Perspective | Oped


A Tribune Special
Protecting the peasantry
It’s imperative to devise strategies to help farmers, says Mohinder Kumar
According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), about two lakh peasants have committed suicide in India since 1997. The trend continues as news of distressed farmers of Vidarbha giving up their lives keep making headlines in newspapers. Except Punjab, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, other states were so far unaffected till reports came that farmers of Chhattisgarh are also falling prey to the suicidal tendencies. The NCRB’s figures on farmers’ suicide are not statistics on crime; they are agricultural statistics, indicative of the decaying state of our peasant agriculture.


RBI curbs money supply
January 30, 2010
EC at 60
January 29, 2010
Rajapaksa returns
January 28, 2010
Ad in blunder land
January 26, 2010
Heavy tax dose in Punjab
January 25, 2010
The malaise of paid news
January 24, 2010
Suicides in Telangana
January 23, 2010
Tackling terror syndicate
January 22, 2010
Raising money for govt
January 21, 2010
Deemed varsity status
January 20, 2010




Making FIR mandatory
Safeguards needed to check its misuse
by Hemant Kumar
he Union Home Ministry’s circular to all States/ UTs for treatment of all complaints to the police as First Information Reports (FIRs), if implemented without adequate safeguards, would be counter-productive. If every complaint is treated as an FIR, police stations would turn into complaint recording centres. Innocent people may be booked by those with ulterior motives.

On Record
Indian art auction braved recession: Vazirani
by Shiv Kumar
idding for artworks has evolved from buyers physically thronging auctioneers premises to bidding for masterpieces online. Saffronart, which calls itself the world’s largest online auction house, hit the headlines when it sold an untitled painting by Manjit Bawa for a record Rs 1.7 crore.

Alkazi: A theatre personality of distinction
by Harihar Swarup
ecipient of the Padma Vibhushan, the second highest civilian honour, Ebrahim Alkazi is 85. In his light purple shirt, immaculately ironed pants, glasses perched on the tip of his nose and a small notebook in his hands, he walks with a barely noticeable stoop.



A Tribune Special
Protecting the peasantry
It’s imperative to devise strategies to help farmers, says Mohinder Kumar

According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), about two lakh peasants have committed suicide in India since 1997. The trend continues as news of distressed farmers of Vidarbha giving up their lives keep making headlines in newspapers.

A deeper crisis awaits peasant type agriculture. This is the crisis of “depeasantisation” — the threat of dispossession and decimation of peasant class in the emerging world of large-scale agribusiness and corporatisation of small-scale agriculture. It is happening all over the world, including Europe and developing countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America; the only exception being the US and Canada where large-scale corporate farming has already fully established itself as a norm of capitalist mode of production.

The menace of depeasantisation is not new as it persisted in the history of peasantry. This time only the crisis has assumed entirely different character in terms of scale, spread and likely outcomes. Peasant history is a trajectory of dialectical development of the growth, decay and re-emergence of peasant classes. So far, peasantry managed to coexist and successfully compete for its survival with the feudal, capitalist and despotic type of what Marx called the “Asiatic” modes of production.

Often unable to contend with those structures, it comfortably nestled in dominant capitalist structures. Assimilation with conditions made peasantry fit enough to survive in a world weighed down by ruthless competitive “economic selection” processes and steep “economic ladders”.

However, under the globalisation of capital the threat to peasant mode of production is to be taken seriously. Peasants are face-to-face, on a massive universal scale, against powerful corporate firms penetrating peasant farms and with the combined force of conglomerates of industry, big investors, large agribusiness, MNCs, private equity funds, liberalised banking system, global finance, etc. The definition and concepts of agriculture have changed. In fact, all round vertical, horizontal and integrated supply chains of agribusinesses are determined to uproot and displace peasant agriculture. The world of peasantry was never like this in the past.

The world history of peasantry is replete with strategies devised by peasants for survival, often with active sanction and support of the state. We know that access to land is a lifeline for peasantry. In pre-British India, peasantry could survive in a semi-feudal structure due to community ownership of landed property. Periodic redistribution of land among peasant households based on size of family labour ensured adequate access of peasant households to the cultivable land.

Later in the British period, adequate supply of agricultural land was no longer guaranteed for subsistence agriculture in a regime of newly introduced private proprietorships, emerging land/lease markets, and limited monetisation. Instead, land alienation and expropriation of peasants oppressed under village moneylenders posed recurring threats to the existence of peasantry.

So long as moneylender was not interested in complete dispossession of peasants from means of production, the existence of peasantry was secure. At times, peasants and tribal cultivators in the British period managed to survive also because of political strength and struggle.

The Gandhian reformist practice of “passive resistance” and “non-violence” followed by the farmers associated with Workers’ and Peasants’ Party (1925 onwards) as also Bardoli Satyagraha (1928) went hand in hand with Tebhaga Movement (1946-7), Telangana Insurrection (1946-51) and Deccan Riots revolving against feudal-moneylender exploitation.

Much earlier, tribals of Santhal Parganas had insurrected against exploitative British Administration and Bengal moneylenders. In southern India, several Moplah uprisings against exploitative landlords and the British in the 19th century could establish the free spirit of small peasants in Malabar until the rebellion was completely suppressed in 1921.

Except in Punjab, western Uttar Pradesh and parts of Maharashtra, peasant organisations like the Bhartiya Kisan Union are generally not visible on the scene barring agitating for hike in crop prices. Even in those states where these organisations have a presence, they were helpless, ridden with factions, and unfortunately could not prevent tragic suicidal deaths of farmers.

One could often notice strong peasant demonstrations in developed countries against domestic agricultural or world trade policies, but peasantry of the developing world, especially in India, demonstrated a helpless and subdued attitude, leading them to suicides.

On the scene of the world history of peasants, their perseverance and strategies for survival were like this. In France, small peasantry was able to consolidate its economic strength during the 16th and 18th century by purchasing chunks of land through land market, despite heavy taxation on small farms and tax heavens for capitalist farms. Peasantry successfully resisted the threat of depeasantisation coming from the early phase of capitalism.

In contrast, peasantry in England could not succeed in resisting the attempts of the Crown to create large capitalist farms through use of sheer force and political clout or by devising restrictive legal devices such as the scandalous “Gage” system for land market, which prevented peasants from buying agricultural land.

The chronology of “Enclosure Movement” between A.D.1500-1914 also clearly points to the coercive ways used to promote large capitalist “enclosed farms” at the expense of small peasantry in England. In Russia before October Revolution, peasant commune type ownership of landed property, popularly known as village Mir system and periodic redistribution of land in the form of “allotment holdings” were instrumental in the survival and continuity of peasant households. After Bolshevik Revolution, the decree on nationalisation of all land secured the position of peasantry.

The survival of peasantry in India or anywhere in the world was often guaranteed as long as it was operating under conditions of community ownership of landed property. In fact, peasant commune type ownership of landed property existed at one time or the other in almost all countries of the world, including developed countries.

Community ownership of land under the aegis of state remained a dominant factor in deciding the economic fate and survival of peasantry. The concept of Common Property Resources popular today is a form of the historic community ownership of land, expansion of which can go a long way in promoting social progressive transformation and collective development of existing individualised peasant mode of production.

The essence of peasant agriculture is its inherently stabilising nature, which is reflected in the use of family labour, subsistence objective of production, diversification, cutting family expenses and “tightening of belt” in the event of adverse economic conditions. Even capitalist world appreciates these shock-absorbing features of the peasant agriculture.

So where did agriculture falter that depeasantisation now appears more as universal concrete reality than mere possibility or abstract psychosis of mind? Has peasant-type subsistence agriculture now become internally unsustainable? Has its essence and internal strength become a destabilising weakness?

A dialectical aspect of the current reality is that peasant-type subsistence agriculture carried out by “autonomous” peasants now cannot be actively supported further lest it should become suicidal in place of self-sustaining, as that is exactly happening today in India. Even poor monsoon threatens to derail the subsistence peasant economy, what to say about threat from corporate farming.

Our peasant agriculture has reached a stage where it is threatened more from inside than outside. In fact, external conditions always gave unconditional support to the small-scale peasant agriculture after Independence. The only adverse condition laid down once was in the form of cost-intensive Green Revolution technology, which did not exactly suit our small peasant farms, at least until the mid-eighties.

Then came the pressure of the imperialist cartels under the name of “economic reforms” in the nineties, which actually triggered the renewed threat of depeasantisation, as reflected first in the phenomenon of reverse tenancy. Now in the new millennium, lakhs of small peasants are reported to have abandoned agriculture.

While developed countries, after World War II, were on the course to capitalist mode of production, Independent India witnessed active promotion of the British policy of extensive peasantisation of agriculture by creation of “independent” peasant holdings, particularly after land reforms. The number of peasant holdings shot up from 67 million in 1931 (undivided India) to 81 million in 1976-77 and 119 million in 2000-01.

Peasantisation was basically promoted through institutional measures such as land ceiling, re-distribution of surplus land, nationalisation of banks, subsidised loans/inputs to agriculture, minimum support price, etc. While commercial banks always silently aspired to adhere to the principles of lending devised by the modern banking system compatible with capitalist production system, all banking agencies were paradoxically geared backwards to financing of subsistence agriculture.

The modern banking system, which evolved alongside capitalism with the establishment of Bank of England, is theoretically incompatible with subsistence farming. However, we tied the banking system with subsistence farming for 60 years! The result was that neither banks’ operations remained viable nor peasant farms.

Now globalisation is all set to overturn the existing economic structures. The spectre of depeasantisation is hovering all over the world. European countries are also beset with the problem of persistence of peasantry and are impatiently determined to attain a perfect state of capitalism. France, for example, is witnessing gradual depeasantisation since 1950s, which got accelerated after 1980s, as the number of peasant holdings came down from 20 million in 1952 to 10 million in 1982 and 7.5 million in 1992. The average size of holdings has risen to 100 acres. Depeasantisaton is evolving through vibrant agricultural land markets in Europe.

In developing countries like India, however, depeasantisation has taken abstract and less visible forms like reduction in average size of holdings, apportionment of holdings, unviable peasant farms, reverse tenancy, etc. rather than a more visible form of outright sales of land or complete dispossession of peasantry.

Nonetheless outright sales are also happening, particularly under Special Economic Zones. Simultaneously, corporate farming is thumping at the doors though old, independent, idyllic, pre-capitalist world of peasant agriculture is not inclined to change.

The corporate world has assessed a potential of US$500 billion investment in agribusiness in India for 10 years, of which US$25-30 billion is estimated for the next 3-4 years. Such massive centralisation of capital shall surely affect the life of peasantry.

Subsistence agriculture now cannot sustain peasantry. It must give way to a progressive socialised/ collective production system. At the same time, depeasantisation is also unpalatable. Corporate farming requires a reserve pool of landless agricultural labourers; so it will surely go for depeasantisation to happen.

The institutional set-up is at cross roads. It may ultimately align with corporate agribusiness. Even peasantry itself, in a desperate bid to survive, could decide to work out the chances of getting comfortably nestled in the world of capitalist agribusiness. But that is not a solution. The politics of survival is also not the solution.

From a wider social perspective, subsistence-type peasantisation and corporate-driven depeasantisation, both are retrogressive. Any way corporate agriculture does have a progressive feature, that is, its superiority of social/ collective production process vis-à-vis separated production processes of millions of autonomous Robinson Crusoe-type peasants.

The virtue of large-scale production is not about reaping the so-called “economies of scale” or growth and productivity; it is essentially about the need for association and collectivity per se in the production process.

The way ahead can be designed better. As an incentive, the peasantry needs to be convinced about collective association. Through awareness and education associations of peasants on production/ cultivation lines should be promoted as a bulwark against emerging large-scale corporate farms.

This would be like collective/cooperative farming on voluntary basis, as the concept of private landed property any way becomes obsolete with a paradigm shift in farming. Peasantry should not aspire for atomistic, separatist type survival strategies only. It primarily needs to think about collective progress; and social progress shall come only through uniting and collectivising at production level.

Cooperative banking, cooperative marketing, group banking developed thus far were all right, but more importantly cooperative farming has never been promoted. Although pilot experiments in consolidation and cooperative farming became failure under “half-hearted” land reforms in 1950s, there is no reason to say they would never succeed.

This is the ripe time to promote cooperative/collective farming. Peasant-type separated subsistence agriculture has no social relevance even if it manages to survive in the face of corporate farming. Corporate farming is not the infamous post-modernist “end of history”.n

The writer, an agricultural economist, is AGM (Economic Service), National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD) Head Office, Mumbai



Making FIR mandatory
Safeguards needed to check its misuse
by Hemant Kumar

The Union Home Ministry’s circular to all States/ UTs for treatment of all complaints to the police as First Information Reports (FIRs), if implemented without adequate safeguards, would be counter-productive. If every complaint is treated as an FIR, police stations would turn into complaint recording centres. Innocent people may be booked by those with ulterior motives.

The Centre has issued the circular in a hurry. Clearly, this won’t help change the colonial mindset of the policemen. The aggrieved are forced to approach top police officers and higher courts to get FIRs registered. This despite the Supreme Court’s directives for mandatory registration of FIRs by the police in respect of cognisable cases.

Currently, the apex court is seized of the issue regarding non-registration of FIRs by errant policemen. Earlier, a Bench consisting of Justice B.N. Agrawal (since retired) and Justice G.S. Singhvi, not only directed all the states and UTs to take steps for ensuring mandatory registration of FIRs by the police but also issued interim directions in case the policemen still refuse to lodge FIR. It ruled that complainants or victims could approach the concerned area magistrate for prompt help. Erring policemen should be sent to jail, tried for contempt of court and face departmental action, it ruled.

The interim direction brought relief for victims, but it was short-lived. The court was told that there have been conflicting decisions delivered by two Benches of the apex court in the past over whether the FIR should be registered straightaway or after conducting a preliminary inquiry. As vested interests could misuse the directive, a three-judge Bench headed by the CJI differed with it. The matter is in the process to adjudication.

Many a time, the apex court held that reliability or credibility of information is not a condition precedent for FIR registration. At the same time, the apex court and various high courts ruled that in appropriate cases, the police officer has a duty to make preliminary inquiry to find the veracity of the allegations in the complaints.

The Law Commission, in its 37th report (1967), examined the tendency of policemen in non-recording of FIRs for various excuses — demanding money, indulging in distorting facts to lessen the gravity of offence and introducing new facts in the complaint to implicate innocent persons. It recommended a Reporting Centre under the direct supervision of the Superintendent of Police in all districts to deal sternly with such tactics of errant policemen.

The First National Police Commission (1977) too examined the issue in its Fourth Report. Expressing concern over the policemen’s tendency to refuse registration of complaints on one pretext or the other, it recommended an important amendment to Section 154 Cr PC. This, it said, would make it incumbent on a police station to register an FIR whether or not the crime has taken place in its jurisdiction and then transfer the FIR to the police station concerned. The Supreme Court also held the same view in October 1999.

The Malimath Committee Report (2003) went a step further. It recommended compulsory registration of crime irrespective of whether it is a cognisable and non-cognisable offence in relation to the police power to investigate and making it obligatory on him to entertain complaints regarding commission of all offences. The police failure of compliance should attract punishment, it said.

A similar view has also been taken by the N.R. Madhav Menon Committee Report (2007). It advocated greater professionalism and accountability in crime investigation along with adequate infrastructural support and functional freedom.

Even if the Supreme Court issues stringent guidelines on mandatory registration of FIRs, to what extent these would be complied with? In the past, recalcitrant policemen have flouted its directions regarding arrests, handcuffing undertrials and custodial interrogation of the accused. No wonder, it took over a decade for the government to amend the Cr PC incorporating the apex court fiat in Joginder Kumar (1994) and D.K. Basu (1997) case. The guidelines to be followed while making arrests were notified recently.

There should be an unambiguous provision in the Cr PC providing for mandatory registration of FIR whether the offence is cognisable or not, albeit with suitable safeguards to curb frivolous complaints and check the policemen’s reluctance to register cases. Suitable amendments to State Police Rules regulating the functioning of police methodology are also needed. There ought to be provisions in the Cr PC and/or police rules for quashing an FIR by top police officers in case it is found to be fabricated or mischievous after investigation.

The existing practice of sending FIR copies to the SP and Area Magistrate should be modified – send them copies only after investigation. The complainant should be given a copy of the pre-investigation report. Online FIR registration can also be explored with suitable safeguards.

The states’ reluctance to implement the apex court’s fiat on police reforms is deplorable. What happened to the directives on separation of investigation from law and order duties of the police as well as establishment of an independent two-tier Police Complaints Authority for instituting and redressal of complaints/ grievances against errant policemen?

Though some states have enacted their own police statutes in tune with the apex court directives, they have succeeded in circumventing the mandatory guidelines. The Supreme Court is currently seized of the contempt proceedings regarding their half-hearted implementation. Unless efforts are stepped up for changing the working methodology of the police machinery, little will happen.

To begin with, the investigation machinery in the states needs a complete overhaul with well-equipped infrastructure, trained manpower and state-of-the art technology for effective results as recommended by the Second Administrative Reforms Commission in its Fifth Report, ‘Public Order’ (2007).
The need of the hour is a comprehensive review of the Criminal Procedure Code in consonance with the present-day needs and challenges. Some time back, the Department-related Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Affairs echoed similar views on bringing a comprehensive Bill for revamping the criminal justice system. Clearly, piecemeal amendments in criminal law at periodic intervals won’t help stem the rot.

The writer is Advocate, Punjab and Haryana High Court, Chandigarh



On Record
Indian art auction braved recession: Vazirani
by Shiv Kumar

Dinesh Vazirani
Dinesh Vazirani

Bidding for artworks has evolved from buyers physically thronging auctioneers premises to bidding for masterpieces online. Saffronart, which calls itself the world’s largest online auction house, hit the headlines when it sold an untitled painting by Manjit Bawa for a record Rs 1.7 crore.

The winter auction netted Rs 20 crore in sales, a record. CEO of Saffronart, Dinesh Vazirani speaks to The Tribune in Mumbai on the company’s future plans.


Q: Has the ongoing recession hit online auctions of works of art?

A: The recession has definitely had a major effect on the global economy. India, however, has been successful in bucking the trend of the global meltdown. Indian art was one of the sectors to have braved and withstood the onslaught of the economic recession.

The Manjit Bawa painting that was sold for the record price was an exceptionally large painting with excellent provenance and so had multiple bidders bidding for it. In short, in a recession, the aptitude to buy art at high prices becomes less but works of proven provenance in excellent conditions will still find many art lovers.

Q: Were the auctions restricted to buyers in India?

A: A majority of buyers at Saffronart’s auctions are international buyers spread all over the world. Our Winter Art Auction attracted buyers from 30 countries with over 60 per cent buyers from outside India. This is the result of the confidence in the Indian art market and its masters.

Q: The third quarter of a year is usually very weak globally. But Saffronart seems to have bucked the trend.

A: Yes, we are very fortunate to have been able to buck the trend of the recession. I would say it was just the nature of time and people have become more acceptable to recession. The Indian stock markets were the first to rebound at the sight of recovery from recession.

Q: What has been your experience about the Indian art mart?

A: Since we started our journey in 2000, the Indian art market has undergone a lot of transformation. It has broadened its scope along with the increase in the number of people interested in art in India and, of course, the value put to art works has also risen manifold. There is clearly a shift in the understanding of Indian art as well with many investors and art lovers considering Indian Art as a valuable investment.

Q: Where do you see the Indian art market in the next 10 years?

A: The future looks bright and promising. The Indian art market has grown exponentially. Indian art is here to stay for years to come. People will always need paintings in their houses.

Q: Do people who buy art online or through cell phones see the paintings before they buy?

A: As markets mature, the need for people to indulge and invest in art becomes more profound. We had a lot of prospective buyers accessing the auction through their mobiles. This adds a new level of convenience and flexibility.

Q: What about your online auction catalogue?

A: All the works on offer at Saffronart’s auctions are displayed in two spaces. Physical works from India are on display at the Saffronart gallery in Mumbai and the works from abroad are on display in New York.

Q: When is the next online auction?

A: It is in March 2010. Featuring a mix of artworks from masters of contemporary and modern Indian art, the auction will have about 100 high quality works on offer. Some of the most prominent names from the auction will be S.H. Raza, Akbar Padamsee and F.N.Souza.n



Alkazi: A theatre personality of distinction
by Harihar Swarup

Recipient of the Padma Vibhushan, the second highest civilian honour, Ebrahim Alkazi is 85. In his light purple shirt, immaculately ironed pants, glasses perched on the tip of his nose and a small notebook in his hands, he walks with a barely noticeable stoop.

Alkazi has always been a stickler for punctuality. His age notwithstanding, he comes to his office in Delhi’s Art Heritage Gallery in Trivani Kala Sangham at 11 a.m. every day. Before driving to Kala Sanghan, he spends an hour at the Alkazi Foundation in Greater Kailash-II.

Alkazi is a renowned Indian theatre director who founded the premier theatre training institute, Delhi’s National Institute of Drama. He is credited with training many well known film and theatre personalities and they include Om Shiv Puri, Naseeruddin Shan, Manohar Singh, Uttara Baokar, Om Puri, Jayadev and Rohini Hattangadi.

He has also directed over 50 plays, including famous productions of Girish Karnard’s Tuglaq, Mohan Rakesh’s Ashadh Ka Ek Din and Dharamvir Bharati’s Andha Yug.

As the director of the National School of Drama, Alkazi revolutionised the Hindi theatre by the magnificence of his vision and meticulousness of technical discipline.

Alkazi spent his childhood in Bombay and Pune. He vividly remembers Bombay’s vibrant cultural scenes in the 1950s. It was unimpressive when he moved to Delhi in the early 1960s to help set up a National School of Drama.

He was quoted as saying Delhi was an unsettling place in 1962 – “ a peculiar, retarded, feudal world; like a village when compared to Bombay”.

Kailash Colony, where he set up his team’s base in a shabby building owned by tent-wallahs, was far out of the way that no cab would go there.

His first experience in the National Capital was rather repulsive; two men hoisting a dead donkey onto a scooter by the side of the road. There was an open space behind the tent-wallah’s house. Alkazi and his teammates picked up stones and built a little makeshift stage there, lined with cow-dung and put a thatched roof overhead. Later, they moved to a more sophisticated venue – the Rabindra Bhavan building.

The breakthrough came one fine evening at Ferozshah Kotla ground where he staged Andha Yug, a powerful drama set in the immediate aftermath of the Mahabharata War. Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru came to watch the play. While appreciating the play, an extremely successful performance, Nehru warned Alkazi to watch out for snakes when he staged in old monuments. Later, rehearsing at Purana Qila, Alkazi found that Nehru was right — there were indeed snakes around.

Apart from theatre, another area of Alkazi’s interest has been the collection of photographs. He must be having 85,000-plus vintage pictures that make his collection. Among them is Vijayanagara: Splendour in Ruins, a book featuring the 19th century photographs of the ruins of the Vijayanagar empire. He also possesses an elegantly produced book, titled – Lucknow: The City of Illusions – from the time of the 1857 mutiny.

Alkazi’s wife, Roshan Alkazi, has been actively associated with her husband’s work in Bombay and Delhi, designing costumes in more than 70 productions for the theatre group. Roshan is one of the few Indian costumers for whom the art is a serious, passionate venture. Bombay-born Roshan studied costume at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Alkazi’s students say, they used to rehearse at Mandi House everyday from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. He would come at 2.45 p.m. sharp and send his driver back home with the car. Later at 9 p.m, he would hire a taxi to go home, dropping two students on his way.

When someone asked him when he owned a car and paying the driver so well, why can’t the driver wait for him, Alkazi’s reply was: he would be working but what the driver would do for six hours. Let him go home and spend time with his family.

Alkazi’s father was an Arab. He was an orphan and sent to India from Saudi Arabia to study trade. Alkazi received his first lesson at a little library built by his father at home. It included a 20-volume set of the Book of Knowledge which turned out to be Bible to Alkazi and many members of his family.



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