Some grain, some pain
In the backdrop of fiscal liabilities and lifestyle changes, Baisakhi festivities in
the region have a different flavour now, writes Sarbjit Dhaliwal
The harvest festival of Baisakhi brings a golden glow to the fields and spells bounty
Photo: Pawan Sharma
having a religious significance, the Baisakhi festival, that falls on
April 13, is closely associated with the farming community in North
India, especially in the states of Punjab and Haryana. It is an
integral part of the culture of this agriculturally rich region
because it coincides with the onset of the harvesting of rabi crops
such as wheat, a staple of Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh.
That is why it is also called the harvest festival.
Of late, however,
Baisakhi, which used to be an occasion for fun and frolic and was
celebrated with great vigour, has been losing its charm. Revelry and
the rhythm of bhangra and giddha were associated with it. That is no
longer the case. Actually, over the years, the character of Baisakhi
has changed tremendously. The shift has a lot to do with the
fast-changing lifestyles and pattern of agriculture in the region.
Advanced technology, in the form of combine harvesters and other farm machinery, has not only enhanced productivity but also the
debt burden of farmers Photo: Malkiat Singh
Earlier, such festivals
were a pretext to hold celebrations, have some fun and enjoy life. As
people in the rural areas had to manually do all the
agriculture-related jobs, which were highly labour-intensive, they did
not have much time for merry making. Most of the time was spent in the
fields. There was no television or other means of entertainment in the
countryside. Most of the villages were without electricity till the
Cinema houses were also
confined to big towns and cities. There was no proper connectivity of
the rural areas with the urban centres. The rural road network was
created only four decades ago and it facilitated the introduction of a
public transport system in the countryside.
To make their insipid
life a bit colourful, people had invented their own ways to have fun
at the local level. Wrestling and kabaddi tournaments turned into big
sporting events. People used to wait eagerly for festivals such as
Baisakhi, Hola Mohalla and Maghi to move out from their rural
confines, to congregate at Talwandi Sabo for Baisakhi, at Anandpur
Sahib for Hola Mohalla, and at Muktsar for Maghi Mela. In the absence
of transport facilities, people used to go to attend such festivals,
lasting three days or even more, either on foot or cycle, which
remained the best mode of transport till the 1970s for the rural
The study by
economist H. S. Shergill for the Institute of Development and
Communication has found that the per farm household debt has
risen three times in the past 10 years. It was Rs 52,000 per
household in 1997 and it went up to Rs 1.39 lakh in 2008. He has
concluded that the per acre debt has more than doubled from Rs
5721 to Rs 13,062 in the past 10 years. More than 70 per cent
farm households are under debt. And 17 per cent of them are
virtually in a debt trap.
The outstanding debt
component has increased at a faster rate (14.13 per cent per
year) than the total farm debt (8.81 per cent per year) over
this period, according to Shergill. He says that when compared
to income generated from the farms, the debt amount has
increased from 68 per cent in 1997 to 84 per cent in 2008. Then,
as a proportion of the value of machinery owned by Punjab
farmers, the debt amount has gone up from 15 per cent in 1997 to
53 per cent in 2008.
Despite the steep
rise in farm prices in the state, the amount of farm debt is now
(2008) equal to 4 per cent of the total value of farmland in the
state, compared to 3 per cent in 1997.
non-productive use of loans, Shergill has revealed that the
northern Malwa farmers took the highest amount of non-productive
loans for reasons such as house construction and repair (44.38
per cent of total amount), marriages and social ceremonies
(41.41 per cent of total), and purchase of durable consumer
goods (25.41 per cent of total). The main sources of these loans
were: commission agents and moneylenders (54.48 per cent of
total amount) and commercial banks (28.96 per cent of total).
The share of Cooperative Credit Institutions in non-productive
long-term loans was rather small, being only 3.36 per cent. —SD
But all that has changed
now. Agriculture has been fully mechanised in Punjab and Haryana. Even
small farmers use machines to sow and reap their crops. The process of
harvesting and threshing has been reduced to just two or three days
and, in some cases, even to a few hours. Gone are the days when
farmers used to spend at least one month to first harvest and then
gather the grains from their fields. The entire process was, by and
large, manual. Most of the local farmers have now stopped working in
the fields themselves. They engage migrant labour for handling
With the introduction of
new technologies and hybrid seeds, the production level in the
agricultural sector has gone up but the input cost has also risen
Sukhpal Singh Bhullar, a
progressive farmer from Ghuman village, near Mansa, says it is true
that with the introduction of new technology the production level has
gone up in the farm sector, but it has also enhanced the debt burden
of farmers. There are about five lakh tractors in the state and about
13 lakh tubewells. Farmers have made a huge investment in agricultural
implements. He says the new generation of farmers is fast learning the
proper use of machinery. Agricultural cooperative societies, which
were playing a useful role by renting out farm machinery in the Doaba
area and some parts of Malwa to the farmers, should be persuaded to
follow the same pattern in other parts of the state. That would save
small and marginal farmers from buying farm machinery individually and
incurring an unnecessary loan burden.
`A0Due to the high input
cost, agriculture has become unviable for small and marginal farmers.
They have come under heavy debt. It has resulted in a serious crisis
in the farm sector. Festivals such as Baisakhi no longer bring cheer
to farmers, who are reeling under the burden of institutional and
Eminent economist Prof
H. S. Shergill, who conducted a study twice — first in 1997 and the
second in 2009 — with regard to farmers’ debt in Punjab on behalf
of the Institute of Development and Communication (IDC), has revealed
that the debt liability on farmers has gone up to Rs 30,394 crore now.
It was Rs 5700 crore in 1997.
Commenting on the
lifestyle changes, Dr P. S. Rangi, a reputed agricultural economist,
says that traditional melas such as Baisakhi started losing sheen
after this region ushered in the green revolution in the late 1960s.
For people, such melas became a source of momentary entertainment.
Their focus started turning to scientific events such as the kisan
melas organised by Punjab Agricultural University.
"With the economic
and social development of the people, the changes in their lifestyles
and traditional cultural activities were bound to happen," he
adds. Whereas earlier people used to spend 2-3 days at such festivals,
now they spend just a few hours".
alternatives are available for having fun and merry making. With the
spread of cable networks to the countryside, television watching has
become available to rural people round the clock. Owing to linking of
all rural areas with urban areas through a road network, the
connectivity of people has gone up in a big way. As a lot of fun and
entertainment is available in day-to-day life, festivals such as
Baisakhi have lost their community appeal.
Commenting on the
cultural change in the celebrations, Gurbhajan Gill, an eminent
Punjabi writer, says that life has become too individualistic in
recent times and living in a commune form has almost disappeared. That
process has also affected festivals such as Baisakhi. Moreover, today
everything has become market-oriented. Life has become a race full of
tension and devoid of internal peace and tranquillity and the simple
festivites of yore have been replaced by making merry in a hurry.
Baisakhi — the
festival marking the beginning of the solar year, the arrival of
the fresh rabi crop besides and commemorating the creation of
the Khalsa Panth by the 10th Sikh Guru Gobind Singh in 1699 —
is celebrated all over the country even as it holds greater
significance in the North, especially in Punjab, Haryana and
People from far and near congregate at the Baisakhi celebrations at Takht Damdama Sahib, Talwandi Sabo
Though Baisakhi is
celebrated in every nook and corner by the people of Punjab,
particularly the farmers, who start harvesting their bumber crop
to the peppy rhythm of bhangra and giddha, the epicentre of the
festivities remain the two cities of Amritsar and Anandpur
Guru Gobind Singh
had baptised the five Sikhs or Panj Piaras on this historic day
in 1699 at Kesgarh Sahib, Anandpur Sahib, by first making them
partake of amrit and then taking it himself. The auspicious day
is also celebrated in neighbouring countries like Nepal and
Pakistan, and other parts of India, as Rongali Bihu in Assam,
Naba Barsha in Bengal, Puthandu in Tamil Nadu, Pooram Vishu in
Kerala and Vaishakha in Bihar.
Like Divali, the
Baisakhi of Amritsar, too, has turned into a world-famous event,
owing largely to the exuberance of the people who descend on the
holy city in hordes, dressed in colourful attire, and head for
the Golden Temple.
pervades the air as men, womenfolk and children throng the
shrine since early morning and take a dip in the holy sarovar
while hymns are recited by paathis in the bedecked
sanctum sanctorum. The importance of the day is also explained
after the ardas at the sanctum sanctorum even as devotees
bow their heads at Akal Takht also.
Nihangs in full regalia
Photos: Malkiat Singh
Keeping in view
the religious importance of the day, devout Sikhs prefer to get
baptised at the Golden Temple. Those who cannot make it there
get baptised at nearby gurdwaras.
Fun and frolic
fill the entire holy city as visiting devotees and residents
savour snacks and other delicacies like jalebis, sat puras and
samosa-kachoris to have a feel of ethnic Punjabi
delicacies. This centuries’ old tradition has hardly witnessed
any change as far as celebrations are concerned.
It is a different
matter that the festivities have now got confined to the rural
areas and small towns of the region and technology has brought
drastic changes to the golden wheat-laden fields. Combine
harvesters now rule the roost in wheat fields and have made
manual harvesting a thing of the past. However, the farmers of
Majha and some other parts of Punjab still buy new sickles on
this day as part of the long-held tradition of manual
Baisakhi is also
considered auspicious in Tarn Taran. People from far-off places
not only come to pay obeisance at the Darbar Sahib gurdwara in
Tarn Taran but also herd their cattle up to the shrine’s
boundary wall. After getting a dip in the holy pond, they
sprinkle water taken from the holy pond of the gurdwara on their
animals in the belief that their livestock remain free from
disease. Similarly, a large number of people from the Malwa,
Majha and Doaba areas bathe in the Sutlej and Beas, particularly
at their confluence near Harike, as they consider these rivers
to be holy entities.
"In fact, the
happiness of farmers almost resembles that of a husband at the
sight of his new bride as fresh crop starts pouring in from the
fields, giving the first sign of a bountiful and blissful year
ahead," says Surinder Singh, a farmer of Tarn Taran.
The Hindu Goddess,
Jwalamukhi, is also worshipped on this day. Devotees throng her
temple at Jwalamukhi in Himachal Pradesh.
On a different
note, people also pay homage to those who had sacrificed their
lives for the country in the Jallianwala massacre, wherein the
British soldiers in India had killed 379 persons and injured
hundreds by opening fire at innocent men, women and children on
April 13, 1919.
People wake up
early and take a dip in holy rivers or ponds before getting
attired in their best of clothes and break into bhangra and
giddha, generally to the tune of the popular Mohammed Rafi
number, "Jatta Aai Baisakhi". Langars (community
kitchens) dot gurdwaras, temples and other religious places.