The ongoing parliamentary elections hold little meaning for 80-year-old debt-ridden Jasmail Kaur as they cannot change her fate. Jasmail has been living alone at her small house at Chhajali village of Sunam since her 19-yearold son Jaggi committed suicide 18 years ago.
“Jaggi was two when his father Gurjant Singh died of a prolonged illness,” says Jasmail with tears in her eyes. “For the past 18 years, I have been living alone, there is nothing left in my life as now I live to die every day,” she said while talking to HT.
Though Jasmail had to sell off her half-acre land to bear the expenses on Jaggi’s treatment at the PGI, Chandigarh, yet she could not save his life when he consumed poison to get rid of his debt of Rs. 1.2 lakh, that Jasmail had taken from a commission agent for the marriage of her two daughters.
Besides getting Rs. 250 per month as pension, Jasmail started doing embroidery work for which she gets Rs. 6 per shawl, and that takes her entire day.
Similar is the tale of 85-yearold Pritam Kaur, who lives near Jasmail’s house in the same village.
After the death of her two sons Lakhwinder and Raj and husband Gamdoor Singh, Pritam Kaur now lives with her 12-year-old grandson.
“I have faced four jolts in my life, but the biggest was the death of my younger son, Raj, who died in a road accident three years ago.
My husband and son Lakhwinder had committed suicide as they failed to return the debt, so Raj’s death left me alone with Lakhwinder’s son,” she said, adding, “Fate was cruel to my grandson as he lost his father at the age of two and his mother left us as she remarried.
I have one-and-a-half acre of land but am worried that the debt will increase manifold by the time my grandson will be able to earn.”
Then, there is 72-year-old Mukhtyar Singh, whose 25-yearold son committed suicide in 2012 as he failed to retur n the debt.
According to Mukhtyar Singh, there are more than 80 suicide-hit families of farmers at Chhajali village alone, who did not get anything from the gover nment and not a single politician has reached them till date.
However, to woo farmers ahead of the polls, the Punjab government has asked three universities of the state — Punjab Agricultural University, Punjabi University and Guru Nanak Dev University — to undertake a fresh survey of suicide-hit farm families.
According to BKU (Ugrahan), more than 30,000 far mers and labourers have committed suicide in the state during the past 14 years, but politicians are shying away from taking up the serious issue.
Interestingly, there is no mention of the suicide-hit agriculture families in the election manifestos of all the major parties, including the Congress, BJP, SAD and AAP.
“The SAD-BJP government in Punjab had given compensation of Rs. 2 lakh to each suicide-hit family of the state. I don’t know how these families were left out.
In future, we will ensure 50% profit on all crops to the farmers above the production cost, if the NDA is voted to power,” said SAD candidate Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa, who was also chairman of the SAD’s election manifesto committee.
“The issue of farmers’ suicide in Punjab, especially in Sangrur, had been raised several times by the international media, but our central and state governments did not pay any attention to it.
The need is to probe the reasons of suicide by farmers as the AAP has already promised to implement recommendations of the Swaminathan Commission, but we should also chalk out schemes for crop insurance and burden should be reduced on agriculture by providing jobs to educated children of the farmers”, said Bhagwant Mann, AAP candidate from Sangrur.
Sitting Congress MP Vijay Inder Singla, who is contesting the poll for the second time, said, “The anti-farmer policies of the SAD-BJP government in Punjab are the cause of increasing suicide cases among farmers.
As the state government’s policies are not supportive of small far mers, especially for the tenant farmers, that is why small and marginal far mers are committing suicide as they cannot bear the loss of a single crop. We should also take steps to protect the farmers from natural calamities”.