Sunday, January 28, 2007

Widows of the cotton world-DNA Reports untold saga of farm widows

Widows of the cotton world-DNA Reports untold saga of farm widows

Widows of the cotton world

Jaideep Hardikar
Sunday, January 28, 2007 22:26 IST

A common tragedy binds together the families of cotton farmers’ who have lost their lives.

YAVATMAL: It’s a tale of three widows bound by a common thread of cotton; and policies of the state that their husbands vocally blamed for their plight before their death.

Savita Ghugul’s husband Dinesh fell to the police bullets in December 2006 at Wani cotton procurement centre, when a mob of cotton growers erupted in anger over delay in procurement of cotton. Dinesh, 35, had left his home in Mendholi village the morning he died; his body returned the next day amid police protection.

Sunita Girsawale’s man Pundalik chose to end himself in the Tehsil Agriculture Office when he ran out of patience and money. He was seeking help to buy a bullock under the Prime Minister’s much-trumpeted relief package, but someone in the tehsil office demanded bribe. A cheque of Rs4500 was found on his person after his death. People of his Tejapur village allege it was planted after his death.

And 20-year-old Pratibha Kuchankar’s husband Rameshwar consumed pesticide in Pandharkawda cotton procurement centre, ending his days of desperation. A stoic silence grips Pratibha’s maternal home in Veerkund village, where she has moved in after Rameshwar’s death on November 28, last year. It was only six months since their marriage, but the young farmer felt his condition would not improve. Still in shock, Pratibha lets her silence speak for her.

Savita, Sunita and Pratibha are women from different contexts, background and age groups, yet engulfed by a tragedy that emanates from a single source: Wrong policies. Well over a thousand farmers committed suicide in 2006 and close to 70 in January 2007 so far in Vidarbha’s six cotton districts. Notwithstanding the government’s rejection of these suicides as fallout of an agrarian emergency, the constituency of widows is growing at a frightening speed in the cotton country.

On the other hand, the farmers taking their own lives are increasingly becoming more vocal in their criticism of the government’s policies, and the suicide notes are being directed now straight to the Chief Minister or his deputy.

As Rameshwar Kuchankar, 27, said in his dying note before consuming poison in the market yard, “Mr CM, give us the price. Mr R R Patil, if you don’t give us Rs 3000 a
quintal, this issue (of farmers’ suicide) will aggravate.”

Rameshwar knew he was in losses after the cotton prices crashed to Rs1700-1900 this year from over Rs2200 a quintal. Then, in one poignant stroke, he wrote a line for his wife on one corner of that note. “Pratibha, I am sorry, please forgive me and get remarried.” In the end, he mentions: “No one in my family should be blamed for my death; if some one does that I won’t forgive him.”

Pundalik, on the other hand, had had four years of crop failure. “He went at least 15 times to get the cheque from the agriculture office to buy a bullock, but some one there demanded bribe,” says his mother Parvatabai. “He had purchased two doors for this hut, but had to sell one to pay for his visits to Wani,” she informs. Sunita, his widow, has since taken to working as a farm labourer to earn a living and her three daughters - aged 14, 12 and 10 - look after the household chores.

Apparently, it was a slight provocation by some one in the agriculture office that proved the last straw for Pundalik. He had threatened them that he would end his life if they did not release his cheque; the officer said do as you like, and a desperate Pundalik consumed poison, a villager says.

In both Pundalik and Rameshwar’s cases, the government has declined the Rsone-lakh compensation, saying these were ‘non-genuine’ suicides, meaning the two farmers’ death was genuine, “but was not due to any agricultural crisis”. In Dinesh’s case, luckily, there’s no question of applying any parameter. He fell to a bullet that pierced his stomach. In one way though, Dinesh was a victim of the government’s neglect towards procurement of cotton. Had the centres worked round the clock to buy farmers’ yield the unprecedented protests may not have erupted in the first place, and Dinesh would have lived.

These three families lost their bread-winners in a span of one month. The same month, over a hundred farming households in Vidarbha also lost their head men, all choosing to take their lives. “The three farmers represent different hues of misery thanks to the government. One lost his life for no reason in police firing; the other was denied the relief that the PM himself declared in Nagpur; the third one felt, like all farmers of this region feel, he was denied a decent life,” says Kishor Tiwari of the Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti. “All of them had good family life and none was an alcoholic; it was the state’s policy and bureaucratic sham that took their lives,” he charges.

The questions staring Savita and her children are no less different than those facing Pratibha or Sunita and her three daughters. Alas, no less easy too.

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