About half of India is facing a severe water shortage, and farmers are struggling to make ends meet. Over the last week, agriculture Minister Radha Mohan Singh has been floating a novel approach to boost crop yields: yoga.
In several recent public appearances, Singh trumpeted a government plan to promote "yogic" farming, a technique he says will "empower seeds with the help of positive thinking." At meeting of farmers and agricultural scientists in Delhi last weekend Singh said that "farmers should give vibrations of peace, love and divinity to seeds" to boost growth and make plants resistant to pests.
"Such exercise is accepted by my ministry essentially to enhance Indian farmers' confidence," he said. "Indian farmers have, over the years, lost confidence in the age-tested knowledge of farming."
The Hindustan Time reports that 17 of 36 meteorological subdivisions in India have received less than half the normal amount of rain for this time of year.
Thousands of farmers have been committing suicide in acts of desperation. Early this summer twenty-five thousands farmers signed a petition to India's President Pranab Mukherjee saying they will hang themselves, unless the Indian government paid compensation for farmland that they claimed was ruined by infrastructure projects.
"We always have a problem with water. However, this year is even worse in our area," one resident of Marathwada told the Hindustan Times. "People are not even getting water for drinking and bathing. Forget about water for crops. All our crops have been destroyed. How will we survive? No wonder farmers are killing themselves. It is impossible to repay loans. What will they do? Not all are lucky to be able to find a job in the city like me."
In July, Singh said that the farming crisis was not the government's fault, and blamed the suicide controversy on incompetent farmers who suffered from "failed love affairs" and "impotency."
But experts say the problem may run deeper. "With depleted water tables, soil depletion, and a need for massive amounts of fertilizer, there's a search in India for different kinds of agricultural techniques," Alyssa Ayres an India expert at the Council on Foreign Relations told VICE News. The emphasis on spiritual farming techniques is nothing new, Ayres pointed out. In fact, the agricultural ministry has in the past sponsored studies to show that meditation improves crops.
"I doubt these studies were peer reviewed, though," Aryes said.
Dinesh Sharma, an Indian columnist and science journalist based in Delhi, thinks that Singh's comments are part of a dangerous trend by the conservative government to offer up what he calls "mythical" solutions to a real crisis.
"This is a worrying tendency to project pseudoscience as a solution to modern day problems," he told VICE News. "Yoga is a fitness exercise…but to project it as a panacea for our problems, is not acceptable."
Singh is a prominent member of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), a Hindu Nationalist party that organizes around India's cultural and religious identity. "They have a deep interest in theories of India's cultural past," Ayres explained.
The BJP came to power for the first time in 2014, and has since made a number of efforts to emphasize India's Hindu heritage in public life. Earlier this year, BJP leader and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi led 35,000 people in a mass yoga exhibition in Delhi, in an attempt to set a world record.
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