Sunday, December 21, 2008

Now, even women farmers wilt in Vidarbha-DNA

Now, even women farmers wilt in Vidarbha
Jaideep Hardikar
Monday, December 22, 2008 03:49 IST

NAGPUR: Last year when she fixed her daughter’s marriage, Anusuya Suresh Belsare, 38, had big plans for a decent function this year. But she had no idea that agriculture was a very risky game, a kind of Russian roulette.

Unwittingly though, Anusuya played the gamble, and lost. The loss was so big that the woman, who ran the family show, could not overcome her worries. On December 15, when the Mantralaya descended on Nagpur for its winter session, she killed herself in
her dingy mud-hut by consuming a bottle-full of pesticide.

“I was cooking, my father was on the farm, my two other siblings had gone to school and she had just come from the round of village after selling vegetables,” recollects a crestfallen Preeti, who’s guilty that her mother was besotted by the worry of her marriage, which would have to be postponed for one more year.

“Two days before her death, my son, Ravi, had come here to reassure her. But she was done in by crop failure and tension,” said Seetabai Bhimrao Pichke, Preeti’s would-be mother-in-law.

A spectre of drought and complete crop failure wrecked this family harder than others in the Chamar mohalla of Lonsawali village in Wardha district. With Anusuya handling the family finances, the burden of loss obviously showed up on her.

Suicides by women farmers are rare in Vidarbha. But signs of the women farmers wilting under growing pressures are now ominous.

Following a decline in yields in 2007, the Belsares decided to take 7-acre dry land on an annual lease of Rs14,000, in addition to the 4-acre land that they owned. They felt extra money could help them meet the marriage expenses this year. However, the plan came a cropper when the crop failed due to bad rains. Having taken the land on lease, losses swelled staggeringly. Like the other villagers, the Belsares suffered a loss of Rs 8,000 per acre. The two had borrowed money from relatives; they don’t get the institutional credit.

Anusuya’s suicide epitomises Vidarbha’s dramatically worsening agrarian situation.

On Saturday, after reviewing the agrarian situation, chief minister Ashok Chavan, admitted that 5,000 of the 7,000 villages in Vidarbha are scarcity-affected, but stopped short of admitting to a drought-situation.

Farmers’ leader Ijay awandhia differs. “If this is not drought, then what is?” he questions, disturbed by the gravity of situation.

Over 13.5 lakh of the 17.64 lakh farming families in six districts of western Vidarbha were in acute to moderate crisis, according to a door-to-door survey of the state government. The issue is likely to be debated in the state legislature when it reassembles on Monday, and the government is expected to announce relief measures.

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