[Reader-list] Reg: Set - 4

Rakesh Iyer rakesh.rnbdj at gmail.com
Mon Jun 21 21:08:43 IST 2010

Source: The Hindu

Article Theme: Farmer's suicides

Date: May 5, 2010

Link: http://beta.thehindu.com/opinion/columns/sainath/article422651.ece

Article content:

Men of letters, unmoved readers P. Sainath

Suicide notes in Vidarbha are at times addressed to the Prime Minister, the
desperate last cries of voices that went unheeded when alive.

Seeking authenticity for his letter to the Prime Minister and the President,
Ramachandra Raut composed it with care on Rs.100 non-judicial stamp paper.
Then he added a few more addressees, including his village *sarpanch* and
the police, in the hope that it got home someplace. Then he killed himself.
A mere digit in the nearly 250 farm suicides that hit Vidarbha in four
months; but a villager desperate to be heard on the reasons for his action:
“The two successive years of crop failure is the reason.” Yet, “bank
employees came twice to my home to recover my loans”. (Despite a government
order to go slow on recovery in a region hit by crisis, crop failure and
more recently, drought).

Raut's suicide being the third in a month in Dhotragoan in Washim district,
the village wants to see it spreads no further. “We try and meet every
evening for an hour, all of us, anyone who will come,” says Nandkishore
Shankar Raut from Dhotragaon. “The idea is to keep people's morale up.” So
Dhotragaon counsels itself. Ramachandra Raut's letter was also an appeal not
to be misunderstood. “Don't trouble anyone in my home,” it tells the police.
“I am fully responsible for my action.” The stamp paper suicide note carries
the seal of the deputy treasury officer of Mangrulpir tehsil dated March 29,
and that of the stamp vendor who issued it to Raut on April 7. Raut filled
it in and took his life the same day.

The family owes the banks Rs.1.5 lakh. His village pooled money to observe
his 13th day ritual, sparing Raut's indebted family further expense.


Vidarbha's farm suicides have been unique in one respect. Some of those
taking their lives have addressed suicide notes to the Prime Minister, the
Chief Minister or the Finance Minister. In August 2006 Rameshwar Lonkar of
Wardha complained, in his note, to Dr. Manmohan Singh, just a month after
the Prime Minister went to his region. “After the Prime Minister's visit and
reports of a fresh crop loan, I thought I could live again,” Lonkar wrote.
But he found himself rebuffed at every stage while seeking that loan.
Sahebrao Adhao's last testament in Amravati the same year painted a picture
of usury, debt and land grab.

In November 2006, cotton grower Rameshwar Kuchankar addressed the then
Maharashtra Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh in his note. He scribbled it
down moments before taking his life in Yavatmal. “We are fed up with the
delay in procurement and crashing prices ... Mr. Chief Minister, give us the
price.” He also warned State Home Minister R.R. Patil that if the price did
not improve at once, suicides would soar. They did.

“These notes are the last cry of despair of people trying to tell their
government the reasons for agrarian distress,” says Kishor Tiwari. Mr.
Tiwari heads the Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti, a body fighting for farmers'
rights. “We set up expert committees to tell us why farmers commit suicide
when they are themselves telling us the reasons with such clarity in their
suicide notes.” The notes often speak of debt, soaring cultivation costs,
high cost of living and volatile prices. Some of them trash regressive
policies and a credit crunch that have destroyed thousands of farmers here
in the past decade. Crop failure and drought coming atop these, ruin fragile

Two years of crop failure in a single crop district can mean 34 months with
no income. Vidarbha gained little from the 2008 Farm Loan Waiver which
addressed only bank debt. The waiver excluded those farmers holding more
than five acres, and made no distinction between dry and irrigated holdings.
In Western Vidarbha, farmers take more loans from moneylenders than from
banks. And, the average land holding is around seven acres in this mostly
unirrigated region.

Of the five states that account for two-thirds of all of India's farm
suicides, Maharashtra is by far the worst. According to the National Crime
Records Bureau (NCRB) the State logged 41,404 farm suicides between 1997 and
2008. That is, more than a fifth of the national total of nearly 200,000 in
that same period. Of those 12 years, NCRB data show, the years 2006-08 have
been the very worst. Within the State, Vidarbha has been the focal point of
the tragedy.

*Back to square one*

However, the situation here seems like a throwback to that of 2005-06,
before Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit. Hit by a spate of suicides at
the time, the State government spoke in many voices. In mid-2005, it gave
out a figure of just 141 distress suicides across the whole State since
2001. Challenged in court, it revised this to 524. When the National
Commission of Farmers team led by Dr. M.S. Swaminathan visited later the
same year, it conceded there had been over 300 in the single district of
Yavatmal. The final figure for the whole State that year, put out by the
NCRB, was actually 3,926 suicides.

“For a while,” says Mr. Tiwari of the VJAS, “the State revealed real numbers
on the website of the Vasantrao Naik Farmers' Self-Reliance Mission. That
was because of Dr. Singh's visit and a lashing from the courts.” In fact,
those figures were far higher than anything even the VJAS had recorded. This
year, however, the website's columns for 2010 are so far blank. The
Agriculture Ministry's reply to a question in the Rajya Sabha, based on
State claims, says just 23 farm suicides occurred between January and April
8. This, even as other arms of government (and the Leader of the Opposition)
put out figures ten times as high. The Vasantrao Naik Mission has itself
given out signed data confirming there were 62 such deaths in January alone.
(Though it has not put this up on its website.)

The numbers are routinely lowered by tagging hundreds of suicides as
“non-genuine”. That is, “ineligible for compensation”. Aimed at curbing the
amounts the State has to fork out to bereaved families, this move has caused
much damage. “We are deluding ourselves,” says a senior official. “No wonder
Ramachandra Raut felt the need to address his letter on stamp paper to the
Prime Minister and President as well. He knew nothing would be taken
seriously here in Maharashtra.”

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