First Update from Punjab

It’s been a busy first week here in Punjab – meeting lots of people, visiting farms and learning a lot. To update those who don’t know, I’m here on a fellowship from Brown University to collect oral history narratives about the effects of the Green Revolution in rural Punjab. The final product of this study will be an audio documentary that will present the stories I have heard about life here since the ‘60’s. I have been working with a Punjabi NGO, Kheti Virasat Mission (KVM), who have been extremely helpful in introducing me to farmers and setting me up here. As I work on this study, I will also be helping KVM with their current campaigns. At the moment they are focusing on a survey for gynecologists in Punjab, collecting impressions from the medical field on trends in women’s reproductive health, as a first step towards validating their arguments against pesticide use in Punjab due to adverse health effects.

Punjab covers less than 2% of India’s land, but produces over 60% of the country’s grain. Since the 1960’s a two-cropping system of rice and cotton in the Ravi season (—–) and wheat in the Kharif season (—–) has emerged and become the status quo almost everywhere. My personal interest is what came before this system: what was grown, how was it they grown, and the traditions and social structures that bound the rural economy and lifestyle together. In my first few days here I was reminded of discussions had in the US about the idealistic vision of agrarian America described by writers like Wendell Berry. It seems that not just people in the US food movement get carried away with an idealised image of an agrarian past. Here too, I hear many echoes of how self-sufficient, sustainable and peaceful village life was half a century ago.

The questions I will be investigating therefore are: How has Punjab changed? How do different generations react to these changes, are they for better or worse? And, in the face of ever-greater development and changes, what do people see as the future for Punjab? Since I have been here I’ve been having this conversation with everyone I’ve been meeting, and getting all kinds of responses. Not all of them have been recorded or with farmers, but I realise, what the rickshaw-walla or the gynecologist has to say about these issues is also extremely reflective of things.

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One response to this post.

  1. Posted by Nripinder on September 19, 2011 at 11:15 am

    Hum! Having read your posts I know a wee bit more about your project now. It was nice to meet you at Government Rajindra College at Bathinda. Coincidentally at the School – St Joseph’s, right across the street from Rajindra College – where I studied before going to Rajindra College we had a teacher by the name of Mr Sikand. He taught us Physical Education. Could he be a relative by any chance? I happened to come across contact information for Dr SP Singh after meeting with you. He has retired as Vice Chancellor of Guru Nanak Dev University in Amritsar. His field is Punjabi and he writes a lot on the culture of Punjab in a Daily Punjabi Language Newspaper. The Project that you embarked on was well thought out. It is a pity that you did not get more cooperation. I think that Punjabi’s are to be commended for being Industrious and at the same time shamed for being materialistic. We have lost touch with our spiritual roots which gave a good and solid direction to our Industry. These days the prayers we utter at our Religious Places are mere rituals and do not serve to provide communion with the almighty as People suppose they do. The day to day behaviour of the common person in Punjab is geared more towards making money and more money.

    Reply

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