‘Insulted like a criminal’: 41 suicides in 1 month after Mandsaur firing, farmers still struggle to sell crops

A month after five of them were killed in police firing in Madhya Pradesh’s Mandsaur, farmers struggle to sell their bumper onion crop.

india Updated: Jul 06, 2017 11:01 IST
Shruti Tomar
Shruti Tomar
Hindustan Times, Bhopal
Mandsaur violence,Farmers agitation,Mandsaur
Rajendra Mewada at the Krishi Upaj mandi in Bhopal. (HT Photo)

In 72 hours, Rajendra Mewada has been through hell.

The 26-year-old onion farmer has driven more than 100 kilometers up and down from his village of Kalyanpur to the Krishi Upaj Mandi in Bhopal, increasingly desperate to sell off his 40 quintals of crop before they rot in the rain.

At every step, a maze of government procedures – some of them introduced as recently as last week – and the unavailability of officials without whose signatures Mewada can’t transact, have driven him to tears.

“I was humiliated for committing a crime of sowing onion. I was insulted as if I was a criminal, not a farmer. I should have worked as a labourer instead,” he told HT, fuming.

Read | Mandsaur violence: Bountiful yield, plunging prices led to farmers’ crisis

He isn’t the only one. As rain clouds gather, hundreds of onion farmers are queuing up outside government markets across Madhya Pradesh in a last-ditch effort to get some of their investment back before rainfall spoils their produce.

But it’s not easy, especially in a year when a glut in supply has sent prices crashing. Onions that used to fetch a price of Rs80/kg two years ago are now selling at Rs 4 a kg. Moreover, the money is wired in two weeks after the produce is sold.

As a result, thousands of farmers have dumped their produce on the roads and many have committed suicide, unable to extricate themselves from a debt trap.

Farmers' agitation in Madhya Pradesh turned violent in Mandsaur district. (PTI File Photo)

Things came to a head at Mandsaur on June 6, when police firing killed five farmers protesting for a loan waiver and better crop prices. As the agitations snowballed and gained national attention, the BJP government scrambled to put together a lifeline – that the state would buy produce from farmers at mandis at prices double the current market rate.

But as Mewada finds out one month later, little has changed.

Overstocked mandis are struggling to store a bumper crop as looming monsoon showers threaten to wipe out produce. In the face of bureaucratic apathy, farmers are crawling under trolleys when rain comes and surviving on a diet of rotis wrapped in a cloth, chillis and onion – as the smell of rotting onion wafts in the air.

Read | Why Mandsaur farmers are angry? All you need to know about the Madhya Pradesh agitation

Sample this: Out of the 34 lakh tonnes of onion grown this year – a growth of 30% over that of last year -- the government has procured just 6.5 lah till July 3. The total capacity of warehouses in the state is lesser still: 5.33 lakh metric tonnes.

“We are not expert in storing perishable items like onion and this is the reason behind all the problems. We are trying to help farmers but we also have limits of storing,” said Dnyaneshwar Patil, managing director of the state marketing federation that is in charge of the mandis.

Debt drove 41 farmers to death
June 8
1. Anwar Khan, 42, Sagar, debt
2. Kishan Singh Meena, 40, Raisen, debt
June 12
3. Dulichand Keer, 52, Sehore, debt
4. Vijendra Singh, age unknown, Sehore, debt
June 13
5. Makhan Lal, 68, Hoshangabad, debt, moneylenders’ harassment
6. Hari Singh Jatav, 42, Vidisha district, Wrong mutation of land
7. Shomla, 60, Barwani district, debt
June 14
8. Ramesh Basney, 42, Balaghat, reason not known.
June 15
9. Kalla Kevat, 45, Shivpuri, debt
10. Narmada Prasad, Age not known, Hoshangabad, debt
June 16
11. Jagdish Mori, 40, Dhar, debt
June 17
12. Babulal Verma, 40, Hoshangabad, harassment by moneylenders
June 18
13. Jeevan Singh Meena, 35, Vidisha, reason not known.
14. Pyare Lal Oud, 60, Neemuch, reason not known
June 19
15. Bansi Lal Meena, 55, Sehore, debt
June 20
16. Laxmi Gomasta, 43, Nursinghpur, debt
June 21
17. Shatrughan Meena, 46, Sehore, debt
18. Shyam Kumar, Age not known, Chhindwara, debt
19. Raghuvir Yadav, 28, Chhatarpur, debt
June 22
20. Gulai Kurmi, 48, Sagar, harassment by moneylenders
21. Mahesh Tiwari, 75, Chhatarpur, debt
June 24
22. Bilaam Singh, 26, Dhar, harassment by moneylenders
June 25
23. Bhuwanideen Kushwaha, 36, Chhatarpur, financial hardship
24. Barelal Ahirwar, 65, Tikamgarh , harassment by money lenders.
June 26
25. Jahu Singaad, Age not known, Jhabua, financial distress
26. Manohar Singh, 45, Dewas, reason not known.
June 27
27. Gheesiya Khan, 70, Khandwa, debt
28. Dalchand Lilhare, Balaghat, debt
29.Pawan Kewat, 20, Indore, debt
One death in each of these districts: Raisen, Shivpuri, Neemuch, Nursinghpur, Chhindwara, Jhabua, Dewas, Khandwa, Indore, Gwalior
30. Jagdish Chowdhary, 45, Sehore, Repeated crop failure.
31. Vechan Balji, 42, Barwani, debt
32. Bhagwan Meghwal, 65, Mandsaur, financial distress
33. Gulab Singh, 53, Hoshangabad, Suicide note held no one responsible
34. Mahariya Barela, 55, Sehore, debt
35. Deena Mahariya, Age not known, Barwani, debt
June 30
36. Jugnuram Dhakad, 52, Gwalior, harassment by moneylenders
July 1
37. Prem Lal Ahirwar, 23, Sagar district, Harassment by moneylenders
38. Dharam Singh, 45, Tikamgarh, debt
July 2
39. Laxman Singh, 50, Mandsaur, Pressure from moneylender
July 4
40. Suraj Singh Gurjar, Age not known, Sehore, debt
41. Parshuram Sahu, 65, Sagar, increasing loans
Source: Madhya Pradesh police, news reports


Day 1

10am: Mewada reaches the Krishi Upaj Mandi on the outskirts of Bhopal with his a tractor-trolley on rent and 40 quintals of onion. In front of him are 60 trolleys.

The marketing federation officer asks Mewada to show his papers, signed by the local patwari, the government land and revenue official. Mewada is clueless because the rule kicked in a day before, to check false claims by traders.

2pm: The clouds are gathering overhead and Mewada still hasn’t found his patwari. He rushes to his trolley to cover the onion with a plastic sheet to save the onion from rainwater. The incessant rainfall has affected the procurement. Mewada takes shelter under his trolley.

5pm: Rain stops but not before causing trouble to Mewada as moisture has started affecting the onions. He parks his trolley in a nearby open space to spend the night.

Day 2

8am: Mewada checks his onions and finds them moist. He reaches the Mandi and learns 22,000 quintal of onion rotted in the Mandi and officers are strictly checking quality.

1pm: Mewada drives home to Kalyanpur, around 30 kilometres away, to dry the onion. He first drops by the office of the patwari but he is told that the officer is out. He searches but is tired and unsuccessful three hours later.

Read | Mandsaur farmers stir: From Bhatta Parsaul to Nandigram, a look at past protests

By now, he is panicking as his friend Achal Singh, 58, of Imalia village, has just found that his patwari is in Uttarakhand and won’t be back before his consignment of onions rot.

6pm: Mewada finds out the patwari will be available at the Mandi and rushes with all papers approved by the village head. But he doesn’t find the patwari and is forced to sleep another night under the sky, the smell of rotten onions around him.

Day 3:

6am: Mewada wakes up early to park his tractor at the head of the queue.

10am: Mewada rushes to the Mandi’s gate to see the patwari. Two and a half hours later, he gets the signature he’s been chasing for two days. But the process is not over. Now, he has to get the onion approved by the marketing federation.

2.30pm: Mewada receives a call from his home that his daughter is not well. He is uneasy and reaches the office of the marketing federation with other farmers to register their protest over the delay. After an hour, an officer tells him they’re trying to get some new sheds to store the purchased onions. Mewada is worried as rain clouds are gathering again but he’s now carrying a plastic sheet to cover his onions.

5pm: Success! The marketing federation finds some new sheds and Mewada is among the lucky ones whose onions have been approved for purchase.

9pm: A tired Mewada leaves for home but the process still not over. He has to come back the next day to get a slip for the payment against the sold onion. The money will land in his account 15 days later.

First Published: Jul 06, 2017 09:55 IST