Letters from India: ‘This country will remain culturally ‘traditional’ till there is revolution’

A sturgeon squirming in the booby trapped and jewelled pond. Photograph: Graham Turner for the Guardian

As I was finishing up my studies in macroeconomics and moved back to my hometown to settle into a comfortable life as a government employee, I began to realise what it was like to grow up in this traditional land of the brave and a lot of resentment towards everything modern. This expressed itself in many ways from resenting new-school young people and their indifference to the land, to “soil rights” and the farmer’s struggles.

I remember working in a government office when I was young and I met an officer who had been in the police force and who we must recall was a great lawyer. When I enquired about the land and he answered, “My father used to own this land and I inherited it. I have cultivated the land but now I am not able to do so.”

Before I could finish what he had just said, I discovered that his father, grandfather, uncle and father had all died from famines. I am sure it was a great loss for his whole family, but how does one be the custodian of something which has been devastated by war and famine?

This strong memory led me to study economics, so that I could understand the impact that agricultural inequality in the world is having on the poor. Using statistics, I explained to the agent the effects of inheritance that crop yields and the cost of food were much lower in China because land-owning families concentrated their lands. Although they were growing crops with tractors and electric power, they could get higher yields by growing them directly by hand. With favourable weather, it was much cheaper and more efficient than on large farms.

India’s mahagathbandhan – all parties have signed a ‘people’s law’ to push through reforms in family farms by 2024. Photograph: Mahesh Kumar A/Barcroft Images

Later in life I became very interested in agricultural reform. The owner of a small property, perhaps 100 acres, wanted to change the land to be under cultivation and had invested about Rs 1,000,000 [$12,068] in technology. I provided this information and he asked if he could enter into an agreement. I told him that there was nothing I could do legally and he said, “Nothing you cannot do by legalisation.”

Leave a Comment