Bothbudan village in Maharashtra’s Yavatmal district stands apart for its sheer starkness. It houses 23 farm widows — the highest any village has seen in Vidarbha.
Drive into this village and one hardly finds the women in their huts. They are all out in the fields, from eight in the morning to six in the evening, their lives transformed after being forced to become bread-earners.
The husbands gave up. Tired of being bank defaulters and hounded by moneylenders, the pesticide came in handy. Dying was easier than living.
In Vidarbha, the script is all too familiar — cotton farmers have been killing themselves since 2001. Caught in a vicious cycle of debt, escalating cultivation and livelihood costs and reduced earnings, they see suicide as the only way out.
Of the 23 suicides in Bothbudan so far, four were in 2012. “This year could be worse than 2006 when the Prime Minister was forced to visit the area and announce a relief package,” says Kishor Tiwari, who heads the Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti, an NGO relentlessly flagging the crisis.
In the six years since 2006, the administration appears to have become inured to the spiral of death.
For the bureaucracy, Sanjay Keshav Rathod’s suicide is just another number added to a figure that’s now inching towards 9,000 suicides since 2001.
In Bothbudan’s 300 homes, nothing seems to stop the harvest of death, not even the hope of a newborn. Rathod’s wife Vandana was seven months pregnant and her older daughter two-and-a-half when he took the extreme step.
Bothbudan exemplifies the story of Vidarbha, 2012. Cotton will be harvested only two months from now, but the crop has already taken a double blow. First, it died from scarcity of rainfall, now it's dying from excess of it.
Pest attacks are rampant and deadly. And while the insecticides aren't killing the pests, they never fail the debt-ridden farmer wanting to give up on life.