A Tribute to Farmers

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The India Friends Association returns with its annual signature fundraiser, Archana, an interactive festival providing a rich insight into Indian culture. Guests will enjoy an authentic Indian meal and a multisensory show of Indian dance, drama, and music.

The spirit of the word archana, or offering, is embodied in a cast of over 100 volunteers who are lending their hearts and talents to benefit the many IFA projects. IFA looks to create long-term solutions to root causes of poverty in India.

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Madhu Bajaj, organizer of the event, explains, “It is a blessing. Archana enriches everyone who touches the event: the performers, the audience, the volunteers, and the projects supported in India.”

This year’s festival, “Feeding Humanity: A Tribute to Farmers,” focuses on the plight of farmers in Gujarat struggling to maintain their livelihoods. In the past, landless agricultural workers have been amongst the poorest people in India and many continue to struggle to obtain basic necessities such as food, water, health, and education. In an attempt to aid the landless poor, the state government in Gujarat was directed in 1992 to make wasteland available for distribution to the poor for their use, giving them a chance to work the land and turn it into a possible source of income. After intense lobbying, local commissioners began to distribute the wasteland to socially and economically oppressed members of Indian society.

Despite receiving grants, farmers are struggling to make optimal use of their land, lacking the knowledge of farming techniques and the funds to clear and work the land to its full potential.  In cases where a profit is trickling through, many are fighting to maintain their source of income, as the government seeks to redistribute land, previously earmarked for distribution to the poor, to more potentially profitable companies in accordance with a controversial new directive issued in 2005.

Under the 2005 directive, the Gujarat government announced that their plan to give land to the poor had failed and that it would distribute land to industry and wealthier farmers with resources to make a more profitable return. This controversial development was seen by some as necessary in the path toward the industrialization of rural communities, and by others as a flawed model serving only to increase income disparity, poverty, and social unrest. Farmers remained skeptical and refused to give up their land. In some cases, minimal compensation was afforded for land as a result of dubious transactions, and in others, farmers were forced out by coercion and violence.
The IFA’s “Save Our Farmers” project has been in operation for over a year and has committed funds to build awareness amongst farmers and to encourage them to form organizations and access various government loan schemes. The IFA has effectively “adopted” one village in Undavi, Gujarat where 125 families have been granted two to three acres of wasteland each. The funds raised from Archana will contribute toward assisting with surveys required for beneficiaries to determine if they have received a grant of land and, if so, their specific allotment. Training for farmers in sustainable agricultural techniques has also been initiated, in the hope that farmers will ultimately be empowered to decide what kind of development should take place on their land and that they will develop the skills necessary to maintain a source of income.

“These families are expected to be sustainable in a couple of years,” says Bajaj of the families assisted by the IFA  in Undavi.

Founded in 1993, the IFA relies heavily on volunteers and private donations to carry out its many projects, the main aim behind all its projects is to promote economic empowerment and self-sufficiency of the under privileged in India. Proceeds from Archana will also help to fund other projects addressing structural inequities that perpetuate poverty, ranging from the promotion of rural healthcare and vocational training to the development of programs for at-risk children.

“It’s truly an amazing night—fun-filled, high energy, a beautiful cultural experience that also builds social consciousness for important issues,” Bajaj says.

Saturday, May 8, 4 p.m. Fred Kavli Theatre, Civic Arts Plaza, 2100 E. Thousand Oaks, Thousand Oaks. $40 general; $20 students. (805) 741-9861.www.indiafriendsassociation.org.

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