Window Seat | Mrinal Chatterjee

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Agriculture in India

There is a saying in Sanskrit: Banijye basati Laxmi, tatardhen krishi karmane. Translated in English it would be: Laxmi resides in business; farming yields half of that. But the condition of most of the farmers in India seems to be much worse than this. Hundreds of them are committing suicide in Maharastra, Andhra Pradesh, Odisha and many other states. Odisha is facing a grim situation now as farmers in Western Odisha are burning their paddy fields fearing total loss of crop as pests ravage their standing paddy.

This is ironical considering the fact that the history of Agriculture in India dates back to Indus Valley Civilization Era and even before that in some parts of Southern India and India is presently among the top three global producers of many crops, including wheat, rice, pulses, cotton, peanuts, fruits and vegetables. Its gross irrigated crop area of 82.6 million hectares (215.6 million acres) is the largest in the world. India exported $38 billion worth of agricultural products in 2013, making it the seventh largest agricultural exporter worldwide and the sixth largest net exporter. Indian agricultural/horticultural and processed foods are exported to more than 120 countries, primarily in the Middle East, Southeast Asia, SAARC countries, the EU and the United States. India’s food processing industry is one of the largest industries in the country. Agriculture and allied sectors like forestry and fisheries accounted for 13.7% of the GDP (gross domestic product) in 2013, about 50% of the workforce. Though the economic contribution of agriculture to India’s GDP is steadily declining with the country’s broad-based economic growth, still, agriculture is demographically the broadest economic sector and plays a significant role in the overall socio-economic fabric of India.

Though India produces enough food for herself and exports, the country experiences double irony: there is wide spread hunger and mal-nutrition on the one hand, and on the other- agriculture largely remains non-remunerative. Farmers across the country are demanding for better prices. There have been hundreds of cases of farmer suicides. As a nation we must address the problems of the farmers on a priority basis.

Fake News

Collins Dictionary recently named ‘fake news’ as the word of the year. The UK based lexicographer found that the use of ‘fake news’ registered a 365% rise in the last 12 months. Earlier the committee of the Australian Macquarie Dictionary has proclaimed ‘fake news’ as the word of the year. It refers to deliberate, brazen misinformation with intent to mislead. It is different from ordinary misinformation and disinformation in that it takes the form of real news stories provided by what appear to be legitimate news outlets. It is more dangerous because people tend to easily believe information given to them in the name of news.

Fake news is not a new phenomena. In fact fake news has been around longer than the organized news media itself. Some historians cite ancient Greek writer Herodotus as the founder of selective sourcing; others claiming fake news began in 15th century Italy (where a Franciscan preacher named Bernardino da Feltre used a rumor to justify the mass-arrest, torture, and execution of members of the Italian Jewish community); and still more noting Orson Welles’s 1938 radio adaptation of H. G. Wells’s The War of the Worlds, first broadcast as a news bulletin.

Infact, The control, presentation and manipulation of news has played a key role in the assertion and subversion of power in colonial, totalitarian and radical societies throughout history worldwide.

What is happening now is that the manufacturing fake news and disseminating has become easier thanks to development in ICT technology and Internet. Social Media has made it even easier.

As a result, the role of news media as intermediary of news is being increasingly questioned. When the credibility of mainstream news media is questioned, there is a chance of fake news to sneak in. It was difficult to find space in the mindscape of people as mainstream news media used to occupy that. With social media gaining ground fake news has an easy access.

One might question: Why we tend to believe ‘fake news’? Recent and historical work in psychology shows mere exposure to fake news makes it spread. To understand why — and the extent to which false stories seep into our brains, we need to understand the psychology of the illusory truth effect.

The more we hear a piece of information repeated, the more we’re likely to believe it. “Even things that people have reason not to believe, they believe them more” if the claims are repeated, Gord Pennycook, a psychologist who studies the spread of misinformation at Yale University, says.

And recent research shows the illusory truth effect is in play when we hear or read fake news claims repeated, regardless of how ridiculous or illogical they sound

Last year (2016) Oxford Dictionary legitimized an adjective: post truth. It refers to dishonesty and deception in contemporary life, a culture that plays on our emotions and personal belief and drugs us so that perceptions, not facts, determine our actions.

Taken together it points to a very grim reality. Credibility of news is increasingly suspect.  Media must take proactive steps to engage with this. It is a question of survival of credible media.

Credible media is the mainstay  of informed opinion, which drives democracy. If the foundation is built on a pile of untruth then democracy is doomed.

The real danger lies there.

 

Tailpiece: Whom to Blame?

Girl (to God): I don’g want to marry. I am educated, independent and self sufficient. I don’t need a husband. But my parents are asking me to marry. What should I do?

God: You are my finest finest creation and undoubtedly will acheve many great things. But some things…inevitable, will not go the way you want. Worse, some things will fail. Whom will you blame? Yourself? No! You need a husband to blame.

Boy (to God)…but then what will I do? Whom will I blame?

God: Your scope is much wider, Son. You can blame the Govt., the education system, the infrastructure, the environment, the economy, the politicians, the bureaucrats…even me. But never ever blame your wife.

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A journalist turned media academician Mrinal Chatterjee lives in Dhenkanal, a Central Odisha hilly town. He also writes fiction. [email protected]

 

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