisingly, though, our engagement was civilized. They listened to my thoughts without interruption, and they put forth their views in calm, measured khari boli. It was a far cry from drawing room conversations in educated Delhi, where the middle classes scream their thoughts at each other across an impassable divide of political alignments; but with very little knowledge of Bharat.

Pradhanji asked me if I knew that there was no “character” in any community in this area other than the Jats? The Muslims were backward and lived in hovels, with parents and sons with their wives sleeping in one room and going at it in the night (What was left to the imagination was the unspeakable and vicarious horrors of communal sex). And did I know that they married their cousins? What values can a community hold if a boy is encouraged to marry his sister? And who is a minority in Muzaffarnagar to be pampered – the Jats with 20% of the population, or the Muslims with 40%? Did I know a Muslim has many wives and many children and they will soon replace the rest of the communities? He compared his own self, and Masterji and myself with only one child each with these large families. Were we (included by default, I was one of them) not destined to be overwhelmed? For good measure, now that we were talking about backwardness, did I know about the complete absence of a work ethic of the Dalits in the village; who were happy to sleep all day in a drunken stupor than invest in a hard days work?

A religious bigot who believes in the stereotypes spread by the Hindutva brigade seems to have replaced the humorous Jat who got a kick out of ribbing the stereotypical fellow Jat, as well as the Bania and the Brahmin.

It is well documented by many scholars of which I quote Alaka M. Basu (from Unravelling the Nation: Sectarian Conflict and Secular Identity. Eds. Kaushik Basu & Sanjay Subrahmanyam) that “polygamy is slightly higher in the Hindu’s (5.8% compared to 5.7% among the Muslims)” and “….women in polygynous union have fewer births than women in monogamous marriages.” And “… every man who has four wives is leaving three men unable to have only one” and that “religious fertility differences are narrowing”. Most of the higher fertility of the Muslims – and yes it is higher, though falling – is due to social-economic depression of the Muslims and lower female education, and fertility will doubtless reduce as this backwardness is dispelled.  In J&K a Muslim majority state, Basu tells us, the fertility rates of the Muslim is lower than that of the Hindu.

Recollect the many stories over the years about Jat Khap Panchayats (and, to be fair, those of all other OBC and high caste groups in North India) opposing marriage within a gotra (a Malik cannot ever marry a Malik, or a Mann marry a Mann; and so on). For a Jat, marrying their gotra ‘sister’ is a social evil that cannot be countenanced, even if the common ancestor went back 500 years and the ‘sister’ after 20 generations is no longer really related. The opposing polarity between these two communities on the approach to marrying cousins and other cultural differences needs an inculcated ability of living with others who live differently, of co-existing. How will that happen if exceptionalism is the norm in the education system, and only the Hindu form of nationalism (and that too the singular Hindutva variety) and their culture being true for India?

The cause of the fear in the Jat community is their inability to adequately respond to change and modernity due to their weak education – and here I mean not only the quantity (12th grade or College) but the quality of education imparted (pedagogy, teachers, infrastructure, books, computers) and the social content i.e. how modern-liberal is the worldview imparted? The fear also comes from an accelerated breakdown in contemporary social structures in the village; movement by an increasing number to the town and city and resultant loss of traditions replaced by Hindutva rhetoric; and an existentialist threat to their traditional occupation of agriculture where the terms of trade are heavily weighed against them and alternative professions do not exist.

The Aftermath

Pradhanji and Masterji were clear that they were for punishing the guilty, but wanted a ‘fair’ enquiry – whatever that means. The administration, they said, was captured by the Muslim leaders of the Samajwadi Party (‘Ajam’ Khan) and they were convinced that a free investigation is not possible. I tend to agree with them, as the atmosphere is simply too heavy with politics and Mulayam Yadav does not want the truth out, he just wants to close this chapter and get on with the elections. Not surprisingly, Mulayam Singh has not yet visited the Muzaffarnagar riot hit villages. Masterji repeatedly stated that there has been no rape in the village – yes, there was arson, looting, violence, destruction of property – but no rape, no chance of it. In any case, what kind of a community is this that tomtoms rape – no self-respecting woman would stand up and accept she had been violated; so this was reason enough to suspect the accusers. In reality, the riot hit have filed many cases of rape against village youth.

There was some chance of reconciliation, I was told, (I wondered how the beaten & scared can sit across a table to ‘reconcile’ other than to cave in) but it had all been defeated by the filing of rape charges under criminal portions of the police code. The lives of these young men would be devastated, for who would marry them with a criminal case against them? In any case, the village were on alert and no policemen allowed into the village to make arrests. If they did come with force, blood would flow. Then, and I heard this from many, Muslims in the riot affected villages get 5 Lakhs from the government to sign off their right to return to the village in exchange for the compensation; so many people had made false statements and had obtained their money and moved on.

In this atmosphere, where everyone has an opinion and no one has the facts, it is clear that insaniyat has suffered terribly and the wounds of the deep cleavages between communities will remain raw for decades. The aftermath is segregated Hindu Muslim villages, which by itself lead to more misunderstanding and increase the real and imagined spaces between the communities.


I returned on the potholed roads, reminded of neglect of the development of the region as a cause of social tension.  But that did not hold to explain the horrific violence and widespread destruction of an entire ecosystem. The socio-economic backwardness of the Muslims is not addressed by their leadership, or by the leadership of the state government and the administration. The Jats are bought over by the forces of Hindutva obscurantism, and are moving from a rural peasant community where formal religion played a peripheral role to being the vanguard of the campaign to embrace a movement that teaches an exclusivist religious nationalism. Unless an alternate vision can come to their rescue, majority of the rural communities in West UP seem lost for some time to Hindutva.

Naya Shivala (New Temple)

I’ll tell you the truth, O Brahmin, if I make so bold

These idols in your temple – these idols have grown old.

From them you have learned hatred of those who share your life,

And Allah to his preachers has taught mistrust and strife;

Disgusted from your temple and our shrine I have run,

Now both our preachers’ sermons and your old myths I shun.

In shapes of stone you fancied God’s dwelling-place: I see

in each speck of my country’s poor dust, a deity.

Come, let us lift this curtain of alien thoughts again,

And reunite the severed, and wipe division’s stain:

Too long has lain deserted the hearts warm habitation;

Let us build in this homeland a new temple’s foundation!

And let our shrine be taller than all shrines of this globe,

With lofty pinnacles touching the skirts of heavens robe:

And there at every sunrise let our sweet chanting move

the hearts of all who worship, and pour the wine of love:

Strength and peace too shall blend in the hymns the votary sings,

For in love lies salvation to all Earth’s living things.

“Naya Shivala”, Mohammad Iqbal (1873-1938)

I stopped at one of the many Kohlus on the way back, the local jaggery making crushers, and bought gifts for my farm hands back in Faridabad, and for home. After all, Muzaffarnagar produces the sweetest Gur and Shakker in India.

Posted in Communalism, Rural Village Life | 3 Comments