By Shashi Kant
On Saturday morning, I was shocked to read a tweet by an online news portal of Punjab, which announced a ‘Breaking News’ story.
The tweet was naturally short and crisp announcing:
— YesPunjab(.)com (@yespunjab) January 16, 2016
My immediate reaction was of shock and dismay, and I responded with a counter-tweet:
@yespunjab Only till elections After that they can 'die merrily' (God forbid) You should know the damn politicians
— shashi kant ips (@shashikantips54) January 16, 2016
Now as I sit, still in disbelief, pondering over the ‘breaking news’, I realise its serious consequences and repercussions.
In the first place, unfortunately in Punjab, suicides by farmers have been on rise because of a variety of reasons, as is the case elsewhere. Broadly, they can be summarised as ‘debt burden and financial reasons’. Neither the state government of Punjab nor any of its agencies have till now bothered either to genuinely study and to address to those generic reasons, including fake or substandard pesticides and manure of the kinds being marketed and sold with political and administrative connivance, the lack of irrigation facilities, shortage of electricity for the agricultural sector, ‘crop diseases’ and fungi, bad debts, lack of the support both by governmental and cooperative sectors etc.
The only agricultural sector immune to these problems is the one owned by or affiliated to rich and powerful politicians. Several commissions were set up and studies conducted by Central and state government, with or without the help of the famed Punjab Agriculture University located at Ludhiana. But the core of the problem remains: Who bothers about such reports?
They are sincerely conducted and even ‘produced’ in certain cases, given immense publicity to claim that the government is serious and concerned, but then they are finally just consigned to the ever-increasing and rotting heap of government files and papers which are ultimately sold as ‘raddi’ to make paper bags of the sundry out of them.
That is beginning and end of the story.
Then comes election time and knee-jerk reactions start to fool the ‘target segment of the electorate’. This reaction is confined only to making stupid and shocking announcements of the kinds in question and ‘successfully’ fooling the target group. The farmers' movement in Punjab has been fractionalised, personalised and ‘balkanised’. There is no unified command, hierarchy or organisation thereof.
Each of the broadly-divided geographical regions — Malwa, Doaba and Majha — are independent of each other with regional satraps commanding them. Among them, the Malwa area which is the biggest of all, is further divided into smaller geographical groups — most of them being prop-ups and stooges of one political party or the other — and some that are ready to sell themselves to the government-of-the-day for hefty personal considerations. Some of them start agitations, only to call them off after ‘assurances' by the government-of-the-day. One need not explain the meaning and significance of these so-called assurances. Anyhow, that is not the concern of lesser mortals and ordinary citizens like us, here, in this write-up.
What bothers us is the shocking announcement, in question by the Punjab government that all those farmers committing suicide shall get compensation on the same day.
What the heck is this?
Instead of solving the problems and issues being faced by the farming community and trying to make Punjab a happy green state, is its government trying to encourage ‘broken-down’ farmers to commit suicide? It is a well-known psychological fact of human life that while driven by severe desperation and frustration — which may unfortunately lead to one committing suicide, the person in question does consider the family, after he or she is no longer with them. And if one feels that the family might benefit from ‘one's death in desperation’, the individual may be encouraged and emboldened to take such a desperate and ultimate step.
In simpler, yet legal, language, it is called abetment to suicide and section 306 of the Indian Penal Code deals with it. It reads, ‘If any person commits suicide, whoever abets the commission of such suicide, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine'.
And the Punjab government-of-the-day needs to be held liable for all such suicides that may be committed in wake of this knee-jerk and stupid announcement. In any case, from a legal point of view, it already stands liable to all suicides, till now, by farmers because of the sheer criminal negligence and indifference of the government and its policy makers.
The author is former director general of police (prisons), Punjab