CIVIC ELECTION campaigning in the Bundelkhand region was belting out an irony on Diwali day. ‘Mere desh ki dharti sona ugley, ugley heerey moti’, blared the loudspeakers.
On the same festive night in Puraini village, falling in block-Sarila in Hamirpur district, there was, however, complete darkness. The only diya that flickered outside a thatched hut signaled no celebration; instead it announced the demise of 48-year-old Uderam, who went up in flames the other day. Uderam didn’t have enough kerosene to douse himself. So he tied a thick lot of rags around his waist and ensured that the small quantity of kerosene he had produced enough fire.
Uderam had no food to eat and was not keeping well. He also owed Rs 80,000 to the village moneylender drawn against his 5 bigha of land.
Why Uderam, this is the story –the same everyday hunger— of majority of the farmers in the region, a fact that the district administration is so stubbornly trying to deny in an area that has seen failure of crops four years in a row since 2002.
Uderam could have survived had he, like the Seheriays in Lalitpur, resorted to eating the ‘ghaas roti’ (grass cake). The Seheriays, who work as tillers, had been having the stuff (the grass is called samai) since 2002. Only this way, they have managed to stay afloat during the successive droughts.
Like Uderam, Prema Devi of Jhirala village in Jalaun has not yet given to the idea of eating grass rotis. “How can one eat this. We are no cattle even if our situation is no better than the cattle,” she says. “Wait for December, more of us will die,” says a distraught Bhoopat, former gram pradhan of Bhimnagar Unchaa in district Jalaun. Bhoopat happens to be the lone farmer in the village who does not have a loan against his name.