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Questions to Nandri Ketta, Maanam Ketta Tamil Farmers

March 22, 2017

My idea is not to sound offensive. I hold nothing against sincere hardworking farmers. But have a lot of peeve against those Tamil farmers who have sold their pride and profession for a few bread crumbs from successive Dravidian governments.

Pictures from Tamil Nadu Agriculture scene:*

Normally I never use abusive language. But of late, in my blogs and in comments I have this urge to bash up media and politicians. I can’t believe I have become so vocal these days – though only in print. The verbal attacks give me a strange satisfaction as they help me express my pent up anger and frustration for all things going wrong around me.

Vetri was only a fifteen year old lad working for a mechanic shed in my next street when I returned from Malaysia in 2001. He was working as apprentice with his uncle, having dropped out of school after class 10. He not only serviced our car but also doubled up as my part-time driver and ran errands for me.

Hailing from Tiruvallur in the outskirts of Madras, the journey of Vetri until today is very impressive. The hardworking boy decided to learn some trade as income from his family agricultural farm started dwindling during his teens. His uncle offered hope. The boy started from home everyday by 5 am catching the first express train that stopped at Tiruvallur junction before its final destination Chennai Central. From Central, the boy would have to walk to Park station to take the local suburban to disembark at Nungambakkam railway station (yes, the same one that got infamous with Swathi murder case only last year) which is walking distance from our place. So, switching 2 trains Vetri would reach our street by not later than 8 am everyday. Rain or shine, nothing deterred him. That is not all. The key to the car mechanic shed was always with him and it was he who opened their shutters all 7 days of the week. With him he brought 2 lunch boxes packed by his farm worker mother – one for breakfast and one for lunch. The neighbourhood aunties supplied him perennially with tea and coffee looking at the way he worked. Vetri returned their favour by helping them out with their grocery shopping. His toilet was the corporation office one just opposite their shed.

Vetri’s uncle invariably would turn up at 11 am and leave by 4 pm. In sundays he wouldn’t even make an appearance. After him Vetri would down the shutters by 7 pm on weekdays and go home by 10 pm. From Tiruvallur railway station, his village lay a good 7 km afar. First few years he walked the distance in the dark, later he got himself a bicycle that he parked in the station. Finally after nearly 15 years of hard work, he got his own motorbike after a road was laid to his native village by the government. (I think Vetri’s story merits a separate write-up 😀 )

‘Why do you have to struggle like this? Why couldn’t you do farming?’ I have asked him many times. The lands held by his family for generations were fertile and suitable for paddy. His parents cultivated pulses in rotation. They still worked the farm that were beginning to yield less and less with progressive years. The pump-set water was no use. Insufficient mostly.  The small rivers and lakes were drying up. The field hands were very less in number and asked for exorbitant wages. It was no more profitable to hire farm help. Vetri needed to work outside to supplement the family income. But city life was expensive. So he decided to commute to and from Tiruvallur instead of moving over to Chennai.

8-10 years back he said, their land was finally lying vacant with no cultivation for the very first time in his memory. No more crops. No seeding done in the season, so no harvest. He said, it broke his heart to see their agricultural holding lying barren without standing crops. The family had to BUY rice for Pongal, another sad first. It was an emotional issue for them. Tamil farmers used to feel shame once upon a time for buying rice with money. Rural families always had sacs of rice and pulses and other stacked in the barns or in their home assuring them of hunger-free life always. Vegetables and oil from coconut trees etc., supplemented the food grains stock. Villagers used cold pressed cooking oil – gingely oil, coconut oil, groundnut oil etc., never paid for their meals. Restaurant food was unheard of and was thought to be a degenerate thing. Now it is a sad spectacle to see ceylon parotta (parathas) and tea wrecking havoc to the rural Tamil villagers’ health.

‘What happened?’ I asked Vetri. For 4-5 years in between the monsoons hadn’t failed as they sometimes do and Tamil Nadu water resources were sustaining the summers. Cauvery delta farmers had some complaints but Tiruvallur belt was managing admirably well. Vetri said, ‘Don’t you know Akka? Now the Minimum Employment Guarantee Scheme’ (MNREGA) is implemented by Sonia Gandhi in center and Karunanidhi in the State. Farmers get paid 40 rupees per day for 90 days an year whether they have work or not. So no body is turning up for work. We are too poor to hire tractors. Farming has come to complete standstill in my district. All of us are making housing plots out of our land holdings and selling them to real estate agents.’

The DMK family reportedly owns a 2000 acre farm plot in Tiruvallur as per the boy who has no reason to lie. When the river beds and lake bed dried up, some ‘vultures’ encroached upon the shrunken water bodies converting them into housing plots with or without approval, legally or illegally, selling them like hotcakes. Real estate prices zoomed in Tiruvallur – now nothing is left to buy or sell.

I felt a heaviness in my heart hearing what Vetri had to say. Ever since, their family is not farming. Vetri got married and now has 2 kids. His family land in the meanwhile stays idle. He has become a full time car driver in the city now as the mechanic shed closed and his uncle retired. Even today he comes home and drives for me if I ask. Unlike others, atleast he has not disposed off his farmlands. One day he hopes to return to farming.


Radha’s family is from Thakkolam, diagonal to Sriperumbudur and Kanchipuram. Radha was an illiterate farm hand who worked in their own ‘kazhani’ (agricultural) lands before her parents married her off at the age of 18. The family was cultivating paddy in their 1 acre land even until 10-15 years back.

‘Vaanam paartha bhoomi’ they say in Tamil referring to farms looking upto skies for monsoons for agriculture. Crops vary as per season. Small streams and seasonal non-perennial rivers watered these parts but the last time the villagers saw water in them was over 15 years ago.

In little over a decade, what happened to Vetri’s farm also happened with the girl’s family land. River bed and lake bed dried up. Encroachments followed around the bunds blocking any water accrual in the water bodies. The lakes and river course also turned into waste disposal grounds. Factories sprung up close by luring semi-skilled young men and women who had dropped out of high school, to industrial work. These factories emptied their effluents into whatever little water collected in lakes and ponds overgrown with weeds, after weak monsoons if any. No money with Radha’s parents to hire a tractor or dig up a bore well in any case. They were hiring part-time labourers mostly to work besides them in their farm. Then came the Rajiv Gandhi rural employment guarantee scheme of Sonia Gandhi (MNREGA).  The youth fancied the glamour of plastic factories.  Who wants to toil in dirty soil for 8 hours a day when you could work in air-conditioned comforts dressed nice?

The girl’s father left agriculture after he signed up for MNREGA. He and his wife were asked to be present for roll call and thumb impression and paid 40 bucks a day for 90 days an year – without lifting their fingers to work. Combine with that the freebies that the welfare state of Tamil Nadu doled out. There was no special incentive for hard work – no reason at all to work. The family had history of cooperative bank loans going unpaid owing to failed monsoons that was a great dampener. In a country where Vijay Mallyas can be awarded discreet pardon and write-off, banks are unreasonably merciless when it comes to small and marginal farmers. Those who commit suicide are those that are still left with residues of pride and self-respect, a rarity to find in Tamil Nadu presently.

Within 2-3 years, the once hardworking farmer, Radha’s father, who had ceaselessly and tirelessly toiled in farm soil and worked the bulls for ploughing harvesting rich dividends from paddy and planting peanuts and chillies in off-season, became an alcoholic. Cattle sold, poultry forgotten the family wholly were enslaved to the family Ration Card in no time, something that never mattered to them until then. Radha’s father eventually died from too much liquor consumption, with his liver corrupted. His wife who is over 60 now works as dish washer in a local highway restaurant. After switching to rice food and sweets that came free with hotel work, the woman has now turned diabetic. I advise her to go back to their staple food of millets but she says, that costs money. ‘Nobody wants to work farms these days’ says she. ‘Find a good buyer for my farmlands. Even you can take. You can afford it. Please help me settle my family estate with my children when I am still alive. After my time, I don’t want them to fight for their shares’ she pleaded with me the last time I met her. Their two sons are now working in ‘factories’ holding ‘decent jobs’ that the woman is proud of. I did not know what to say. ‘After leaving agriculture, we are prosperous. Why should we go back to it now. If I get too old to work, I will still get benefits under one scheme or other to survive. Ration ‘soru’ irukku (ration (shop) (free) rice is there (anyway)’ says the woman matter-of-factly.


Tamil Nadu on the east Coromandel coast of India, is monsoon dependent like any other state of the country. Except for a handful of non-perennial seasonal rivulets that dry up quick after the monsoon spells, no other big, perennial rivers that flow through the state have origins within the state.

The classic cases are Palar that originates in Andhra Pradesh, Mullai Periyar from Kerala and ofcourse the lifeline of the ‘rice bowl of Tamil Nadu – Tanjore’ – Cauvery aka Kaveri in Karnataka. Palar waters the northern Tamil Nad parts, Mullai Periyar empties into Arabian sea that farmers in western districts like Theni are dependent on, while Cauvery, considered as sacred in the south as Ganga is in the north, after snaking through the fertile Thanjavur agricultural lands, meets the Bay of Bengal in the delta of Kaveripoompattinam, the historic city from epic ‘Silapathikaaram’ , the 3rd BC Tamil literature from Sangam period.

‘Maadham mummari peyyum mazhai’ says Tamil Literature evidencing how it used to rain in Tamil Nad thrice a month in the Sangam era. Hmmmm…. I recollect beautiful monsoons, lo…ng monsoons spells myself, in my growing up years. Once upon a time very fertile bhoomi, Tamil Nadu is presently facing severe drought, with rivers running dry and ground water depleting to alarming low depths or turning saline if not polluted/contaminated.

Heavy industrialization, global warming, rising temperatures, pollution – a variety of reasons to cite for the present state of affairs in the state. Add to that Karvelam trees conveniently blamed for human errors.

What a Tamil farmer does not want to be reminded of is, how somewhere along the line he lost his principles and self respect and became lazy, happy to subsist as a lowly creature devoid of any shame so long as the hand-outs kept coming from the government Khazana directly to his home and hearth. 40 rupees per day was more than enough when paid for 90 days an year. Tasmac rum didn’t cost much. The boys who were school drop-outs would find factory work anyway. No need to let them learn any skill as apprentice. Why cultivate agricultural lands when governments gives you a free booty of 20 kg rice every month.

I am not talking about all farmers, but this is true of at least a good majority of them around Tiruvallur, Kanchipuram, Vellore districts. The two cases I have mentioned here are real life stories, not a figment of my imagination. I have changed the names, that is all.

The Tanjore delta farmers make for a far more important case. Thanjavur, is after all,touted to be the ‘rice bowl of Tamil Nadu.’ Even in foreign countries I am seeing how the Tanjore Ponni is most sought after in grocery sections. Indian rice and wheat and pulse varieties along with fruits, vegetables, spices and other edibles like coconut are most sought after. We don’t have to advertise. Even our enemies go for our produce only.

Thanjavur district is watered by river Kaveri. I have had a darshan of river Kaveri right at its origin near Coorg in Karnataka. With reverence, we thanked Kaveri matha for our food and performed a puja asking Her to always be graceful to us with Her blessings. For centuries Kaveri aka Cauvery is the reason we have food in our plates.

However Kaveri is also the bone of contention between the two southern states of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. Kaveri originates in Karnataka but flows mostly through Tamil Nadu plains to mingle with the sea at South Tamil Nadu. In Her course She sustains and enriches so many lives that it is not strange that we Indians/Hindus enshrine rivers, our lifeline, as Mother Goddesses.

While at Thalai Kaveri, the origin of river Cauvery, I was in for a deep disappointment. It was only January then but even so, the water at the origin was too very low. The river bubbled out from somewhere deep down and the force was mute. The exact point where river Cauvery gushes to surface is preserved and is a very sacred place for Hindu devotees as Gangotri is for Ganga and Prayag is for all three rivers that confluence, Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswathi (as per Hindu beliefs). There is a Prayag in the south too. It was not even summer and what struck me then was how the rivers looked nonchalant and not frothy as they were supposed to be, where they spring from. In other words, water levels were running low. There didn’t seem to be enough water for Karnataka right at that point. How can one even think about Tamil Nadu.

In a stroke I understood Karnataka’s position. In years when there may be abundance of monsoons, Karnataka never refuses Tamil Nadu our quota of water. There are dams in Karnataka restricting Kaveri water and the same is released to Tamil Nadu as per court ruling in lean years when water becomes precious commodity. The truth is, they have no option.

The same may apply to even Palar in Andhra. If there is more water, our neighbouring states never bicker about water. In fact, Krishna river water from Andhra Pradesh has been a blessing to Chennaiites thanks to Satya Sai Baba of Puttabarthi – not Karunanidhi.  It is in dry spells when their own farmers may be in quandary, the state governments take up their cudgels for local farmers.

Having traveled in hinterland of Karnataka that are golden in soil and crop yield, it was easy for me to see how water was a big issue not only in Tamil Nadu but also in Karnataka. To unilaterally blame Karnataka for damming water and leaving us with little water is wrong. If they have water in abundance, they will share. I deplore strongly the violence unleashed by Kannada activists about SC ruling on Cauvery Water Sharing but the incident is also a reflection of how volatile and sensitive the situation is at their end. Why should their state government want to leave their local farmers in lurch? Unlike successive state governments in Tamil Nadu, Karnataka governments have been more responsible and responding to pressing issues of their residents.

But the desperation of Tamil farmer is of no less consequence. In years of bountiful monsoons, neither does the Tamil farmer complain.

Tamil Nadu boasts of numerous reservoir-dams from Kamaraj period. I just checked out a couple of them. The Grand Anicut dam or “Kallanai’ in Tamil (meaning the stone dam) along Kaveri was built by Chola King Karikala in 1st century AD, being the oldest one in the country and probably in entire old. It stands good until today, having had a slight touch-up in the 19th century from the British.

The Poondy Reservoir near Chennai and a few more were built in British era. After independence more than a dozen important dams and reservoirs were erected by Congress chief minister Kamaraj – from Bhavani Sagar to Saathanur that are the reason Tamil Nadu is even today a leading agricultural state and one of world’s top rice producer. Ever since the Dravidian parties took over, we draw a BLANK when it comes to irrigation projects and water conservation in Tamil Nadu.

The least the successive ADMK/DMK governments could have done is maintaining the water canals, weeding out the water bases like lakes, rivers, tanks and ponds and keeping them ready for monsoons. The 2015 Monsoon was a man-made disaster in Chennai because our governments failed for a straight 30 years plus in maintaining our water bodies. Not stopping with that, the dried up water bodies were plotted out and sold to real estate developers. What little water is collecting in our water bodies turn highly polluted and contaminated with garbage heaps getting thrown into them and the effluents being emptied into them from factories especially the leather and dying units. The water bodies are already much shrunken in sizes thanks to relentless illegal encroachments.  It will take volumes to fill what happened to the many water bodies in and around not just Chennai but also throughout Tamil Nadu where many a private engineering university to posh residential school and five star farm house have sprung up in last three decades: with the result, no place for the excess rains to run through their course to sea. Very recently there was a report on how the Velammal group of institutions had plotted and encroached upon the Chembarambakkam lake.

Another critical concern is failed monsoons which is happening every other year in recent times due to El Nino effect. With overgrown weeds clogging our water ways that have also become unofficial sewerage mostly for disposing of the waste and effluents from cottage industries and small factories, the unprepared water bodies of the state are in no condition to soak and retain rain water. Evaporation happens too very fast and drought sets in even in years of good monsoons.

For the kind of marathon rainfall in Chennai and Tamil Nadu in general as recorded in 2015, we must not be requiring water assistance for farming as well as potable purposes for atleast three straight years, but where are we today.

Water conservation was enforced by Jayalalitha Jayaram, the state CM when she assumed office after winning the 2001 state assembly elections. Rain Water Harvesting resulted in the water table improving in the capital as well as around the state in her period. Temple tanks were religiously (pun intended) spruced up that helped with sustaining the ground water table in villages, towns and cities.

Small as they may be, the temple tanks are still important in maintaining balance and are chief sources of water collection and retention during monsoons. The ex-chief minister restored them weeding them out routinely during her tenures which is the reason that ground water table is decent even today in many Tamil Nad temple towns and cities.

Jayalalitha Jayaram also won for Tamil Nadu the court case for sharing of Cauvery Waters that was before a special tribunal, fighting for Tamil farmers to the finish in the Supreme Court, New Delhi. It is very heartening to know that the verdict, whether enforced or not, came in her lifetime.

Not only was Tamil Nadu facing the heat (literally) from Karnataka side but also from Kerala side, with Kerala taking Tamil Nadu to court. One more Supreme Court case was relentlessly pursued by the courageous lioness chief minister of Tamil Nadu Jayalalitha Jayaram to complete victory. Farmers in fact felicitated her for her feat.

Indiscriminate and illegal sand mining poses another grave risk to Cauuvery river basin:

The sand mafias have destroyed whatever little remains of Cauvery. The sand mafias are none other than DMK/ADMK elements.


M Karunanidhi was DMK chief minister for Tamil Nadu for nearly 5 terms as well. In 2006 when DMK won the state assembly elections, the government at the center was DMK’s ally Congress with whom DMK had seat sharing and even cabinet sharing agreement. DMK had full fledged cabinet and state rank ministers and MPs in the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha to push through any ambitious agenda in Delhi – if they had so wished.

In the same period, Kerala state government was  NOT communist but Congress, again an ally. Karnataka state government was also Congress for sometime.

So conditions were very favourable for Tamil Nadu, had Karunanidhi had good intentions. But did he harbour any?

Never did he pursue either the Cauvery issue or the Mullai Periyar matter with the central government that was Congress who were his allies or with the respective state governments. Karunanidhi deliberately stalled the critical water issue that was a ‘do or die’ matter for Tamil farmers, leaving it hanging for Jayalalitha to pick up.

She did, and the way she did!

Never once did the Tamil Nadu farmers stage a protest in front of DMK office for inaction by Karunanidhi and his party which had a solid and strong representation in both the upper and lower houses of parliament with allies at the center from 2006 – 2011, when it came to moving Cauvery or Mullai Periyar matters. The DMK family was in fact very ‘involved’ with committing 2G scam – as Kanimozhi and her live-in partner M Raja later were taken into judicial custody for mindboggling corruption to the tune of rupees 176000 crores which is still lost to government of India and honest tax paying citizens of the country. 

Through all this time up until 2014, the government at the center has been Congress, not BJP. BJP hardly has won a single or two seats be it in Lok Sabha or State Assembly elections in Tamil Nadu even if their voter base has been consistently improving over years. BJP has had no role to play in any of these schemes concerning either Tamil Nadu or Kerala or even Karnataka to some extent (where they have been reigning in power in alternate terms with Congress). So in what way do the Tamil farmers think that the present BJP government should heed to their grievances?


Go shameless Tamil farmers, go and stand nude in front of DMK office for their never weeding out your rivers, your water canals, for plotting your farm lands and selling them to real estate. Do a dharna before DMK and the hospital where Karunanidhi is in coma for the injustice he did to you. Puke the free ration rice 20 kg you shamelessly fed your family with. Puke the Tasmac liquor you emptied night after night. Burn the notes you earned without working for them every single day, affixing your thumb in registers to avail pittance from Minimum Employment Guaranty Scheme implemented by Congress-DMK UPA alliance ruining your lives. Why are you going to Delhi.

Who stopped you from protesting before DMK even ADMK governments and ministers and councilors when they failed in their duty? How much did you take from them to vote for their political candidates? 1000 rupees, 2000 rupees? Biryani parcel?

Why should BBC cover you? They do because they want to weaken the strong government in India which is their international and intelligence polity, not because they sympathize with you.

35 years you voted for DMK/ADMK, never bothered to question them, took the freebies shamelessly and lost your voice to demand them justice, and now you are going all the way to Delhi?

Passing the buck is so easy. Laying down your responsibilities, shifting the blame is too simple. So that is what you are doing. Publicity stunt. There is no connection whatsoever with BJP and center today with what is happening in Tamil Nadu.

From 2002-2005, I have also lived intermittently in Andhra Pradesh. Chief Minister Naidu had just lost the state assembly elections that coincided with Lok Sabha elections in the year 2004. But before him and after him I have seen with my own eyes, how many earthen lakes and ponds and tanks the administration had created in plains of Andhra Pradesh even if they had long, fertile rivers like Krishna and Godavari enriching their agricultural lands.

The interior parts of Andhra were going dry in summer. Water harvesting was done in these parts with natural bunds erected by locals along with government help. Naidu did a splendid job. One hears, Telengana is doing the same even today.

Day temperatures can rise upto 140 F (47 C) in interior Andhra, one of India’s hottest states. Water conservation helps the villagers not only in their daily livelihood but also in frugal off-season farming.

I always wondered why such irrigation practices were not in place in Tamil Nadu.

Then I realized, rural Andhra was dirt poor. People were desperate. Whereas Tamil Nadu farmers had become beggars. They were content with freebies doled out by our successive governments. There was no more need for farming. The state took heavy loans from the center and subsidized the marginal farmers and artisans to the extent there was no more any reason for them to earn their livelihood pursuing their honourable professions/vocations.

And thus deteriorated the Tamil Farmer.

I have not an iota of sympathy for our farmers who are taking up the water dispute and other issues to Delhi. BJP is new at the center and have had no role to play, and besides that you never voted for them. BJP is not the reason for the mess you are in. They have had negligible presence even in the state until now. DMK is to blame. ADMK did a little something for their part with Jayalalitha Jayaram. So in what way are your Delhi protests justified?

When you fail to question an injustice in time, you lose your right to question. You couldn’t question DMK or ADMK because you bargained your right to question for the freebies they threw at you. You were glued to their free tv sets even as weeds grew and clogged your water sources and your fields dried up. You would rather take the 40 rupees and not work because you thought you were entitled to government welfare.

And now you have to gall to protest in Delhi.



From → Dilli Durbar

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