‘Never thought about anything other than helping someone in need. A human being is far more important than money…’

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Men lost their arms. Men lost their legs. There were those who couldn’t afford to continue fighting for their rights; those who never returned home. More than 100 farmers were killed during protests he partook in over the last four decades. He saw them starve, bury their children. He saw them return home defeated and dejected.

“In 35 years,” said Sattar, “I have borne witness to some of the most horrific crimes committed against farmers.” His voice grew tired and edgy. Sometimes, his words held emotions that seldom surfaced in conversations. He was tired, tired of the earth, tired of dead plants, tired of vacant stares, tired of lonely tears. Veiled in distraught, some days it showed in deep sighs. Some days, he hid it well.

Not today.

“Many quit the fight. They had no one to look after their family, their cattle. There are a few who can’t walk anymore. Makes for a good story, doesn’t it? Farmers dying, families starving, hopelessness seeping into their lives. Such stories come and go, every year. But our lives remain the same.”

A year later, more than 35,000 farmers marched to the state capital demanding that the government of Maharashtra answer their pleas for justice. Months later, they did it again. And, again…

Some more died. Some lived.
Everyone fought till their last breath…

“Farmers must be able to sell their crops wherever they please. They should have the right to decide for themselves. Only those vendors licensed with the mandi are allowed to buy produce from farmers. No one else is allowed otherwise. Jab hum humara maal mandi ko le jaate hain. Hum toh dekhte reh jaate hain woh boli lagate hain Rs 400, 500, 200, aisa. The commissioned agents and the vendors have united to make profits,” said an elderly farmer as the rest nodded their heads.

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What if farmers refuse to sell their produce through the mandi? What if they sold it in the city at rates decided by them? we asked them. What if they went against them?

Government ki taraf se isme kaafi rukavate hain.”
“No, it is impossible,” said another farmer, “I have to pay my daughter’s school fees. My children will suffer. We don’t have the luxury of time in these areas. Can’t you tell? We can’t wait for a miracle to happen in the cities. How can we do this on our own? If you fight them, then you will irk those who handle your income.”

Behind Sattar sat a middle-aged man who hadn’t spoken all afternoon. Across the village, where the crossroads lead to empty streets, there on 2.5 acres Ramdas grew pomegranates. For four years, he ploughed his fields, tilled the soil, and worked hard every day to ensure they survive. One summer morning, as he made his way to the farmlands, hailstorm destroyed everything that grew in those regions. Not a single crop survived. “If it were someone else, they would have killed themselves. Shaji Gaekwad and Balasaheb consoled him and asked him not to lose hope. Someday things will get better. If the government in Delhi had promised Rs 50,000 as compensation to those farmers who lost their crops to unprecedented rainfall and hailstorm, then why can’t the rest follow suit? Do you know what it means for a human being to have no choice but to kill himself or herself?” asked Sattar.

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Some morning, on a day that no one remembered anymore, they took matters into their own hands. They gathered one another and decided to make their living with dairy. “He now has cows that give him 100 litres of milk a day,” said Balasaheb, “His family won’t starve. They will survive a few more years. Today, around 2000 litres of milk is sold from these villages. The man behind me adopted mulching to grow chillies. We haven’t given up on ourselves. Not yet. If you want to stop farmer suicides, then pay the farmer what he deserves. We do not want compensation or loans. Political parties have come and gone but the plight of farmers’ remains the same. Everything that is integral to farming has become expensive. A farmer is always in debt. He has to borrow money from others to plough, sow, till, harvest and even transport his own produce. He will never be able to earn as much as he hopes.”

Kisaan ek toota hua varg hai,” said the mukhiya as we walked around the village a few hours later, “Some days, it feels as if nothing is meant to work in our favour. When we had water, there were other issues to be dealt with. The price of jaggery fell drastically one year. Sugarcane farmers suffered another devastating blow. We are all doomed to death. And, that is the reality of farmers in India…”

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***

Where Bhujang Pawar lived, trees bore no fruit, seeds didn’t sprout. They hadn’t seen any flowers growing in these lands in years. Wretched, they called it. At the edge of the village, fields lay bare. Some survived the drought that year. At the time of harvest, three years later, his sugarcane fields completely dried up.

“Kharif cropping season is between June and July. In 2017 and 2018, we didn’t see any of our crops survive the dry spell. There was barely any water in the farms. We don’t catch sight of the jowar, channa and wheat grown during the rabi season. Fifty percent of the kharif harvest survived last year. While the suggested selling price for soyabean was Rs 3319, the mandi bought it for Rs 2500. Lagatar do saal se kuan aur bavdi sukhe pade hain,” said Sattar three days ago. In 2018, Latur braced for a drier drought. This year, it will get far worse.

One morning, two months ago, Sattar received a phone call. In the midst of sugarcane farms, where underneath mango trees farmers sought respite from the heat during the day, a man hanged himself. He was from Sarsa.

Bhujang’s daughter was getting married in a few weeks. He couldn’t arrange for money on time. He was depressed. No one helped him. “Nobody could even if they wanted to. A few of us came together and raised some money for the wedding. We requested the groom’s family not to call off the wedding. That poor girl will lose everything if they abandon her. They will get married this week. Bhujang wasn’t the only one who killed himself, you know. There have been days when 3 or 4 farmers have committed suicide on the same day. Our fight to get fair price for our produce is important. But I fear there might come a day when there won’t be any farmers left. We might not last this struggle,” said Sattar who along with farmers from Latur have been organising the Kisaan Dushkal Dilasa Yatra: a farmer suicide self-help group organised by farmers for farmers.

“Why? To give them hope. We have to let them know they aren’t alone. If there’s any farmer suffering from depression, if there is someone contemplating suicide, we comfort them and try to steer them away from such thoughts. We have to be there for each other. Don’t kill yourselves, we tell them. You aren’t alone. We will find a way, together. Marna nahin hai, haalat se ladna hai.”
***
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The cattle-shed was empty; the landscape looked white. Sometimes, the dust caught light, like a string of pearls swirling in the winds. Most afternoons, they sat here seeking shelter from the sun, from their lives. This summer, Srinivas Ramarao Wayal’s pomegranate farms didn’t survive. Another hailstorm wreaked havoc in the region. “It is becoming a regular occurrence every year,” he said. His younger brother takes care of their cows. “I sell 9,000 litres of milk a month. I spent close to Rs 600,000 on my pomegranate fields. I didn’t earn even Rs 6 from my farm. I would have hanged myself if I didn’t have any cows. I remember that day very well. There was nothing left of my farm.”

One of the farmers, sitting beside him, read the newspaper. His eyes held discontent. He raised his hands and gestured towards a report. “Nonsense,” he said aloud, “Beef ban serves one and one purpose only: create a polarised society where one section of the poor is pitted against another. Look around you. Some are Hindu, some are Muslim. The men gathered here are farmers.”

“This is nothing but a political agenda carried out in the name of religion. At the end of the day, the poor, destitute and voiceless suffer the worst plight. No decision has ever been taken in our favour. They have imposed a ban on buying beef. With cattle-camps being unable to accommodate enough animals what is the farmer supposed to do? Do you think a farmer will ever willingly sell his cow? Cattle are our family. When a farmer has a choice between feeding his children and feeding his animal who has served him loyally for years, what do you suppose he should do? Can you imagine the pitiable state he must be in to take such a drastic step?” asked Sattar as the others nodded in agreement.

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They balled their fists and raised their arms in the air. Srinivas had no harvest this year. Fodder costs Rs 30 per kg. His cows would starve the following year. In unfamiliar streets, where narrow paths lead nowhere, many abandoned their animals that year. “I don’t have the heart to sell them to butcheries. What can a farmer do? I will keep them as long as I can.”

Hummare paas sirf do his raaste hain, ya toh rassi ya endosulfan ki bottle, said Sattar once more before the rest fell silent. They couldn’t face each other anymore. Some days were like that. They had each other. Some days, hope and despair fought to survive. This was one of those days. “That’s my biggest fear these days,” said Sattar, “The feeling of disheartenment creeping into my heart.”

The conversation then steered towards NREGA. They asked us how many labourers we have seen working for Rs 186 in the heat every day? “During soyabean harvest, they don’t even agree for Rs 500 per day. They demand Rs 5,000 as a collective payment. Payment considerations have to be made based on weather and current farming conditions. They tell us water will come to Latur from Miraj tomorrow. How long do they plan to do that? Once the source dries up, what next? This is the problem with instant remedies,” said Sattar.

They also spoke about the Owaisi and Fadnavis tug of war: an incident that made national headlines that year. They felt it was yet another political drama created to mask the real issues. “Farmers die every single day and we are more bothered about proving our patriotism through mindless symbology. Tili le jaate dharo dhar aur khud le jaata ek baar,” said Sattar.

It has been four years since the government promised them subsidy for drip irrigation. It never arrived. Moreover, the compensation for farms destroyed due to hailstorms were returned by the Tehsil to the government. “They told us we received Rs 6,800 per hectare as drought compensation. So, we weren’t eligible for the second compensation simply because we already received money from the government earlier. What about those who managed to grow crops in their farms despite drought-like conditions? What about those who borrowed from moneylenders in hopes of having a decent harvest? In the name of religion and politics, the farmer is always sacrificed. That is the ugly truth of our society,” said Sattar.

“No matter which political party comes to power BJP or Congress they all operate in the similar manner,” said an old man standing in the corner. He paused every now and then, as he spoke to everyone around him. His eyes held an emotion we were familiar with: contempt. “Exploit the suppressed and those occupying the bottom of the social order,” he said, “No one wants the voiceless to rise and succeed. It works for them if they are continually trampled in the name of development. In the struggle between power, corruption and greed, the common man suffers the worst.”

Srinivas pulled out an empty lassi packet behind him. 200 ml of Lassi costs Rs 15 whereas a dairy farmer gets Rs 15 for 1000 ml of milk. “This village can produce at least 10,000 litres of milk per day if we get good rates. We need to have that support and backing from the system. If everyone operates against us, then what do we do? Why is it that our death is far more concerning and deserves more attention than our life?” he asks.

He spoke of a breed of goat from Osmanabad that can weigh up to 16 kg in four months. So far, he has managed to earn around Rs 15,000 to Rs 20,000 under the sheep and goat rearing scheme. “I need to do something. I can’t just sit there and be depressed all day. If our land is priced at 20,00,000, the bank gives lends us Rs 20,000. After getting all the papers, no dues certificate, and every other document required, they will try their best to reject our claims or loans on grounds of insufficient reason. However, if someone puts a factory on the same land, they get Rs 4 crore as loan,” he said.

Although money lending and failure to payment attracts penalisation, the farmers claim it wasn’t half as bad as it used to be during the colonial era. They narrated stories of the British Tehsildar placing stones on the head of a farmer who was forced to stand in the heat for hours. “Unable to bear the torture, the farmer would give away his land to the sahukar who would then settle his dues with everyone,” said an old farmer whom everyone fondly called dadaji. The shadows grew shorter behind him. He lived on the other side of the village. We had never been there.

“He is the mother of our organisation,” said Sattar jokingly as he patted his arm. For years, every time they set forth on a journey with fellow farmers protesting for their rights and visiting neighbouring villages, dadaji packed chapatis and groundnut chutney for everybody.

“Without him, we would all starve whilst protesting for our rights,” he said much to the bemusement of others, “He still gives at least 10 litres of milk to schools, colleges and whoever needs it every day. Even today, he goes from one house to another asking for atta (wheat flour). An act that he will continue to do till he dies. He is struggling to make ends meet,” whispered Sattar as we walked towards the farms, later that afternoon, “But he hasn’t given up. He will try and come up with different means to survive till he breathes his last.”

***

We drove around for a while, away from the shade of mango trees into narrow streets where their glances turned furtive.  In these lands that held memories of their childhood, they looked for signs. Save broken homes and barren lands, they found none other. They sat behind us waving at every passerby. Peals of laughter broke in the car as dadaji told tales of his grandson who stared at the skies. “He is a rowdy. He eats food and asks people to pay him Rs 5 or else he’ll throw up in the courtyard,” he said. The little boy giggled at his grandfather. He offered us some mango and tamarind.

Alongside the road were pomegranate fields that did not survive the summer. Ramachandra Govind Andure’s farms were one of them. The trees swayed slightly in the summer breeze. Some were far too fragile to withstand the heat. Ramachandra trotted towards us. At the narrow edge where the paths meandered to the right, he suggested we park the vehicle and follow him to his garden.

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He was distressed. He had been that way for many days. His nonchalant demeanour barely hid fear and angst that crossed his face several times that afternoon. “It has been eight days now,” he said plucking a few pomegranates and handing them to us, “It looks as if the fruit has burst from within. I didn’t have enough water but I thought I could manage. I was hoping to harvest them in fifteen days. Now, I will have to throw everything away. I have one acre and I planted 325 trees. I won’t get anything now. I have a borewell too but it failed a long time ago. Marega nahin toh kya karega insaan. I took Rs 50,000 as loan and another Rs 100,000 for drip irrigation. I had to borrow Rs 100,000 to work on the fields. No one accounts for any hard work. I don’t have any money to pay my children’s school fees. I spent another Rs 75,000 on maintenance of my farm. All I have acquired are loans and more loans this year, and struggle from my ancestors,” he said plucking some more fruits.

The farmers accompanying us asked him not to lose hope. Some said they’d help him with whatever they could. “We will come up with alternate arrangements for him to earn some money. Maybe he can sell milk or even rear goats under the government scheme. We will help him out. We won’t abandon our own,” said Sattar.

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***

“Why do we have nakli seeds in the market? Where do they come from?” asked farmers sitting underneath trees that withstood decades of unprecedented rainfall and drought. “The biggest company supplying seeds in Maharashtra is Mahabeej. It is the oldest seed company in Maharashtra. As the president of the Sangathan in Maharashtra, I take full responsibility for the following statements: Whatever (seeds) Mahabeej has packaged in order to sell them to us, I’d like to know where have they got them from. And, how many plots were allotted to farmers this year? Were farmers instructed to produce organic seeds and sell them to the organisation? Did the supply include procuring organic seeds from farmers in Maharashtra? The answer is No. These companies go straight to private suppliers, procure seeds from them and then put their stamps on packets before supplying the same seeds to farmers. If the seeds aren’t original, how can one expect farmers to get a decent produce? These companies are protected by the government.”

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A while ago, an ox was struck by lightning. It died instantly. It belonged to a family that struggled to make ends meet. In Kothal Shumi, Nilanga, there were many such stories of loss and depravation. The family had spent approximately Rs 90,000 on their cattle. “Unable to cope with the loss of their animal, the farmer’s son killed himself. Another farmer’s son tried to immolate himself in Rameshwar. He suffered 95% burns on his body. But he had alcohol in his system. Moreover, he didn’t have any land on his name. So, the government declared he wasn’t eligible for any compensation. Why? Because of alcohol. They want us to kill ourselves sober. Do you know how bitter endosulfan is? Do you know how much it hurts when you burn yourself? We threatened the CM and Tehsildar that we would lie down in front of their cars if they didn’t give him the justice he deserved,” he said.

In the end, the family received some compensation from the government. It was just enough for them to survive another year of drought. His death ensured their survival. In Pangaon, there’s a martyr by the name Ramesh Mughe, they said. He was a farmer. “He fought for our rights back in the day and demanded that the government ensured cotton farmers get paid what they deserve. Farmers protested and even blocked trains. He died in police firing. They thought poor farmers were a major threat to them. Perhaps, they should be worried. The day farmers decide to stand up and fight for their rights, that day the oppressors will learn a valid lesson. Let this be remembered forever. Let their deaths never be forgotten. Our children have started killing themselves. When will they notice our plight? How many more deaths will it take?” asked Sattar distributing pomegranates to farmers around us.

We left. The forlorn fig gardens stayed alongside the road as we drove towards villages nearby. Not a great year for figs too, said dadaji. Not a great year for anything!  Sunk in the grass on the farms were dead twigs that snapped with harsh winds. An uneasy quietness settled in the afternoon. Some afternoons were seemingly long. Some nights were longer.

***
A month ago, an agricultural labour hanged himself. There were no farms left none that survived the drought in the last five years. When the farms dried, there was no need for him anymore. “First, the rains stopped. Slowly, the crops died. People like him suffered the worst. His wife is angry,” he said leading us into an alley. The authorities said they weren’t eligible for compensation since he didn’t own any farmland. “Since most of the fields are dry, he didn’t have any job for a while, he felt helpless and was desperate. We have now reached a point where agricultural labourers are committing suicide because all the farms are dead,” said Dadaji as he asked Sattar to meet us later in the evening.

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A detour from the main road led us into crowded lanes. A few children ran hither and tither barking instructions at one another. Outside a tiny house where the roof hung low, sat a young woman with vacant eyes. She looked on at the people gathered before her with rage or discerning grief. We may never know.

Sangeetha was an agricultural labourer. Her husband killed himself a few weeks ago. “His name was Ganpath Kadam. He was 38 years old.  I have three children – two girls and one boy. Ashwini is in eighth grade, and Priyanka is in third grade. Daulat is in fifth grade. Ever since the drought destroyed these lands, we have had no work. So, I earn nothing. It has been like that for months now. I had some savings. That helped me run the household for a while but we are done with that too,” she said looking away from us. She didn’t wish to speak anymore.

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“There was no reason,” she said after moments of silence, “For his death…” There wasn’t any grief left in her. Her spirit was broken. She sought no hope or connection with anyone. There were no signs of despair either. She sought nothing. “He was illiterate. Mazduri was all he could do. It’s all we are good for. He never spoke of leaving the village ever. How will we go anywhere else? We can’t afford to do that. Besides, I can’t go anywhere now,” she said, “I am alone…”

He was returning from a neighbouring village that afternoon. Ganpath didn’t find any work there. No one was hiring. On March 7, at around 5:30 pm, he hanged himself. He never drank alcohol. He had no skills save farming. “He didn’t have any bad habits. He was a simple man. I can’t leave home to look for jobs or seek training elsewhere because I have to take care of my mother-in-law and the kids. She is too old to be left alone. School expenses run up to Rs 4,000 to Rs 5,000. If I don’t have any work, how can I feed my family? My children go to school regularly. That way, they get to eat something every day. What will they do later? Maybe they will die. Sooner or later, we all do.”

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He wasn’t very bright, said dadaji hours later when we sat on the roof of a small dilapidated building across the village. “He would work all day and never collect his wages. His wife would go after him and get the money from the landlord,” he said cracking peanut shells between his thumbs, “She struggled and suffered in silence. And, now she has been completely abandoned. She is on her own. The responsibility of running the household has fallen on her shoulders…”

***

As the sun went down, we walked to dadaji’s farm. The landscape was bathed in hues of primrose and pink. There were shards of green peeking through a vast sea of ochre. In an hour, we spotted Aslam. He had been running all afternoon. He ran 35 kms everyday. He was training to join the Army. Dadaji’s youngest grandson ran behind him giggling and yelling at passersby. Sattar returned a while later as we walked to the neighbouring fields. “I used to have 12 cows. Now, I just have five,” said dadaji gathering hay from the corner. There were others working in the farms behind us. “I sold the rest,” he said turning his back towards us, “My wife and son somehow managed to buy fodder for Rs 200. The cows won’t go hungry today. I have a well too. But it doesn’t have any water.”

A while ago, his daughter was rejected from the police forces. There were no grounds or merit for her rejection. “She is an activist,” he said with a hint of pride, “Just like me. She has fought for the rights of farmers for years. She was in tears, that day. I told her to find her strength from within and not to shed tears over their foolishness. They lost a bright soul.”

***
An old woman tended to her plants. Some were limp. Some stood tall. Mundesarabi Khajamiya had a fierce spirit: one that helped her overcome adversities throughout her life. Her hands turned rough from toiling away in the fields. Her body wasn’t frail or fragile. Nor was her soul. She looked into our eyes as she spoke. She spoke of a past that was fraught with despair, she spoke of a present that simmered in uncertainty. Unwelcoming. That’s what she called her future.

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“The watermelons were completely destroyed. They burst from within. I watered them plenty but I am unsure of what went wrong. I suspect it might have been the heat and unprecedented rainfall. There wasn’t enough water in the beginning. Udaas honge aur kya karenge. Marna hi likha hai kismat main. Kab tak hosla rakhenge hum,” she said glancing at Sattar.

Sattar consoled her, and told her she shouldn’t lose hope. She nodded and turned away adjusting the plastic sheet protecting the saplings. She used mulching to grow chillies. “I have four children. I took care of them. I sent them to school despite all the struggles I went through. What is the point? My husband died 30 years ago. He was bitten by a snake. The plastic sheet melted in the heat and destroyed all my plants. I decided to try mulching but now my crops are completely destroyed. Earlier this year, I lost some more crops to pest infestation,” she said.

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She suffered from calcium deficiency. But she never gave up on farming. If everyone decides to leave farming, then what will happen to our society? How will we eat? she asked. She had two cows. One suffered a stroke and died, and the other one was bitten by a dog.

“I am never scared. I never lose hope. I cross the river on my own and I am not scared of being bitten by snakes. I have no fear of dying. Ek din sabko marna hi hai. Earlier, I would work on borewells too. I could fix motors on my own. Once, I fell into a borewell while working but I managed to climb my way out. My sons don’t help me anymore. They don’t do anything. What is the point of working so hard and ensuring that they get a decent education? Their wives don’t work too. They want gold bangles and can’t toil away in farms. Not like I used to. My sons don’t care about me anymore. I wonder if they will be bothered if I die someday. Never abandon your mother. Work hard but make sure you take care of your mother,” she told us.

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She doesn’t have much but she is happy. On Eid, she bought vegetables and sweets for everyone. They deserved a day of celebration. We are alive today but we don’t know what fate has in store for us next instant, she often said that evening. “Who knows what we are celebrating anymore? There isn’t any humanity left anymore. No one wants to work hard. No one wants to earn their food. Everyone wants to be able to buy their own food. We have farms that need to be taken care of but no one wants to do physical labour. I have gone through great difficulties in my life. My bones don’t work but as long as I am breathing I will feed myself. If I die, its best I die in the arms of the earth,” she said as she plucked some chillies. She then asked us to be safe wherever we went and take care of those who we called family.

“Don’t abandon them…”

We climbed the roof and sat atop a small building on dadaji’s farm. Aslam sat beside us discussing the possibility of joining the army. “I might have to shell out some money in order to ensure that his form is approved,” he said. Stars twinkled in the twilight skies as a swarm of flies and insects hovered over us. We tried to pick them off of our hair and clothes.

We failed.

“I grow figs and pomegranates here,” said Ramachandra leading us into his garden. Across the road where old women walked with piles of sticks and twigs on her head, he wandered into his fields in search of shelter. We had seen him a few hours ago. He walked with a limp, that day. “I had 20 acres of farmland. My father had an affair with another woman. He sold off most of his farms. He was an alcoholic. I have two acres left with me. I had a well too. But it dried a few years ago. Ye saal kya hoga pata nahin, bhagwaan hi jaane,” he said and left without saying anymore.

***

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“Ramdas Giri,” said dadaji giggling as he led us to his courtyard. “I never told you my name. How would you remember me?” he said handing a few bags of vegetables to his daughter-in-law, “Maybe you will remember me as the old man from Latur.” To our right, there stood a massive cell phone tower. Almost every home had a yellow board hanging outside their door. Non-ionizing radiation, it read. “I get some money for giving them space to build their towers. There seems to be no side effect of the radiation so far. We have been assured that it wouldn’t cause us any health issue whatsoever,” he said.

His daughter-in-law served us some poha and ginger tea. “It is necessary for my existence to lend a helping hand to whoever was in trouble,” he explained, “If we don’t channel our humanity into doing something good, into being kind, then what is the point of living?”

Jiski bhi shaadi ruki toh Rs 10,000 de diye. I have never thought about anything other than helping someone in need. A human being is far more important than money. If I do good, then good things will happen to me. When Sangeetha’s husband killed himself, I told her that if she doesn’t get anything from the village or government, then I will take care of her and her family. I will take care of her as my own daughter. I will sell off 1 gunta of land but I will make sure her kids don’t go hungry. A landless farmer killed himself and the government does not consider it important enough to help the family. What are they waiting for? How many more deaths will it take? I have six sisters. I understand her pain. I cannot forgive myself if I can’t help her,” he said.

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His parents were physically challenged. They had ten children. He had four brothers in all. Two of them passed away a while ago. The youngest one is in the army, he told us the next day. “He left the family. He said he couldn’t do it anymore. He was fed up. He asked me to take care of my parents. We don’t own any land. Many years ago, Sattar and I underwent some training to drill bore wells in farms. This was done as a part of some scheme introduced by Sharath Joshi. I made money by buying and selling land. First, I bought five acres. I would dig a well in the fields. So, the value of land would increase. Then, I would sell it. I earned Rs 100,000 to Rs 200,000 per farm. Then, I would start all over again. I did this twenty times,” he said.

Once, a teacher from the neighbouring madrasa told him that they could get teachers from Latur who would travel to Bise wagholi and teach yoga. “They said we didn’t have to pay them anything. We just had to take care of their fuel costs for ten days. Around 1000 people gathered in the madrasa where they conducted their classes every day. Children, women and men regardless of their religious backgrounds learnt yoga,” he said with a warm smile.

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Every day, he would ask the teachers to eat, and they politely refused. “I told them they wouldn’t be able to escape me on their last day. I made 2 kgs of gulab jamun and gave it to them. I told them I was indebted to them. They came all the way to our village and taught everyone from kids to the elderly. They thought we were worthy of their time. It was an honour to feed them.”

He runs a store in the village and manages to earn around Rs 10,000 to Rs 15,000 every day. He owns ten acres of farmland. “Both my wells have plenty of water,” he said shooing dogs away from the courtyard, “Whatever plenty means in these areas. I earn enough and I give it to those who need the most help. There are a few people in our village who bear some ill intentions in their heart. I had given them a fair warning. If anyone troubles those who have come to help us, I will make you regret the day you were born. Like you, there was a girl travelling to different villages for research a few years ago. She was alone. When she took the bus to another village I warned everyone sitting in the bus Bachchi ko kisi ne bhi tang kiya toh main tum kisi ko nahin chodunga,” he said much to the amusement of his neighbours.

His first wife abandoned him because he didn’t have anything. Years later, when he bought some farmland for himself, he married someone else. You are unlucky to be born in this family, his mother remarked once, You have only seen struggles in your lifetime. And, there will be plenty more. “I worked very hard to ensure my parents were well fed and my sisters got married. It is tougher for daughters in these regions. The practice of valuing human life with money and perhaps placing importance on money or materialistic possessions needs to stop. When Sattar’s younger son got married, he starkly refused to take any money. They asked him if there was something wrong with the boy. Both his sons have 5 acres of farmland. They have drip irrigation in their farms. They have 2 or 3 wells too. They have everything that they would ever need. It will take a while for us to eradicate it from these villages in its entirety. But dowry has become a norm here.”

Just like death, just like drought, just like poverty, everything has become a norm here.

“Everything save humanity…”

(to be continued…)

Rest of My familyis a non-profit social-work-through-art project. If you like our work, and wish to support it, you can help us continue by donating here.

Through  ‪#‎RestofMyFamily‬, we will focus on highlighting social issues and human interest stories, documenting the triumphs of the ordinary man despite all the hardships they face constantly, and help these stories reach a larger audience and wherever necessary extend support to the individuals and communities that we write about. We hope to make a direct impact to the lives of those people we meet and find suffering due to various social issues; to connect the ones who need help to the ones who can help.
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