Drought and debt drives more farmers to suicide
Last week 35 year old Lakshman Tekam got yet another letter from the bank. He had just returned from another unsuccessful attempt to sell his last valuable possessions – his bullocks.
But he couldn’t find a buyer. So he took the last option he had. He hanged himself.
His debt was Rs40,000 – just under US$1,000.
He left behind a 25 year old widow, Annapoorna, and three children under the age of three. Annapoorna is anaemic, and has no other source of income. She can no longer afford milk for her six-month-old son.
Lakshman was just one of the ten debt ridden cotton farmers who killed themselves last week in the tiny village of Mangi in the Indian state of Maharashtra. Mangi’s population is 600, and it’s only one of the 15000 villages in the Vidarbha region that’s suffering from one of the most severe drought it’s seen in recent years.
Kishore Tiwari is the president of Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti, an NGO that is trying to speak for the Vidarbha farmers. An estimated 7300 farmers have killed themselves since 2004 – that’s the year that the government introduced a policy to grow BT cotton. Tiwari believes there’s a direct correlation between the policy and the soaring suicide rate.
“BT cotton is a rain sensitive crop but this is such a dry area, so we had more than 95 percent crop failure amongst the 3 million farmers in the region. Suicide has become an everyday situation in these villages. Most of these villagers have large families. They have to pay for their sons’ education. They need money to marry off their daughters. They also have to take care of old parents. There is no respite. The death toll has already crossed 200 for this year.”
Tiwari’s organization has been demanding a ban on BT cotton but the government has yet to respond. And Tiwari is also critical of the government response to the most urgent needs of the villagers
“They have been waiting for the last three days for the water tanker to arrive. But so far it has not come. The summer season has just begun and it’s already 45 degrees. The water tanker pours all the 5000 litres of water into the village well. Each family has to queue for hours to get a turn, but the water dries up quickly and they only get about two litres of water which they have to use for cooking, washing, bathing. And there is hardly any water left for the cattle.”
Meanwhile for Anapoorna and the other widows of Vidarbha, life looks bleak – most of these women are young, and left to care for their children alone and are offered scant help from the government.
[i1] Drought and debt drives more Vidarbha farmers to suicide -- http://www.rnw.nl/data/files/images/lead/drought.jpg
Keerthana Nagarajan recently arrived in the Netherlands from India. She worked with reputed Indian Television channel CNN-IBN, producing daily and weekly news programmes and with Indian newspapers like The Hindustan Times, reporting on civic and development issues. She aspires to be a documentary filmmaker.
Born into a South Indian family, Keerthana has grown up mostly in Delhi. She enjoys reading, travelling and experimenting with a variety of cuisines which she tries out on her long suffering husband, a good sport.