A farmers’ Russian roulette

  • Sujata Anandan, Hindustan Times
  • Updated: Apr 28, 2015 20:45 IST

Seema Telange was a young lawyer-cum-activist I had met in suicide land in Yavatmal district during one of my frequent visits to Vidarbha to understand why farmers were taking their lives with such frequency. She was a farmer’s daughter and decided to study law when she realised how farmers were being exploited by the feudal system in the region. “Everyone is into this — the landlords, the money lenders, the politicians and they have the police on their side. So the farmers do not know who to turn to in their distress.”

Her father was one such farmer but he was lucky to have a daughter like Seema. When her father was on the verge of bankruptcy, she trotted off to the money lender, cajoled him, then threatened him and finally went down on her knees to appeal to his better sense. That unnerved him — he handed over the papers and she saved her father. She soon realised how this network operated — banks would not release loans on time to farmers not realising that crops can’t wait for cumbersome banking procedures to be complete. Thus farmers would borrow from money lenders, who would seize their title deeds with no intention of returning the papers even if the farmer was lucky enough to repay the loan. Then the lender would sell off the land to another sahukar so that even if the police were honest enough to investigate, they would find no evidence that the farmer had been loaned any money by the particular lender. Then the third party would move in and oust the farmer from his land. He would be left with no option but to take his life.

But now add to this the vagaries of the weather. There are unseasonal rains and hailstorms throughout the year and the farmer is not sure when to sow seeds.

“It is like Russian roulette,” a senior journalist from Vidarbha tells me. “Anything could be the trigger — a failed monsoon, unseasonal storms, an exploitative money lender, a daughter’s marriage or simply the market forces…”

Now these factors are no longer exclusive to Vidarbha. Similar suicide deaths are being reported from Marathwada and even other states across India. Even governments that are generally seen to be sympathetic to rural interests have failed in this regard. Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh did release much funds to farmers in Vidarbha but I wonder why Sharad Pawar, who was then the agriculture minister, did not advise him on what must really be done to stem the suicides. After all, the situation had been the same in western Maharashtra around four decades ago when certain enterprising politicians set up a co-operative movement and captive irrigation for farmers. Today, barring some exceptions, cane growers are the most successful farmers in the state.

Thus the solution lies right here under their noses and not in Israel where CM Devendra Fadnavis has taken Leader of the Opposition (LOP) Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil to study how Israelis make a success of agriculture (strangely though he has left the state's agriculture minister behind). Patil’s father, Balasaheb Vikhe Patil, is the doyen of the co-operative movement in Maharashtra, so I wonder why the LOP could not have informed the novitiate CM where the solution lies.

Then, again, I wonder what purpose Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi’s visit (on April 30) to these regions is really going to serve — except to score some political brownie points against the BJP, which has already lost the plot so far as farmers are concerned.

Last time Gandhi visited Vidarbha, his government was in power in both the state and the Centre. Farmers are still committing suicide nearly 10 years later.

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