I Am A Farmer!

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I am a helpless farmer in an agricultural country. Here, industrialists, cotton mill owners, sugar mill owners, traders, and commission agents all have a voice, their organizations, their pressure groups—they all make governments kneel to their demands.

They have their lobbies, they have formed mafias, and if anyone even points a finger at them, they raise the roof, yet I am the only one who is neither heard nor acknowledged. Everyone oppresses me, loots me; they eat the grains I grow but do not give me my due rights.

When this country was formed, I was the most influential. I had a majority in the assemblies, and traders and usurious commission agents were barred from purchasing my lands. My lifestyle was better than all other professions; I owned the best and most expensive properties and was the most respected in society.

However, in 75 years, all sectors have surpassed me, and I have been left behind. Even street vendors now earn more than me. Urban dwellers have access to hospitals, schools, roads, and all modern amenities, while I stand in the same place as 75 years ago, only worse off.

When it’s time to sow, I must queue for fertilizers, which I must buy from the black market at exorbitant prices when needed. Good quality seeds are hard to come by as seed companies cheat us in various ways.

If I grow wheat, the government does not buy it but imports it at higher prices. If I sell to a commission agent, he quotes a low price. I can’t store wheat because I lack storage facilities. When crops need pesticides and sprays, there’s no one to advise which ones are effective and which are counterfeit.

If I grow sugarcane, sugar mills reluctantly buy at government rates and then delay payments for years. If I try making jaggery, the government bans it. If I grow cotton and it happens to be a bumper crop, cotton traders threaten to import and complain that our cotton is not up to standard, buying cheap from us to export cloth at high prices.

I, the poor farmer, don’t even get proper compensation. If I grow vegetables and fruits, middlemen exploit my needs and buy off my fields and produce in advance, again consuming all the profit.

My plight does not end here. Who isn’t aware of the exploitation by patwaris (land record officers), tehsildars (revenue officers), and police? It’s been 75 years, and I am still enslaved to the patwari who can burden me with unjust dues whenever he pleases, and if I grease his palm, I am let off.

Whether it’s land records or ownership deeds, I have been suffering under the patwari’s wrath for years. Even a powerful governor like the Nawab of Kalabagh and a dictator like Ayub Khan were oppressed by their patwaris. Is it my fate that in this agricultural country, everyone robs me, and no one hears my cries?

Go to any provincial or district capital, and you will see grand buildings of Chambers of Commerce and Industry, employing dozens and with budgets of millions and billions. Researchers sit and prepare reports all year, and the government sends industrialists’ delegations abroad.

The country’s budget is not made without these chambers’ consultations; no financial or trade policy can be formed against their will. Similarly, the organization of cotton mill owners, APTMA, is very influential, forcing the government to bend to its demands and change policies to please them.

Flour mill owners also have their association; if they go on strike, the government is left speechless. Yet, there’s just this poor farmer without a chamber of agriculture, no budget, and no government has ever consulted us when making the budget, nor do farmers have resources to hire researchers to advise on policy making. No foreign expert has ever come to teach us modern techniques, nor have farmers been sent abroad to see where the world stands in agricultural development.

I am always accused of having a powerful lobby in the assemblies, but that is now just a myth, with no reality to it. The leaders of the three major parties do not earn from agriculture; why would they support it? Has there ever been a competent Minister of Agriculture since Khuda Bakhsh Bacha? Even if a farmer becomes a minister, they don’t know how to deal with modern agriculture or government.

Before 1947, in united Punjab, there was Sir Chhotu Ram who spoke up for farmers in the assembly and legislated in their favor to restore their lost properties and dignity. Now, there is no Sir Chhotu Ram left in the whole country.

Farmers do not have enough resources to form a lobby, sponsor a political party, or bargain with leaders. Traders and industrialists buy out parties and negotiate with leaders. I, the poor farmer, remain helpless even after 75 years, my grievances unheard and unknown.

Sometimes I wonder, if I, representing the silent majority of the country, am not heard, then how is it possible for others to be heard and have access? Now, my wheat is ready, but commission agents are quoting low prices, and the government isn’t buying! It seems my circumstances will never change.

Then I think, if my circumstances do not change, then neither will the situation of this agricultural country improve. Until governments and political parties formulate clear policies for farmers and treat them justly, the country’s economy will not progress. Whatever has happened to me in these 75 years, let it not happen to the country…

Note: This is the translation of his Urdu column published in Jang

Suhail Warraich
Suhail Warraich
The writer is a senior journalist and columnist, who also hosts his famous TV show Aik Din Geo Kay Sath.

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