Building Solutions: GUNISHA KAUR
The State Of Punjab - Part VII
Punjab has been a hotspot of human rights violations and activism since the birth of the Indian nation in 1947. The history of human rights abuses in the state has contributed significantly to the present economic, environmental and medical crisis in Punjab.
In this multi-part series, we explore the emergent issues in the state, with a focus on farmer suicides, female feticide and infanticide, ecological damage, river water rights, rising rates of diseases, mental health, and drug and alcohol abuse.
This series has detailed the key issues that presently plague Punjab, including the history of human rights violations in the region, farmer debt and suicides, female infanticide and foeticide, mental health issues, alcohol and drug dependence, river and water rights, environmental catastrophe, and the health effects of the Green Revolution.
Here we will discuss potential solutions to the impending collapse of the State’s economy, environment and health. This is by no means an exhaustive list of solutions; rather, it is a place to start rebuilding Punjab.
Constitutional Resolution to the Punjab Water Seizure
The fundamental source of consternation is the federal government’s seizure of Punjab’s river waters. This has served as the primary reason for the Anandpur Sahib Resolution and the subsequent agitation campaigns. Control of Punjab’s river waters must be returned to Punjabis. This is a vital step for conflict resolution.
In order to achieve this, Punjabis will have to lobby the government to get it to acknowledge and repeal the unconstitutional laws that have stripped water rights from their state. An appropriate resolution will weigh the key issues in light of the Indian Constitution and encourage efficient and strategic use of Punjab’s river waters.
Pursuit of Environmental Preservation and Sustainability
Extreme exploitation of resources in Punjab is quickly leading to ecological collapse and redress must be sought immediately.
Without responsible use of river and ground water, Punjab is projected to be completely barren within 15 to 20 years.
Organic farming offers a compelling alternative that deserves to be explored and encouraged. The exclusive rice-wheat rotation must be replaced with diversified crop rotation and the use of genetically diverse seeds. On the other hand, High Yield Variety seeds, which consume excessive amounts of fertilizers, pesticides and water, should be aggressively discouraged, and farmers who continue to use HYV Seeds should be encouraged to decrease their use of fertilizers and pesticides.
Farmers require education on water preservation, falling water tables, and the unsustainability of current water use practices.
Expansion of Secondary and Tertiary Sectors of the Economy
In the wake of agricultural collapse, it is imperative that Punjab’s economy be expanded and diversified.
One simple method of broadening the economy can occur through crop processing (e.g., creating rice from paddy). Crop processing serves as the most profitable part of farming and increases the value of agricultural products.
Currently, Punjab ships its raw materials to other states for processing. This sort of value-added industry would significantly improve the economy in Punjab. Expansion beyond agriculture of the secondary, tertiary and quaternary sectors of the economy (including industry, the service sector, and intellectual activities) must be encouraged and subsidized by the government.
Correction of Institutional Failure
Institutional failure must be acknowledged and immediately addressed.
The enforcement of legislation that protects the abused (e.g., Dowry Prohibition Act of 1961, PreNatal Determination Test Act of 1994) will go a long way in improving the current situation in Punjab.
Punjabis are in desperate need of relief from their debt. An improved system for institutional loans will better support farmers and will help prevent harassment and aggressive behavior from moneylenders. Debt relief packages should also be made
available to Punjabi farmers. Financial incentives and subsidies will help farmers increase crop diversity and organic farming, and Minimum Support Prices should be reset to safeguard farmers from economic collapse.
The government should protect farmers from the devastation of biopiracy and contract farming by multinational corporations and should aspire towards an equilibrium between the public and private sectors.
Most importantly, the state and central governments must cease their frenzied demands for increased production of High Yield Variety rice, wheat and export crop, and instead focus on internal development and distribution.
The increased use of fertilizers and pesticides has played a central role in the rapidly expanding medical problems in Punjab.
Though the government has banned 28 pesticides for use in agriculture, enforcement of the ban is virtually nonexistent. The most urgent health intervention entails farmer education; many farmers remain unaware of the significant health risk posed by pesticides, and as aforementioned, this problem is compounded by media campaigns that champion pesticides as “medicine” for plants.
Educational campaigns can provide important information regarding the dangers of pesticides, mechanisms for avoiding chemical consumption, and alternative farming methods.
Educating Punjabis about these issues serves as the first step in decreasing incidences of major diseases, including cancer, infertility, and developmental problems in children.
Deeply rooted cultural notions of gender inequalities and female inferiority require immediate attention. As with farmer suicides, problems related to domestic violence have largely been kept in the dark.
These instances must be identified and revealed, and we must provide women the necessary support to reclaim equal status within Punjabi society. There are remarkably few psychological support systems for domestic, emotional and sexual violence.
A long-term solution to raise the status of women would entail empowerment, particularly in the financial domain. Socially enmeshed practices, such as the granting of dowries, need to be challenged. This major task will require significant time and resource allocation, but it will promote the irreplaceable role and immeasurable value of women in Punjabi society.
While some organizations that focus on developing solutions already exist, others should concentrate on data collection.
The research conducted by such organizations will provide critical information to groups interested in intervening from financial, infrastructural and physical standpoints.
For example, a major hindrance to developing solutions in Punjab has been the lack of information and understanding in relation to farmer suicides. In building the road to a better Punjab, documentation of farmer suicide rates through detailed records of affected villagers will greatly empower and support organizations interested in intervening.
Reliable documentation is desperately needed in multiple spheres of the Punjab crisis, including the incidence of drug abuse, prevalence of pesticide-related disease, and occurrence of domestic violence.
Without statistical analysis to diagnose the extent of the problem, human rights activists will be unable to provide appropriate treatments and solutions. Collecting data is not an easy task, and in this situation, it will prove particularly difficult given that the public tends to ignore issues affecting peoples with minimal economic clout.
But the resulting information will go a long way in providing solutions to the problems in Punjab.
Recognition and Reconciliation of Human Rights Violations
The current crisis in Punjab cannot be resolved without governmental and public acknowledgement of the genocide against Sikhs in the 1980s and 1990s.
Operation Bluestar, Operation Woodrose, Operations Blackthunder I and II, the pogroms against the Sikhs in November of 1984, and the post 1984 era human rights violations require investigation. Without justice, perpetrators continue to walk
free amongst victims, and this only compounds the psychological trauma suffered by survivors.
On this point, medical professionals should be made available to evaluate and treat Major Depressive Disorder and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder among the victims.
Establishment of Rehabilitation Facilities
The issue of drug and alcohol abuse must be approached carefully, especially because the use and abuse of intoxicants pervades all levels of society.
The role of local medical personnel in promoting drug access must be elucidated and these influences must be minimized. The high proportions of Punjabis addicted to drugs and alcohol suggests that village members will best be encouraged to rehabilitate from substance abuse with notable incentives.
Psychological and medical support must be readily available to handle the aftermath of the physiological phenomenon of addiction, and community support must be engendered to help individuals fight through the challenges of rehabilitation. The translation of western support systems such as Alcoholics Anonymous and needle exchange programs into the Punjabi context may prove incredibly useful to individuals seeking drug rehabilitation.
The multi-factorial problems in Punjab must be addressed in a multi-faceted manner.
First, we must bring public attention to these problems, both within Punjab and throughout the diaspora. This intervention is vital and pressing in that public attention to the issues makes it significantly more likely that we will see solutions and results (e.g., the repealing of oppressive laws, medical attention for children affected by disease, financial assistance for farmers).
Generating political momentum behind the issues will prove strategically important.
Historically, a number of movements to affect change in Punjab have been envisioned and financed from the diaspora community (e.g., the Gaddar Party) - Punjabis outside of the homeland can look to these traditions for the value of long-distance support and activism.
It remains increasingly important that we spread knowledge regarding the major problems in the region and encourage others to intervene. Committed efforts to improving the situation in Punjab, such as those carried out by the Baba Nanak Education Society, Ensaaf, and Navdanya, provide us inspiration as to how a few individuals can make a major impact in the region.
Each of us has a skill or passion that we can use to address problems in the homeland; given the diversity of problems in the region, all fields of work are applicable to the Punjab situation. These organizations have changed the lives of Punjabis through their work and it is our prerogative to follow in their footsteps and defend the rights of those that cannot defend themselves.
Given the vast extent of the problems in Punjab, it is almost impossible to maintain a sense of optimism - yet we must continue to be hopeful. Just as Rwanda, South Africa, Libya, Egypt, and countless others have encountered and survived political oppression in recent decades, so will Punjab.
It is our duty to assist in the cessation of injustice by raising our voices, mobilizing our resources, informing our own governments, and demanding change.
[The author is a human rights activist and a physician at Cornell University in New York City. Her research focuses on chronic pain management in survivors of torture, and she has written extensively on human rights violations in India. Her first book, entitled "Lost in History: 1984 Reconstructed" - [http://www.panjabmall.com/storeproduct508.aspx], documents the violence in Punjab that took place in the 1980s and 1990s. The articles in this series draw from her forthcoming book, which discusses the current economic, environmental, and health crisis in Punjab.
Parts I to VI in this series can be accessed from the "1984" section on sikhchic.com.]
June 18, 2012
Conversation about this article
1: Baldev Singh (Bradford, United Kingdom), June 18, 2012, 7:01 AM.
2: Sangat Singh (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), June 18, 2012, 7:17 PM.
What an erudite piece by Gunisha Kaur ji, cataloguing the ills that beset the Punjabis today. The sons have abandoned their mothers and have become recalcitrant stepsons and lying down in a stupor. They have rented heir farmlands to Biharis and are strutting around like lotus-eaters with only a loud bark left. The not so gabru gabrus take pride in their skills in out-drinking each other. Here is the perfect picture drawn by Sheikh Farid: "pa-e kuhara mari-aa gafal apunai hath" [GGS:1365.4] - 'The idiot strikes his own foot with the axe by his own hand', and continues with the lament: "kand kuhara sir ghara van kai sar laohar farida ha-o lori saho apna tu loreh angi-ar" - 'With an axe on his shoulder, and a bucket on his head, the blacksmith is ready to cut down the tree. Farid, I long for my Lord, you long only for charcoal." Looks like we are walking towards the Dark Ages.
3: Harinder Singh 1469 (New Delhi, India), June 19, 2012, 2:50 PM.
Wish we all, no matter where we are, get to learn these facts and digest them. Hope some amongst us will start working big for Punjab to bring it back, to re-build it! For example, there are amazing openings for tourism in Punjab ... addressing any area properly will help solve other problematic areas. Thanks, sikhchic.com, for sharing such facts.