Skulls to snakes, farmers protesting at Delhi’s Jantar Mantar use it all to get heard
The farmers from Tamil Nadu are demanding a relief package and loan waiver from the central government. They have used novel methodsdelhi Updated: Mar 30, 2017 14:21 IST
For 17 days, Palanichamy has been protesting at Jantar Mantar in Delhi clad in a green loin cloth with skulls around his neck. The 65-year-old farmer from Trichy, Tamil Nadu, claims that one of the skulls belonged to his brother-in-law Paluchamy who had committed suicide.
“He owed around Rs 5 lakh to banks. He had mortgaged and lost over 400 grams of his wife’s gold. His daughter, who had been studying nursing, could not pay her fees. This was the condition of a farmer in Tamil Nadu who had over 4.5 acres of paddy fields,” he said.
Palanichamy is one of the 40 odd farmers from Tamil Nadu who have been protesting at Jantar Mantar for loan waiver and drought relief package. The farmers are determined to take their voice to the government even if it involves bizarre methods. From bringing skulls of “dead farmers” to mock funerals, their techniques are intended to draw attention to their plight and stand out even at Jantar Mantar, the grand home to protests.
On Monday, the farmers posed for pictures holding live mice between their teeth. The idea, they said, was to show that they may be reduced to eating rodents as their livelihood had been destroyed. “Eating rats and mice is not new for us. Meat and chicken, and even pulses and grains can get very expensive, so we have eaten rat curries in the past,” said Palanichamy adding that his brother-in-law had stopped eating before he committed suicide last year.
Palanichamy said it does haunt him to wear his brother-in-law’s skull around the neck everyday but it is for a better future for the family. “Now I am responsible for his wife, his kids and my mother-in-law too. I also have a loan of Rs 5-8 lakh. Over the last five years, I have been just paying off the interest,” he said.
Meanwhile, the two white mice, that were used for the protest are alive and thriving at the site. The two were bought at a local pet store for around Rs 500. The farmers had also protested holding snake bits in their mouth on Wednesday. Palanichamy said they have been trying out these dramatic ideas to draw the government’s attention, “Look at what we are fighting for. Not how we are fighting.”
A “1970’s SSLC (educated up to Class X)”, Palanichamy claimed to have completed a teachers’ training course. “I could not find a job and took up farming. But even that has not worked well for me,” he said. After a drought, reportedly called one of the worst in 140 years, and cyclone Vardah destroyed his crops, Palanichamy says that like many others, he too started scavenging for scrap and selling it. “I still had pride and would go through garbage and collect the trash only at night,” he said. Left with no choice, he boarded a train with the others who were coming to Delhi to seek respite from the central government. “I had to take a loan of Rs 3,000 at 3% interest to come to Delhi. It is hard here, but it is worse back home,” he said.
His solace has been the Bangla Saheb Gurudwara, where he could sleep and was offered bread in the morning. “The Tamil civic society in Delhi have also helped us a lot. They have been giving us food and water,” he added.
In his absence, his family, including his brother-in-law’s family, have been living on his wife’s salary as a midday meal cook at a local government school. She makes Rs 3,000 a month. “I will not leave until our demands are met; even if it means dying here. Sometimes I think I may be of better use to my family dead. They pay the family of a farmer who committed suicide Rs 3 lakh,” he said.