vidarbha agrarian crisis-Time isn't the healer for suicide's first faces
Posted online: Saturday, July 01, 2006 at 0000 hrs IST
YAVATMAL, JUNE 30
Nine farmer suicides in six weeks in Yavatmal. That was the story The Indian Express broke on November 19, 2002, bringing into national focus the plight of farmers in this Maharashtra district. The number was shocking then. Four years down the line, with two suicides on an average in the past few months, ground realities have only got gloomier in suicide belt's Ground Zero.
"The situation has gone from bad to worse," say Parvatabai Lohkare, Urmilabai Jadhav, Keshav Jadhav and Rama Katkar. They should know. They lost a family member each to suicides then and have not seen life getting any better with subsequent government aid.
At Dahegaon village near Pandharkawda, Bandu Katkar's widow Rama received a compensation of Rs 1 lakh immediately after this newspaper published the story.
"We squared off a cooperative bank loan―about Rs 30,000―and about Rs 18,000 taken from our daughters with that money. But crop failures didn't stop. Today, we are burdened with a fresh loan of Rs 30,000," says 75-year-old Zibal, late Bandu's ailing and visually-impaired father. "Last year, we defaulted on repayment so we can't get a fresh loan," he says. After Bandu's death, Rama has been tilling her 10-acre land.
Parvatabai Lohkare from Pimpalshenda village just received 1.5 quintals of cotton as her share from her 3.5-acre non-irrigated land. She rented this out after her husband Sukhdev's suicide in 2002. One of her sons Achal died after Sukhdev's death. Of the two left, the eldest, Deepak, works in Mumbai, but earns enough only for himself. The younger, Anil, is a farm labourer.
The Rs 1 lakh aid she got was used to repay loans. So, it's back to square one for both Rama and Pravatabai.
At Pimpalshenda village, Lachhiram Jadhav's widow Urmilabai is left with a seven-acre barren piece of land lent by a cousin. Seven months ago, the sub-divisional officer gave an aid of Rs 10,000.
"What's the use? I have been borrowing money from here and there to feed my family of two. My daughter Geeta's marriage too became possible with help from villagers," she says.
Pimpalshenda also has many farmers who are tilling the government's ceiling land. So, there is no question of being eligible for loan. This year, money-lenders and farm shop owners have refused to help due to the government crackdown.
At Mohada Kinaha, it's a reversal of roles. Keshav Jadhav's wife Suman had consumed poison after their 3.5-acre farm was ruined by floods. "She was worried how we would marry off our four daughters. Flood is a routine story in our farm as it is situated along a nullah," says Keshav.
A couple of days ago, heavy rains again ruined fresh sowings in his farm. With the government not intervening effectively, Vidarbha farmers have been shifting to farming pulses, mainly soyabean.
"With a slash in prices due to successive crop failures, we can't afford it anymore. So this year, 75 per cent of the land here is under soyabean," say Kinhala villagers.
Clearly, aid alone won't do. Crop failures need to be stopped. "Most villages have lost their first sowings, which means additional expenses... It also breaks the finance cycle and the farmers are left at the mercy of money-lenders," explains Vijaya Jawandhia, a farm activist.
Last year, the Maharashtra government withdrew the Rs-500 bonus under the pretext of scheme losses, delivering a death blow. And also unleashed a campaign against money-lenders. So, the defaulters had nowhere to go.