Every January, Thamizh people all around the world celebrate Thai Pongal. It's an exciting time for families to come together, cook all their favorite dishes and celebrate.
Even though most people have a general idea of why Pongal is celebrated, not many of us know its origin and why it would be important for the younger generation to continue this tradition. The word “Pongal” translates to boiling over, which is demonstrated using milk boiled in a clay pot. As the milk boils over, rice is added to this mixture along with other essentials like jaggery (cane sugar), cashews, cardamom and ghee. (yum!)
The reason behind adding rice to boiling milk is an interesting one! As per tradition, Thamizh farmers conclude their season of harvesting by celebrating on this special day. The boiling over of milk symbolizes an abundance and overflow of success for the business season ahead. This process of boiling milk, rice etc is perfectly timed with sunrise as Pongal pays gratitude to the Sun for blessing farmers with the right weather for agriculture. In other words, a Thamizh Thanksgiving! But wouldn’t it be nice if the gesture of giving thanks extends beyond this special occasion?
The current situation
Farmers are experiencing many challenges in the past decade due to disruptions to their trade caused by the government in some cases or big corporations taking over land for expansion of their businesses.
I remember meeting a few families in a beautiful village in Chennai, who mentioned that industrial firms were taking over their land to build factories that manufacture carbonated drinks! This means families will lose lands that they’ve owned for generations and become displaced. They lose the ability to continue agriculture, being their main source of income and therefore affecting other aspects of their life including the affordability of consistent meals and insufficient funds to support education for children.
Photo: Chennai (2019)
This applies to many families in Jaffna as well. There are many cases of land-grabs that have occurred in places like Mullaitivu, Vavuniya, Vanni etc leaving farmers and their families with a questionable future. Sadly, there aren’t many resources available on this issue. It was quite a challenge to find articles that provided information on issues Thamizh farmers faced in North/East Sri Lanka.
Thankfully, there are many NGOs and activists who are currently working on innovative methods to revitalize farming and provide farmers with alternative methods to maintain an income. But for those who aren’t involved in NGOs, there are still many ways to contribute towards the well-being of farmers.
We would lose the value of celebrating Pongal on our side of the world when the people we celebrate are continuing to suffer on a daily basis.
Here are some ways you can help a farmer and their family:
Short term contributions:
During your next trip to Jaffna or Tamil Nadu, you can choose to buy tender coconuts from a vendor instead of bicarbonate drinks. Beneficial to you and them.
Choose to eat at local, family owned restaurants (preferably the ones that serve food on Banana leaves because its 10x better!) rather than franchises.
A personal favorite - shop for fresh vegetables and fruits from farmers rather than grocery stores/supermarkets. It tastes so much better!
PS, if you ever visit Chunnakam (close to Nallur), their market is a place you have to visit. Experiencing the hustle and bustle of a busy morning with such positive people is an experience like no other!
You can provide a monthly donation to a farmers family or assist them by purchasing a cow (Please contact me if you’d like more information on this)
Sponsor education for a farmer’s son/daughter.
Consultation services for farmers via phone if you’re an entrepreneur.
Spread awareness - continue to share information about the struggle farmers go through via social media or any platform that can reach potential sponsors.
A one time donation can provide them temporary relief but Farmers need our support on a long term basis. I believe that the best way to help someone is by showing them how they can help themselves so I’ll continue to share more information on methods we can use to provide long lasting benefits to Farmers and their well-being.
“Vavuniya Farmers' Anguish: Sri Lankan Forest Department Land Grab.” Home Page, 26 Dec. 2020, www.tamilguardian.com/content/vavuniya-farmers-anguish-sri-lankan-forest-department-land-grab-forces-out-tamil-villagers.