At first sight, Mandsaur is a farmer’s delight. Vast farmlands stretch to the horizon, the standing crops swaying in the gentle breeze of a March afternoon. Tractor-trolleys laden with produce rattle towards the mandis. Neat brick-and-mortar houses stand on corner plots, a motorcycle often parked in the courtyard. But what these signs of fertility hide is pervasive rural discontent. This belt of Madhya Pradesh’s Malwa region is the proverbial food bowl, but the wrinkles on the farmer’s face cannot hide his deepening frown.
For 65-year-old Bhanwarlal Patidar, June 6, 2017, was the darkest day of his life and that of fellow farmers in the region. That was the day police opened fire on those agitating for better prices for their produce. Six of them died—that sent shock waves across the country and threw agrarian distress into national focus.
Neither the anger nor the woes have ebbed since the incident.
For instance, a farmer growing garlic on one .25 acre of land will incur a cost of around Rs 30,000, including manure, labour, pesticide...