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Landless, fighting a losing battle

Seema Telange was 18 when her father Laxmanrao borrowed Rs 18,000 against three of his 5 acres of land.

mumbai Updated: Oct 12, 2009 01:34 IST
Sujata Anandan

Seema Telange was 18 when her father Laxmanrao borrowed Rs 18,000 against three of his 5 acres of land.

Laxmanrao signed over the land, then worth Rs 7 lakh, to the moneylender as collateral.

For the next four years, the family of four scraped through on their 2 acres and even put Seema through college.
When she graduated with a degree in Law, she begged the moneylender to return her father’s land.

He agreed, if they would pay Rs 1.60 lakh.

“I had no choice,” says Seema. “I had no legal grounds to fight him because my father had signed over the title deed.”
It is illegal under the Money Lenders Act to seek such titles from borrowers, but once the title has been transferred, even the courts can do nothing.

Haribhau Gadge (65) wasn’t as lucky as the Telanges.

He borrowed Rs 25,000 from a moneylender in 2008. He returned the principle on time, only to discover that his land had already been sold to a third party. With help from the Sahukargrast Shetkari Sangathana (Moneylender-free Farmers’ Association), an organisation set up to fight moneylenders, he fought back — only to be beaten up and evicted once again.

Seema’s own experience motivated her to fight for poor uneducated farmers who do not know the law and do not recognise
their rights.

Their main hope: That the Money Lending Act will be amended and moneylenders prevented from taking over or selling land.
Farmers in this region have taken heart from former Home minister R.R. Patil’s exhortation to them to stop paying moneylenders.

But there is a great sense of hopelessness among them — because many of the moneylenders they are battling in the region are politically well connected, mostly to the Congress. Many have even got tickets from that party to contest the October 13 state election.

In protest, farmers’ widows met Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi after his public meeting in Yavatmal on Friday and presented him with a memorandum against the moneylender candidates.

“Moneylenders are heavy donors to various political parties and that is why we have no help from politicians. We are on our own,” says Gulab Shende (80), who lost 14 acres to a third party after borrowing just Rs 30,000 from a moneylender.

Adds Ghanshyam Darane, convenor of the anti-moneylender NGO: “We are at best a pressure group. But pressure groups cannot
succeed every time. What we need are special courts to oversee the return of farmers’ lands, accompanied by a change in the system of bank credit to farmers that will be timed with their seasonal needs.”

For this election, the farmers’ response is simple: “Our votes will go to an Independent this time.” Meanwhile, they continue to live on a mix of hope and despair.