Friday, May 25, 2012

Nero's Guests

Very recently, I saw this documentary named "Nero's Guests" based on P Sainath's(Rural Affairs Editor of The Hindu) journalism. I did not understand the title given my illiteracy in Roman history. Sainath himself explains what it is. Nero was a ruler of Rome from AD 54 to 68. Quoted by a great historian of that time, Tacitus, during his regime, "The Great Fire of Rome" erupted and lasted for 10 days. From history, it is not sure whether he was responsible for fire or not. But one of the worst things that happened during his rule was when Nero held the greatest party even seen in the ancient world to distract the cause of the fire accident. The emperor offered his gardens for the spectacle. Everybody who was anybody in Rome was there for this party. They had a problem, the problem of how to provide lighting to this huge garden when day light was not enough to illuminate the party. Nero had a solution. He brought prisoners to provide light for the party. They were doomed to the flames, thereby to provide the nightly illumination.

Nero was ruthless, insane and completely inhuman, but what were his guests? They were were people who knew something very bad was happening in front of them. They knew it was completely atrocious. But no one raised their arm, no one questioned such a deed. What kind of mindset you would have to drop a piece of grape in your mouth when another person is getting crucified in front of you? They just kept quiet and enjoyed the party. Sainath says,"For me the issue was never Nero. The issue was Neros' guests. Who are Nero's guests? After covering five and half years of farmer suicides, I think I have my answer. I think you have the answer, who Nero's guests were". The sheer comparison of the cruel historical event to the current reality of state of farmers in our country was so breathtakingly true that I started thinking about the mindset of Nero's guests.

But before that, let me try to put forward the facts stated by Saianth to justify the comparison. Fact 1, In India, 60% of the people are still dependent on agriculture. Fact 2, 836 million Indians live on less than INR 25 per day. Fact 3 nearly 200,000 farmers have committed suicide since 1997, driven by debt and distress. Fact 4, Yet, the mainstream media hardly reflects this reality. Sainath says, " Let me simplify. what is this agrarian crisis? Five words. The Drive Towards Corporate Farming. How is this agrarian crisis operationalized? Five words. Predatory Commercialization Of The Countryside.What does it achieve? Five words. The Biggest Displacement in Indian History".

1990's was the first time in Indian history when the rate of growth of employment in government sector went below the rate of growth of population. Millions of villagers have left their villages due to this consequence to towns in search of jobs that are not there. Thousands of families have broken up. The per capita availability of food grains actually felt to a drastic extent during the reforms years. Yet, we export food grains, when supreme court accounted six states for hunger deaths for the first time after Bengal famine in 1940's. Who consumes the food grains we export?  The cattle in Europe, when our own people are dying of hunger. Sainath quotes a noted  reformist,"If you ask a farmer in Vidarbha what would he want to become in next life, he should probably say a cattle in Europe". Thousands of farmers commit suicides because they are not able to get INR 8000 as loan with decent interest rates. But the upper middle class/rich are called up by banks for loans at 6% interest without any collateral for purchasing a Mercedes Benz. What kind of social justice is that? What has grown in the era of reforms, not the IT sector, not the markets, it is the inequality that has grown out of proportion.

The government is functioning for the corporate, subsiding everything for them. It is shame to call it a subsidy, we should call it incentive. Subsidies are for poor, not for billionaires. When BSE crashed once in the last few years, the finance minster of this country took a private jet to reach Mumbai in 2 hours to console billionaires, but it took 10 years for the Prime minister of this country to visit crisis affected agricultural villages to console farmers and their families.

I would like every one of us to watch the documentary. Whatever is mentioned above is not my opinion, though I favor every point. These are excerpts from the documentary. My question to folks who are reading this is, I know I am one of Nero's guests(a citizen) and I am dead against what Nero(government and corporate) is doing. What do I do? Do I protest? Will I protest? Will I survive if I protest? Wouldn't Nero burn me along with the prisoners if I speak against him? So then, should we replace Nero? But how to replace him when I know his replacement is no different from him. The documentary point out very frankly, who Nero's guests are. But what can Neros' guests do or should have done has to be up for discussion. All we can do is get out of Nero's party and don't be his guest. Sainath says," We can differ on how to solve this problem, we can differ on how we do the analysis of the problem but we can take one starting point by agreeing that we are not Nero's guests".
Thoughts please?