At least five out-of-work farmers have reportedly committed suicide over the past few days, including a 40-year-old woman who set herself ablaze, underscoring a growing farm crisis in Maharashtra’s drought-battered Marathwada region.
Manisha Laxman Gatkal of Osmanabad district allegedly poured kerosene and set herself on fire on August 29 when members of her family did not get work for two weeks because of a failed monsoon in the region. Her family used to work as farm hands but the summer drought has left the fields dry and cracked this kharif season.
Tempers were high among farmers in this parched Maharashtra region over the government’s alleged offhand response to three consecutive years of drought, exacerbated by an absence of irrigation facilities and mounting debts.
According to Marathwada Vikas Sangharsha Samiti, an NGO, 574 farmers committed suicide in 2013 and it rose to 628 the following year.
Activists said the monsoon’s failure worsened the crisis as farmers bank on a good harvest to repay loans taken mostly from local moneylenders who make a killing when rural livelihood dries up.
Police recorded Gatkal’s death as “accidental”, saying a kerosene-fired cooking stove exploded and engulfed her in flames.
Her husband Laxman, who has five children to feed, refuted the police version and said she locked herself in their small home before taking the extreme step on Raksha Bandhan. “I have no work and there’s no food in the house,” he told a news channel.
His brother, Balasaheb, said as much. “There is no work in the entire area, not even MNREGA work,” he said, referring to the Centre’s rural job guarantee scheme.
Two more farmers committed suicide in the same district in the past week after losing hopes to raise any crop this season. One drank poison as his five-acre plot yielded not a single crop in the past two years, another hanged himself.