On Mahashivratri early this month (March 7), Manoj Shamrao Ghadge ,31, took his son Shambhu , 5, to the village temple and asked the priest to perform a ritual for him. He then quietly left.
After a while, people heard Ghadge’s wife, mother and eight-year-old daughter screaming for help. Ghadge had set himself ablaze and died before he could be taken to hospital. In the evening, came the news that Sriram Pandu Pawar, 65, had hanged himself from a neem tree on his three-acre farm in, Sewal Tanda, a hamlet 3 km from Chaklamba.
Read more: Marathwada: A land of dried up farms, dreams
Ghadge’s and Pawar’s villages are part of a group of 15 within a 5 km radius that have gained notoriety for suicides. Of the eight suicides reported so far this year in Georai tehsil, two were in and around Chaklamba. Last year, Chaklamba and the adjoining 14 villages had reported 15 suicides, out of the 51 in the tehsil. Beed recorded the most suicides, 301, last year in Marathwada, which saw 1,133 cases across its eight districts. This year too, with 244 suicides reported in Marathwada so far, things are no better. Beed again tops the list with 41 suicides; Aurangabad district, with 38 suicides, is a close second.
VH Joshi, Deputy Tehsildar at Georai, attributes the suicides to repeated crop failure and resultant impoverishment of farmers. “Even the pastoral economy there has been badly hit as almost all water sources have dried up. This deprived the farmers of any alternate source of income. The area has been receiving potable water from tankers for the past two years, forget farming,” says Joshi adding that farmers in the other tehsils of Beed managed to irrigate their land with water drawn from bore wells and wells until last year.
The scarcely populated land received the lowest rainfall of about 180 mm for the last three consecutive years, far below the average 330 mm Marathwada received during the same period (770 mm is the normal average rainfall in the region).
Crop failures resulted in the inability of farmers to repay debts taken from nationalised/cooperative banks or private money lenders who are said to be busy usurping land from borrowers.
In Ghadge’s case, his family cited the stress he was undergoing after defaulting on interest for the Rs63,000 he had taken from a cooperative bank. “We spent over Rs11 lakh in 2012 on the treatment of my late father-in law. That exhausted all our savings. After that my husband borrowed Rs63,000 from banks and spent on our land (eight acres). The crop was completely destroyed due to lack of rainfall,” says Swati, Ghadge’s 26-year-old widow.
Ghadge mortgaged Swati’s mangalsutra and started a motorcycle-wash shop sometime back. When water became scarce, he had to close that down too. “He was under stress as he was unable to bear the household expenses and Rs22,000 annual school fees of our son, whom he had enrolled in a private English medium school with high hopes. Topping it all, he was apprehensive about the confiscation of the land, which was mortgaged with the bank,” Swati says. She is fearful of the future as she has to raise two children with no income available.
In Pawar’s case too, he had taken a Rs2.5 lakh loan from a cooperative bank three years ago by mortgaging his three acres. He had spent most of the money on his daughter’s wedding and was banking on a good harvest to repay the loan. However, three consecutive crop failures broke his back. “The fear of losing land to the bank left him with no option,” says Dhondabai (60), Pawar’s widow.
Both the families are desperately waiting for the government’s relief package of Rs1 lakh. “I am well aware of the situation. The compensation to the families would be disbursed in a few days,” says Naval Kishore Ram, Beed collector, adding that almost Rs30 lakh has been disbursed as compensation to farmers’ families this year.
However, Santosh Manurkar, a senior journalist from Beed, says suicides cannot be linked only to crop failures. “Analysis of many of the suicide cases has revealed that the lack of affordable critical health care facility in the district is driving many families to expensive private hospitals in far off places. That is another key reason for their impoverishment, which is aggravated by crop failure,” he says.