Indefinite strike, indefinite trials, indefinite call to justice
Brown, green and grey were their pots. In a haphazard line, they were left unattended near the hand pump at dawn. Everything ran dry in these regions: borewells, ponds, lakes, tanks, and even farmlands. Shadows of abandoned structures hung in corners. Dark omnipresent forms writhing on the ground. There was a soundless heave that caught us unawares. It held remorse in its veins.
A heavy stillness engulfed these surroundings.
Sometime in the middle of the day, like a faded whisper, it followed us everywhere.
Thakalgaon was no place to be. Certainly, not at his hour. But in these regions every morning seemed that way. “Water tankers don’t reach this village,” said one of the khaki-clad men accompanying us, that morning. Beside him, a shorter man with a bluetooth device in his ear took longer strides towards the crowd gathered before us.
They were all in white. Women went by as quiet as the summer breeze while the older men sat in the courtyard straightening their caps and dhotis. There were many here who had come and gone, they told us a few hours later. They never saw them again. They looked for everything: their living, their dead, their grief. Unknown presences wandering into rooms asking for tales that described their drudgery.
They never read about stories of their village. Nor of their living or dead. They didn’t need to be told what it meant to live there.
“A young girl’s getting married,” said an old man standing beside as we wondered why people had gathered in the house at the end of the street corner, “So, everyone is busy with wedding preparations. The wedding is tomorrow.” He pointed at the men adjusting the belt of a nagada and said, “If it’s too loud, we can ask them to stop playing for a while.”
We politely refused and asked them to not bother the family. The music got louder in a while as more and more people joined the gathering. Weddings were rare these days.
“There are at least 2500 people living in Thakalgaon. We have been experiencing drought like conditions for the past four years. Sab sookh gaya hai idhar. And, we haven’t got any response from the government at all. Until when are we supposed to wait for someone to come to us? If we put forth a proposal or suggest something to them, it takes them three or four months to consider giving us a response. Everything takes too long to be facilitated. Currently, we are relying on a few people whose borewells are functional. We don’t get water for 15 days at a stretch,” said Lala Sahib Baliram Dalari raising his fists in the air. A few hours later, we would see him walking alone in streets where children hid pebbles beneath trash cans. On quiet days, you could hear his footsteps
In the temple hall, that morning, were gathered men both young and old. If you didn’t look close of enough, you wouldn’t notice it. Somewhere underneath their anxious eyes rested a grief that lasted a lifetime. Somewhere it remained in the corner while they spoke lest they were seen unforgiving.
Adhigrahan, we heard someone whisper behind us. He wore a safari suit. We knew him. He was one of the officials who accompanied us to the trip. Adhigrahan Yojana, he said louder gesturing the farmers to continue. The men looked at each other and exchanged knowing glances. “As a part of yojana, functional borewells in the village were acquired by authorities to supply water. Par shasan ne jo jal yojana ki hai uska paani band ho gaya. Ab bilkul bhi paani nahin aa raha,” said a middle-aged farmer frowning in disdain. They were being coerced to tell us of the scheme. We didn’t react to the men. He rubbed his palms together as the rest looked at him.
“25 to 30 houses get water from these adhigrahan borewells. So far, 2 or 3 borewells were declared as adhigrahan. They were supposed to provide tankers to the village. The water supply that was supposed to reach us has never come. We have to travel to a neighbouring village for water,” he went on.
His name was Hanumanth Dagudukadam. He shed his nonchalant demeanour when the men coaxed the villagers to reveal more about the schemes. Five years ago, the situation was different, he insists.
“We had water to drink but none to farm. We were still struggling to remain alive back then. These regions don’t receive great rainfall. Back in the day, we would get around 700 mm come every monsoon season. Gradually, the number reduced to 420 mm. Humare janwaron ko paani nahin hai, anaaj nahin hai, chaara nahin hai kuch nahin hai. This is the truth of our village, and perhaps every village here. There are many stories that you’ll hear in these regions,” he told us glancing occasionally at the men seated behind us.
An old man looked at us with grief stricken eyes. His crinkled features were a reminder of the several seasons he had seen pass by in this village. Here, the winds lingered all through summer. Still, it was their home.
“We get ration from the government at subsidised rates. Anaaj milne se kam se kam khaane ki koi parvaah nahin hai,” said Balbheem Pandari Sindhe wincing in pain as he turned his neck.
Everyone owns land but no one can farm on them anymore. Migration has begun. And, they can’t live here. Not for long. There will come a day when every man, woman and child shall abandon their homes and migrate to lands where concrete structures tower the skies, the elders feared decades ago.
A similar fate befell drought-hit areas all across the country. We bore witness to their struggles. Over the next 16 months, we had heard such stories that foretold of an eventuality that was known to us.
When we returned, some had left to cities.
Some had left us to never return.
They barely contained their repugnance of those who lent them hope in return for their lives.
This would never pass.
Their living were deserted while their dead were mourned.
Every family needs around 400 to 500 litres of water but they get only 50 litres everyday. “We get water once in eight to ten days. Regular supply is a luxury that no one can afford in these villages. Can you imagine? Water is now a luxury,” Hanumanth laughed till his eyes turned moist. The others joined him. Some even shook their heads in disbelief. “Tell me, how do we survive? That is all we are allowed. This also includes our drinking water supply. We walk with pots or cycle to great distances to reach a hand pump that will get us some water for our daily chores. Everyone manages on their own. You will also see a lot of people transporting water in tanks or pots using their bullock carts,” he went on.
Four years ago, Lala recalled heavy rains wreaked havoc across the district destroying almost every crop and farm in near vicinity.
“We see ice in summer and drought during monsoons,” said a man standing near the door. Someone was speaking softly just outside. Her voice barely above a whisper inquiring who we were. We couldn’t see her.
“If this persists, then everything will cease to exist. We wont be able to live here anymore. Sab banjar ban jaayega. Paani na hone ke wajah se hum marr jaayenge. Nothing will be spared. Borewells have already dried up. There’s none left. We can’t dig any borewells anymore. We don’t find any water at 900 feet today. The government has put a cap on 200 feet. We can’t go beyond that. There isn’t any point in digging borewells anymore,” said Lala clearing his throat while the others nodded.
Behind Balbheem Pandari Sindhe sat Manik whose expressions turned sour as he heard the farmers speak all morning. Just to the left of the building where parked vehicles gatehred dust in the heat, we spotted him pacing back and forth with an elderly man hours later. As time went along, no one took any notice of them standing in the heat.
“Dekhiye paanch das saal se humari haalat kaafi kharab hai,” he said looking at everyone in the room as a few rose to head towards home, “We are all responsible for the situation we are in. In the past ten years, how many old trees have we cut? These trees give us a new lease of life. And, we have completely disrespected them. We cut them, sell them, build a house and then cut some more trees. Gradually, over the years, rainfall has reduced considerably and now it is no longer there. There are many such timber mills that continue to exploit our green cover and this is the unfortunate situation here. There’s a market for it. So, they get sold. The more we cut, the more we’ll lose our environment. Rainfall has reduced so much so that we are now desperate to get any job that will feed us. We are ready to do anything. Kahin bhi kaam hai, bhago, bas yehi hai. Ye sabko samaj aani chahiye. We have to learn to respect nature or else we will pay a heavy price for it.”
Farming practices went through a gradual decline over the last few years due to reduced rainfall. Har das saal main, ek saal sukha padta hoti hai, said the farmers in unison. But drought-like conditions continue to prevail even after five years. This has never happened before. 25 km from away from Thakalgaon lies the Manjra Dam. If it gets filled, they might survive. “Earlier, when we had enough water, we didn’t conserve anything. We did not take any measures to ensure that we don’t waste water unnecessarily in the cities. However, people living there don’t realise what it means to us. They waste a lot of water even if there isn’t any for the villages,” said Manik.
There were pipelines laid in the villages. However, they haven’t been supplying them any water for the past two months. A few household received some water months ago, claimed a few farmers. When there was none left to spare, the government implemented adhigrahan. As a part of the scheme, personal borewells were converted into public property. People who owned them would get Rs 12,000 a month/Rs 400 per day from the government so that the public could procure water for their daily chores. This wouldn’t last long. Farmers fear they might run into trouble yet again six months later.
We then asked them what the solution to the problem was. Or what they felt could be the long term solution to the problem? “There is no water at all. Every solution we can come up with is entirely dependent on rainfall. If there isn’t any rainfall, then all the solutions will fail. What can be done, otherwise? If it rains at least 700 or 800 mm, then the dam will get filled and the pipelines will be functional again. We don’t know what the situation could be this year. We can’t be sure. Anything can happen. If it doesn’t rain on time, this year, then there will be a lot of issues this year. We fear no one will be able to stay in the villages for a very long time,” he said.
We then asked him what the situation of loans was in the village. How many farmers were in debt?
“Almost everyone is in debt. Banks stopped giving us loans last year. What would be our collateral? Our fields are barren. We have no means to pay them back too. So, they stopped. They told us it can’t be done. Farmers have taken loans from private bankers as well as government run cooperative banks. Some have taken from rich businessmen or those who are willing to help them. Who else will help them out? Banks have shunned us. No one will give us any loans since we are worthless and it might be difficult to retrieve money from us. Kyun dega koi? Koi nahin dega. Almost everyone is a defaulter. But the banks don’t hound us to retrieve their money. They understand our plight and tell us pay whatever interest we can at the moment and try and clear the loans whenever we can. Zabardasti nahin karenge ye log. We don’t have any private lenders or sahukars functioning in the area,” said Manik.
There have been no instances of suicides in the village. We asked them if they ever wondered or could fathom the mental state of a farmer who would take such a drastic step. “There could be many reasons including the wedding of a daughter, lack of food/fodder for his animals, school and household expenditure. And, this is one of the main reasons why a farmer could commit suicide. Expenses increase every day while income remains stagnant. As a result, he is drowned in debt. Out of helplessness, he might just commit suicide or kill himself since he won’t see any way out. Such farmers don’t get any help. Moreover, there could be a possibility that people assume you being dead is far more valuable to your family than you being alive. At least, after you die you are eligible for some compensation from the government. That way, the family will at least be comfortable for a while,” said Hanumanth.
At this point, the band picked up their pace again and we couldn’t hear each other. We stopped talking for a while and just stared in the direction of the wedding. We couldn’t help but wonder how difficult it must have been for the family to arrange for money and conduct the wedding. We heard whispers of dahej (dowry) going around. However, that’s a normal practice in most of the rural areas. No one would be willing to give the girl a chance if the family refuses to pay dowry.
Soon, the music stopped and we continued talking. Lala looked at us and said, “Whoever has taken crop loan in hopes that they would get a good harvest should be pardoned. No one could have anticipated the situation to be this dire. The government should take measures to ensure that the loan is pardoned. Otherwise, loans keep piling up and the farmer will never be able to repay them. On an average every farmer has a loan of 100,000 to 400,000. Most of them take these loans to dig borewells and other field work that needs to be done in order to ensure a good harvest,” he said.
We told him that we spoke to farmers in Karnataka too. And, they told us of a disturbing trend in prices. During sowing season, the rates are usually high. At the time of harvest, the rates drop drastically. The mandi decides the price and they lower it at the right time.
To that Manik replied, “What you said is true. Say, I have some land and I managed to get some water. So, I grew onions on it. I then took it to the Mandi who bought the onions for Rs 2 to 3 per kilo. However, he sells it for Rs 15 to 20 per kilo. At the time of harvest, we take our produce to the Mandi who then makes a commission on our sale. He also sells it to his suppliers and makes some money there too. In the end, the farmer is left with nothing. Humare kisan ke pass phookat main lete hain. Sab milke khaate hain. Ye jo vyapari hain, ye bohat galat hain. Kisano ko fasane ka hi kaam hai unka. Kaunsa bhi rehne do… pyaaz rehne do, hari mirch rehne do, baingan rehne do, gobi rehne do, sab ka bhao upar neeche karte hain. Fasa dete hain kisaan ko. Isliye kisan kabhi aagey nahin bad sakta.”
We asked them if there was ever an instance wherein farmers united to stand up against the Mandi and demand what they deserved. Did they decide to supply to the market on their own? At this point, everyone in the room shook their heads vehemently and said “No”. While Lala said it is impossible for a farmer to do so since he would be barely covering his expenses by taking his produce to the mandi, Manik said, “Agar woh gaya Mandi waalon se baath karne ya ladne toh woh maar khaake wapas aayega. Woh sab milke khaate hain na. Woh milke danda maarte hain. Usko maaro saale ko, aisa bolte. Do rupaiye ka dene ka hai toh dedo, nahin to jao. Woh sab aadmi bohat bekar hai. Woh kaam bohat galat karte hain. Unko kisi ka bhi dhyaan nahin. We have no other option but to use the Mandi to sell our produce. We have enough market for our produce. We have markets in Latur, Ausa, Mumbai, Delhi.”
Lala went on for a while. Again, no one stopped him from speaking about their issues. At this point, several men rose to speak. They sought courage within them to shed their inhibitions and share their troubles with us. “Yahan nazdeek market hai toh wahin pe jaate hain. Ek baar kisaan ne maal market main le liya toh usko wapas nahin laa sakta uska kharch bohat badh jaata hai. Ek bar de diya toh usko bechna hi padhtha hai. Rakhne ke liye jagah nahin hai idhar. And, that’s why the farmer finds himself in a predicament. The market should come to the farmer. Only then will we be able to see the difference. Then, the farmer can decide if he wants to sell or he doesn’t want to sell his produce. But the reality is, the one who grows doesn’t have any right to sell his produce at the requisite rate,” they said collectively.
There aren’t any granaries in these regions that could be used to store their produce. Therefore, it can’t be kept for long. Many store their vegetables or pulses at home for a while and sell whatever they can to the mandi. However, owing to the lack of a storage facility, farmers are left with no option but to rely on available outlets. “The government should provide a storage room with a capacity of 5,000 to 10,000 tonnes for every village. It is imperative they do that. That will help farmers quite a bit not cheap loans,” Lala said wiping his forehead.
In these areas, farmers grow channa (chick pea) and soybean. They used to grow sugarcane. However, there isn’t any water left to cultivate the crop anymore. Whatever grows on the fields today is used as animal fodder since the plants usually experience stunted growth. “For the past five years, there has been nothing. We don’t grow any sugarcane nor do we have any food to eat,” said Manik.
Years ago, every farmer would grow 400 to 500 tonnes of sugarcane per year. From their villages, they would procure around 10,000 tonnes of sugarcane in all. “Abhi sukha pad gaya, toh bohat kam ho gaya hai. Earlier, we could earn around Rs 150,000 to Rs 200,000 per acre. Now, we barely manage 50,000 to 70,000 per acre. We have to put in a lot of time and investment but whatever we earn is far lesser than the amount invested,” said Lala.
In other parts of the country, there were instances of farmers selling their cattle for money since they were unable to feed them or take care of them anymore. “Yes, there were some cases here too. If we have nothing to eat and the animals don’t have anything to eat, then how can we manage to keep them alive? If a farmer has fodder and water, he won’t sell his animals,” said Manik.
In 2016, it rained around 420 mm. The subsequent year, rainfall was recorded at less than 300 mm. Despite some investing in sprinklers on their fields, the accumulated water never seeped into the ground below 1 feet. As a result, the ground water table remained untouched. “1 feet bhi nahin 4 – 6 inch bhi nahin mila,” said Hanumanth with disdain.
We asked him if people are gradually opting out of farming and prefer to take up something else. “Chod ke kya karenge. This is all we know. Unless and until, someone is highly educated and can afford to take up a different job, then they can perhaps leave to bigger cities. Hum toh kuch padhe nahin na. Toh hum kya karenge? We have no other skill. We have been farming since we were children. Let the government hire us as peons. We can even sweep their offices and we won’t mind doing that. Let them give us jobs. Then, we would more than happy to do that,” said Manik and Lala.
NREGA brought out several schemes in these regions. Some worked in their favour and some didn’t. We wondered aloud if the villagers were given job cards. “Nothing has come up so far here,” said Lala and the farmers around him. They had done some projects that involved the construction of a road and dam in surrounding areas but men and women get paid differently. They don’t have equal pay.
“Men get around Rs 182 per day while women get Rs 100 per day for the same work,” said Manik, “At the time of harvest, a farmer will struggle to pay agricultural labourers their dues. So, they ensure that they get their work done with the least amount of expenses. They also have to save water. While the government may ensure equal pay, the norm otherwise dictates that a woman will get paid lesser.”
They also reiterated the fact that loans have to be pardoned or at least some relief must be provided to the farmers. Their loans have been piling on for the past four or five years and there’s no way a farmer will be able to repay them. Not in this lifetime. We asked them if banks sent notices to the farmers from time to time forcing them to pay their debts. “No. They don’t force us. They tell us to pay whenever they can. However, if they don’t send us any notices this year, they will probably send them next year. We can’t escape from paying our debts. But how do we pay them back at all? Karza maaf karni padegi, shasan ko,” said the men as a few more gathered at the door.
These days, they send their girls to school. Most of them are married off at the age of 18. Some boys have completed their graduation but they are all unemployed. “Idhar udhar bhatakte hain. Kheti main kaam karte hain. Bekar hi hain ye sab,” said Hanumanth pointing at a few young men who entered the temple hall.
There was another old man seated beside Lala. His name was Vamanrao Ganpathrao Kadam. He barely spoke but his eyes gave way the emotions he had held in for so long. He too was a farmer. Beside Manik, Yuvaraj Kadam sat still and looked down. Sometimes, he drew figures in the ground. The more we looked the more we found them. Faces that revealed far too little, and eyes that barely held their grief. There was neither grief nor anger within them. A sense of helpless acceptance lingered in the air; as if they had no choice but to succumb to their fate.
Manik farms on eight acres of land but this year he didn’t grow anything. It was pointless, he said when he asked him. “Usually, I grow soybean and chickpeas. We harvest twice a year. In summer, we grow soybean, channa, urad daal, toor daal, moong daal and jowar. We get one harvest from these crops. And, then there are rabi crops that are cultivated after Diwali around October. The crops grown in that time period are channa, wheat and jowar,” he said sighing and looking ahead.
Unprecedented rains at the time of harvest destroyed everything they had managed to grow last year. The crops end up rotting in the fields thereby leading to a complete loss for a farmer. “We have cut our trees and polluted our soils to an extent that farmers are struggling to grow their food. In the end, we end up paying a heavy price for our greed,” said Manik.
It was noon when we decided to take a walk around the village. The elders led the way. We followed them towards a well that was built to store water. Many people had joined us by then. A large group of youngsters walked a few paces behind as the farmers who had gathered in the newly constructed temple hall joined us from a distance.
As we walked towards the defunct well, we saw several women carrying pots on their waists and heads walking towards borewells or hand pumps looking for more water. Their feet stumbled leaving a trail of water behind them. The heat made it extremely difficult for them to traverse these narrow streets. With veils clung to their shoulders, they draped the thin garment over their heads in hopes to protect themselves from the glaring sun. Their gaze burrowing deeper into our heads as we walked away.
This was a normal sight for the villagers. Scores of colourful plastic pots were lined up on the alley as they all waited for a sign from the ground; for a sign from the skies; as they waited for hope. It was all a waiting game now.
We saw a few women flashing us smiles and giggles here and there. They wondered who we were and why was there such a large group following us. They struck a conversation with a few youngsters who teased them and asked them to pose with their pots.
The well was constructed a while ago. It was meant to store water for the entire village. There wasn’t a single drop of water left in it. “How will it be filled if it hasn’t rained?” asked Manik. Small wrappers of plastic could be seen below. Nothing stirred in these areas. The stillness was eerie and undying.
The well was a harsh reminder of what the once ‘green belt’ of Marathwada had come to be. Forlorn and ragged, it was left behind abandoned by its inhabitants. Sab sukha pad gaya hai, a common phrase lingered in the air.
We continued walking through the village. The locals were keen on showing us the narrow lanes and houses built in these alleys. It wasn’t any different from those that survived in rural India. Atop a house, a grandfather wore his rose-coloured turban and straightened his dhoti as he stood up squinting his eyes and looking in our direction. Beside him, another old man chopped some betel nuts and placed a few shreds in his paan. The paths then led us to Manjra Patta which was constructed to bring in some more water for the villages in and around Latur.
Lala decided to accompany us to the dam while Manik rode his bike behind us. Fifteen minutes later, he gestured us to stop. He then came running to us and said, “This is my land. As you can see, nothing’s growing here anymore. I have some cows and I make some money by selling milk too. We have some mango trees too. Wait here, I’ll get you some,” he said and climbed the tree. He plucked a few raw mangoes and gave them to us. “You can eat them with little salt and chilli,” he said with a big smile. He also plucked some tamarind and handed them to us. “Back in the day, our mango and tamarind trees would reach great heights. Now, everything seems to have a stunted growth,” he added with a frown.
They offered to make us lunch. We told them we would just manage with fruits and water since we were ill. En route, we came across a separate settlement away from the village. We asked them why were they lived here and not with them. “The government built these houses for the Dalits. So, they reside here,” said Lala.
They knew what lingered in our minds when we asked Lala if there was any discrimination practised in these villages today. Caste atrocities throughout the country had reached mammoth proportions, a year later. And, in these regions too, the winds carried whispers of dread and despair.
“No. Not at all. We go to their homes. They come to ours. We all meet at the temple too. We are all struggling to make ends meet. We are all sailing in the same boat. Our generation doesn’t discriminate at all. But there could be some people in the village who consider them inferior. Nothing can be done about that. We have to change with times. Some of these people still believe in orthodox ideologies,” said Lala.
We were nearing the dam when his eyes fell upon the scorched fields in the distance. We walked to the dam. The heat was relentless. The patta was built as a part of an initiative undertaken by Vilas Rao Deshmukh. However, as the construction neared its end, the area was hit by drought. The entire project thrived on the success of monsoons and for the past four years, there has been little or no rainfall at all. “Humare kisanon ki bhi galti hai. No one decided to practise effective water management. We were all under the impression that we could manage forever. But nothing lasts forever,” said Lala.
We left the village and decided to head towards Bise Wagholi. On our way, the field officers stopped near their office and showed us where they usually operate from: a tiny building located on the roadside. They discussed amongst themselves where they would like to take us next and asked if we would want to meet a family whose little girl had committed suicide. Her father was a farmer and they didn’t have any money for dowry. Apparently, the incident took place three months ago.
With a heavy heart, we drove towards the village where the family resided.
Death was a certainty in these regions.
We drove from Thakalgaon, that summer afternoon, towards fields that were left barren and forgotten. Some had clusters of sugarcane growing in small patches of land. We drove towards winding patchy roads where we came across small stalls serving some food and beverages. We decided to stop there to stock up on water and had some lassi. Farmers had gathered in a large group there. Some discussed farming issues and others seemed bothered about fluctuating rates.
Away from us, in the corner, a man stuffed his hands in his pockets and presented a white booklet to us. It had his expenses and credit neatly written down. It also showed how much interest he had paid over the past few months. He wore a frown on his face. Soon, the field officers asked us to accompany them to the other side of the road. They had spotted a middle-aged man who wished to speak with us. He had a huge smile on his face as he looked at us with curiosity. He was a farmer. He looked towards the fields and at once turned to us. Pointing at them, he said, “This was our green belt. Look at what has become of it now,” he said.
His name was Bhairavnath Anand Rao Pisaal and he was from Pimpligaon. “Jahan hum khade hain woh Pandurja hai. There are around 200 houses in my village. Kheti ka bohat bura haal hai. Two years ago, till wherever your eyes could take you, you would see fields of lush green sugarcane. But it doesn’t rain here anymore. Whatever we receive during monsoons isn’t enough for human beings or animals. Whatever water is supplied in the fields for around 15 mins or so, we try to manage with that. The zilla parishad and our tehsil are trying their best to get water for the village. Bohat door door se paani mangaya jaata hai apna guzara ke liye.”
Pimpligaon gets water from tankers everyday. Each household is provided 30 litres of water per person. They have no other choice but to survive. People are thinking of giving up farming once and for all. Some give up hope. In whispers, they confess to one another. The number of suicides have increased in the last decade, he says with a frown. Farmers cannot afford to feed their families.
“If we didn’t have the Rs 2/3 food schemes, then we would have had to deal with food shortage too. Ek dam se kheti bandh hai. Aur jo kisaan hai, unka toh kuch bhi nahin hai. Mazdoor ka toh koi kaam hi nahin hai. In 1972, during the drought what we experienced was primarily food scarcity. However, we could procure food from somewhere. These days we have no water. How do we procure water? Pehle unhone statement diya tha ki train se paani laayenge. Woh toh sirf humare liye dilasa hai. How long will they be able to supply water through trains? Of course, I do believe it will happen but if we tell people that it won’t happen, it’s pointless, it won’t solve anything, it will depress us further. So, we have to be positive. It is not that the government hasn’t done anything so far. They are trying and so are we. But it isn’t enough. We can’t lose hope. I am just looking forward to good rains this year. That will solve most of our problems.”
If it doesn’t rain this year, they will leave everything: abandon their homes and villages and go in search of places that have water and food, they threaten no one in particular. They can’t let their families starve to death. “If you look behind us, you will see some sugarcane planted in the fields. You may think these fields are green and lush. But they aren’t healthy. It has been maintained that way for animals. What else do we feed them?” he asked.
We had heard grim tales of sugarcane fields before from every farmer who had struggled to keep his cattle alive. But we didn’t tell him. He talked, and we listened for a while. That’s all he wanted.
Some farmers sold their animals because they couldn’t afford to feed them. What was the situation in his villge? we asked him. “Ye toh apne bohat badhiya baat pooch li. Humare jo jaanwar hain hum unko maa baap bolte hain magar jab museebat kisaan ke upar aati hai toh woh jaanwar ko bech deta hai. Maa baap ko bechega ya apne bachche ko khilaayega? Pehle toh kuch bhi karke manage kar sakte the abhi kuch bhi nahin hai. Ye teen chaar saal itne bure gaye na humare liye, hum soch bhi nahin sakte ki zindagi kahan le jaayegi humain. Loans ka toh aap poocho hi mat,” he said gazing at the skies.
Four years ago, he took several loans to grow some sugarcane in his fields. He hasn’t been able to repay them. The interest is piling on every year. They have now run out of people to borrow from. “We can’t keep going to the same people over and over again. How many times will they lend us money? Banks don’t really force us to pay off our debts immediately. They too understand our situation. But we can’t really not pay our debts now, can we? We will have to clear them at some point in our lives. There haven’t been any case of suicides in our village but there have been plenty in the neighbouring states. If people like you come to us and advise us against committing suicides, it will have an impact on all of us. Suicide cannot be the answer. It is an unfortunate reaction to helplessness and dejection. But it cannot be the end. The main problem lies with lack of rainfall. If you see there, in a distance, you will see several farmers sitting together. They aren’t here to exchange local gossip or just chit chat. Our fields have dried and we don’t have any jobs left for us. We can’t even work as agricultural labourers since there aren’t farms or fields left to work on. We give each other confidence and strength but most importantly we give each other hope so that no one is pushed to the brink of suicide. If we don’t take care of each other, then we will die. All of us”
So far, like most villagers in these regions, they have been managing with the Rs 2 – 3 per kilo ration: a scheme introduced by the government to help farmers. Apart from that, they have emptied all their savings, pawned their jewellery and eventually sold them. “Abhi dekho hum duplicate se kaam chala rahe hain. Bech Bechke Bech Bechke kaam chala rahe hain,” he said guffawing at his own remarks. The school is functional in their village because children are fed everyday. If they sit at home, they will have nothing to eat. “Ghar main baithke toh kya karenge. School main paani ka vyasvasta toh karenge hi. Ghar main baithega toh paani ki vyasvastha bhi humko khud hi karna hoga. At least, they will get food, water and knowledge if they go to school,” he said as the others nodded.
At this point, the other men hinted that we should leave and head towards Bise Wagholi since we were running late. He held our hands and thanked us for talking to him.
“All I spoke was the truth. I hope you don’t mind what I said.”
“No one listens to us. That’s all we want. And, if they do, they get offended. Some call us ungrateful.”
“Tell me, what do we have to be grateful for?”
(to be continued…)
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