On parent’s day in Sainik School Kapurthala, Punjab, playgrounds used to look like ‘Mini-Punjab’ as every family in the state was related to agriculture and farming those days.

Many parents came on ‘tractors’. Mind you, only well to do farmers had tractors. It was bullocks and oxen ploughing the fields. Simple and humble people, simply clad, modest as modest could be. They could barter all the ‘Desi Ghee’ in the world with the school teachers, if their son could be made a ‘Banda’ first. Many parents even requested teachers to ‘Kutto’ (beat) their sons for a better future.

On that day, the farm and cattle were left unattended. The heart of the farmer was with his child but his soul would be left behind at the farm. Many important things were postponed, as this visit had to be on a particular day of the month. Imagine, they sent their children to boarding for only one reason. “Munde nu fauj vich afsar banauna hai”. (Making the child an officer in the Forces) With ‘Jai Kisaan’ already in the family, there would be a ‘Jai Jawan’ also. Farmers wanted their children to do better than them.

They were large hearted people. They would let you pluck as much as you wanted, serve you gallons of ‘lassi’, add an extra dollop of ‘makhan’ on ‘sarson da saag’ & would offer you a ride on his ‘gadda’, (bullock cart).

Having known farmers from the bread bowl of India, their condition hasn’t improved much. They have been toiling on their fields in all kinds of weather, faced famine and floods, got beaten by middlemen and still continued to tend to their farms as they would their own children. Just about breaking even, mostly in loss.

Bill, Ordinance, Order, Legislation call it by whatever name. Was it made by the farmer, of the farmer, for the farmer? Were the farmers taken into confidence, did any one even think whether these legislations would benefit them?

Underground water has already been sucked out. Rivers have been polluted by industry. Electricity is erratic. Diesel prices are running out of control. Seeds and fertilizers are in short supply. Markets are volatile and have their own politics. Where does the farmer go? His very existence is at stake.

I am not a farmer and do not understand the intricacies and repercussions of what was tabled and passed by the ‘Aye’s have it’. But with so much agitation, there can’t be smoke without fire.

Let me be selfish and say I am concerned about my existence and my food. Dals are unaffordable, Onions prices have skyrocketed. Potatoes, which are staple, go off the shelf at times. Fruits, very few can afford. Milk prices are competing with petrol. Poultry is hitting you like an egg on your face. Mutton is better left on the hoof, due to its unaffordability. The list is unending. All these are farm products but the farmer does not benefit.

The same parent who willingly left his child in a boarding school, cannot afford decent education for his child anymore. He is also worried that his child should not get into drugs. In the morning he starts his tractor to visit his fields. At odd hours he goes to his tube well to water them. His family tends to the cattle at home, his ‘Mandi da lala’ is pressurising him to pay up. He has no medical treatment back up, if he falls ill. Compensation for a lost crop is peanuts.

He has an EMI of his tractor, fertilizer, child’s education loan, loan to send his son to ‘Kanneda’, daughter’s wedding, Corona and locusts to worry about.

His land now stands divided. Earlier between brothers but now shrunk due to selling bits and pieces to make his two ends meet. His big heart is now punctured; his arteries are getting blocked. His condition looks stable from outside but internally the farmer knows time is running out. On top of that the doctors and consultants are tinkering with his medicine. Just hope his ECG doesn’t become a straight line.

What if a farmer goes on strike? Small and marginal farmer’s existence is on that small piece of land. He cannot afford it. It is a Catch 22 for him -damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t.

I don’t know the nuances of farming but I stand by the farmer. If ‘he’ is happy, every mouth in this country will be happy and stomach well fed. If my farmer’s heart stops, we too will all be dead.

Lt Colonel Noel Ellis is retired from the Indian Army

Cover Photograph Reuters