The Green Revolution of the 1960s was independent India's greatest fightback against food scarcity and hunger. By providing farmers with new technological tools, hybrid seeds of rice and wheat and easier access to subsidised fertilisers and pesticides, planners raised wheat production in Punjab, a focus area, from 1.7 million ton in 1960-61 to 15.5 million ton in 2000-01. Punjab, whose name means the land of five rivers, came to be known as the food bowl of India.
Fifty years later, farming in Punjab is no longer profitable. Heavy reliance on fertilisers to boost yields has robbed the soil of its fertility and borewells dug to irrigate the endless fields of gold have sucked every aquifer dry. New kinds of pests now attack crops, ostensibly because of climate change, and wreak large-scale damage. Farmers say they now spend more on every crop than in the previous season, but still produce less. Facing the insurmountable challenge of making farming sustainable, an estimated 16,000 farmers killed themselves in the last 15 years.
The following images are a short preview of my ongoing project, which looks at contemporary Punjab through the lens of young men from agrarian families in the state.
Rayandeep Singh, 21, sets paddy stubble on fire as he prepares to sow the winter crop in Bhaini Bagha in Mansa, Punjab. Stubble burning in Punjab contributes to the severe smog in Delhi every winter, but farmers say there is no viable alternative to burning stubble.
Jagjeet Singh, 19, works with his father Buta Singh, 40, to sow mustard along the periphery of their five-acre farm in Dhaula in Barnala, Punjab.
A stray cow feeds on a wheat crop near Behniwal in Mansa, Punjab.
Gurdeep Singh, a 25-year-old farmer, with his pet pigeons in Maujia in Mansa, Punjab.
Manpreet Singh, 24, and Jagseer Singh, 17, walk home-to-home to collect milk for the local Gurudwara in Sukhpura Maur in Barnala, Punjab.
Village elders spend an evening on a platform that serves as a communal space in Kotra Kalan in Mansa, Punjab.
Kalwinder Kaur Sidhu,45, lost her husband Kaldeep Singh to suicide four years ago, after working up a debt of Rs. 600,000 (USD 9400) on their son’s cancer treatment. 13-year-old Karnveer Singh didn’t survive despite the family’s best efforts. Sidhu, who now suffers from a debilitating back pain, leased out their 4-acre farm in Talwandi Akhliya, Punjab.
Farmers work on plugging a breach in a canal, which flooded about 200 acres of farmland with standing crop in Bhamme Kalan in Mansa, Punjab.
Sukhjeet Singh, 21, prays at the local Gurudwara in Sukhpura Maur in Barnala, Punjab. Singh’s father killed himself when he could no longer manage the mounting farm debt and the family then sold off 4 acres of land to repay it. The financial pressures also forced Singh to drop out of school in 9th grade and he now works as a factory nearby that pays him INR 5000 (USD 67) a month.
Karanjeet Kaur, 37, would comfort her husband Ranjit Singh whenever he worried about their debt–of Rs 700,000 (USD 11,000), the result of three years of failed crops–and threatened to kill himself. She even ensured he was never alone, but one day in 2011, he went to the farm and hanged himself with his turban. Kaur now works as a farm labour, providing for her daughter (17) and a mentally-challenged son (16) in Kot Dharmu in Mansa, Punjab.
Kids, mostly first-generation learners from farmer families, attend a school in Makha in Mansa, Punjab.
A kabaddi tournament in progress in Dhanaula in Barnala, Punjab.
Young men spend an evening in Maujia in Mansa, Punjab,
Narender Singh, 18, and Jagjit Singh, 17, both aspiring to join the army, work on their fitness by running around the village in Maujia in Mansa, Punjab.
Nanku, 14, assists his father Gurbakshan Singh in keeping stray cattle away from the fields in Makha in Mansa, Punjab,
Devotees who wish to migrate offer toy aeroplanes at a Gurudwara in Handiya in Barnala, Punjab.
Harpreet Singh, 22, and Jaspreet Kaur, 20, at their wedding reception in Barnala, Punjab. Singh’s family is sponsoring the visa, travel and education expenses of Kaur, who is leaving soon for Canada on a student visa, in exchange for a spouse visa for Singh.
Ajayveer Singh, 19, who is leaving the following week to pursue a diploma in computer programming in Canada, is surrounded by his mother and aunts at a thanksgiving prayer offered at his home in Barnala, Punjab.
Farmers mix herbicides with water in their power sprayers at a field near Dhaula in Baranla, Punjab,
Passengers arrive at the railway station in Bhatinda, Punjab to board a train to travel to a popular cancer hospital in Bikaner in the neighbouring state of Rajasthan. The train, whose passengers mostly include cancer patients, is now popularly called the Cancer Express.
A farmer addicted to home-brewed alcohol receives treatment at a small privately-run deaddiction centre in Barnala, Punjab.
A Judoka takes an ‘ice bath’ in a drum filled with ice and water as others wait for their turn at the end of their day’s practice at the Judo Training Centre in Gurdaspur, Punjab. Parents encourage the sport in the hope that it keeps the kids away from doing drugs.