5 June 2020 11:02 AM

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SHOMA A.CHATTERJI | 28 MARCH, 2020

Widows of Farmers Who Committed Suicide Find the Going Tough

Still in debt


38-year-old Vidya More’s husband of Osmanabad Maharashtra committed suicide in 2012 when she was only 30 years old. She has one daughter and one son studying in school. Her husband’s suicide was declared not eligible (as a farm suicide) thereby denying her the right to the ex-gratia compensation.

She has struggled through the last eight years and has one acre of land now transferred in her name. She farms on this plot and also deals with the marketing of her farm produce. Additionally, she takes on stitching orders and works as wage labour for her livelihood.

Kora Santha 28, of Nalgonda, Telangana, is from P.A. Palli village in Nalgonda district, Telangana. She has two sons under eleven who go to school. Her husband committed suicide in 2018, leaving her with a debt of six lakhs. The family land is in the name of her father-in-law and the in-laws are not willing to hand her a share in the family land. They put her off by telling her that she will get her share when the boys grow up. She applied for ex-gratia which has not been sanctioned. She lives with her late husband’s family, works as a paid farm labour and runs a kirana shop.

“My husband committed suicide in 2018 and we have an outstanding debt of Rs.6 lakhs. We applied for ex-gratia with the help of local activists and have been trying to access this support – I have gone to the local revenue office at the mandal and district level several times but to no use so far. As my husband did not own any land in his name, I am not considered as “eligible” for getting ex-gratia” says Kora Santha.

Pamidimalla Kalyani, 34, from Mothadaka village, Guntur district, Andhra Pradesh has two daughters aged 16 and 13. Her husband committed suicide in 2019, leaving her with a debt of 4 lakhs. The family does not own any land, and her husband used to lease in 3 acres land and cultivate. As he did not own any land, Kalyani is not eligible for ex-gratia. She works as an agricultural labourer. She is not receiving any pension.

Chowdamma, 62, is a farmer from Thippasandra village, Kolar district in Karnataka. She is the second wife of late Munivenkatappa, son of late Muniyappa, a cultivator who was a cultivator who consumed pesticide on 23rd February 2019. She has two children, son Chandrappa, 38, and daughter Shivaranjini, 34 and married. They have 2 acres and 10 guntas of land, which is divided amongst late farmer’s children from two marriages. She has a cow, which her daughter-in-law looks after, as she is too old.

The family spent around 3 lakh for his treatment when Munivenkatappa consumed poison. Chowdamma did not get any compensation from the government because the deceased did not have any institutional loan, as per Chandrappa. Now Chowdamma is too old to work in the fields and too poor to lead a retired life without worrying about the financial burden.

Shakila is a woman farmer from Pallur village of Ranipet district in Tamil Nadu. She is related to the deceased Suya Raj. Suya Raj was a farmer with one and a half acres of land. His land was provided with irrigation from the dominant community men. He was under a big burden of debt after borrowing loans for farming, and committed suicide. His wife Raha lives with two daughters and the family did not receive any government support. However, the report that has provided with these reports does not state the relation of Shakila to Suya Raj. But her name is mentioned as a victim of this man’s suicide.

Ranjit Kaur’s husband from Bhatinda, Punjab, committed suicide leaving her to take care of a son, now 17 years old. She is physically disabled with a paralysed leg and an arm. She stays with her in laws and has no land in her name. Veerpal Kaur, 40, is from Mansa, Punjab. There have been three farmer suicides in her family - husband, father and father-in-law. She has two children - a son and a daughter. Taking up the issue of farmer suicides during the Lok Sabha elections, she contested from the constituency of Bathinda as an independent candidate.

As per official data of National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), 353,802 farm suicides have taken place in India between 1995 and 2018, with 85.81% of these being of men. Around 50188 female farmer suicides have been counted into this reporting. A recent study commissioned by the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare (ISEC, August 2017) reports that the highest number of women farmer suicides have been from the state of Telangana, followed by Gujarat, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal.

At least 303597 women from farm households are suddenly left to fend for themselves, to manage the home and the farm. These official numbers are quite under-reported and conveniently-manipulated, as analysed by many scholars. There has been persistent politicisation of the statistics that has blurred the reality of the situation, specially for women farmers and for farmer widows. Part of this is due to the impoverished and marginalised status of these women, partly it is because they belong to the largely ignored unorganised sector and partly because they are either illiterate, or ignorant or uneducated. Dominating nature of the deceased husband’s family is another reason as the case studies reveal.

In a National Consultation co-organised by Mahila Kisan Adhikaar Manch (MAKAAM) and UN Women on the “Status of Women Farmers in Farm Suicide Families” in January 2020, affected women demanded a special support package from the government from this Budget itself.

“We find that governments are not doing enough to prevent farm suicides. They are not even extending adequate and uniform support to farm-suicide affected families for the women to continue with their lives, livelihoods and familial responsibilities despite the fact that such suicides are due to faulty farming policies”, said MAKAAM in a statement.

The Mahila Kisan Adhikaar Manch (MAKAAM) is a network that has been working on the issues of women farmers from 2014 on a national level. Various networks, campaigns, movements, organizations, researchers, and farmers are a part of this network across the country. MAKAAM has a presence in 24 states of the country, working towards ensuring that women be recognized as farmers in their own right, along with recognizing their rights to land and other natural resources. MAKAAM has been active in Maharashtra from 2016.

Several women farmers complained about the government not recognising their husbands’ suicides as a ‘farm suicide’ and therefore, not extending any support to the families, and how they are having to contend with outstanding debts. Women also talked about how the land title is not transferred to her even after the husband’s suicide. After the death of her husband, the wife faces problems at three levels.

Getting over the trauma of her husband's death, repaying the debt, and taking over the responsibility of single-handedly running her household, along with the stigma of widowhood due to which she faces discrimination at family, societal and cultural levels. Although there is some attention to farmers' suicide at the policy level, the questions of women farmers from suicide affected households however, have not been given much attention.

“We found that there is a wide variation in the R&R (Relief and Rehabilitation) package given by different states. For one thing, there are some states which do not want to acknowledge that suicides are happening, and don’t have any policy to support the surviving women in the suicide-affected families. Andhra Pradesh has begun providing a compensation of Rs. 7 lakhs for each family where a farm suicide has occurred.

On the other hand, Maharashtra which has the largest number of farm suicides gives only 1 lakh rupees ex-gratia. Telangana on paper gives 6 lakh rupees compensation but has hardly been doing so after subsuming farm suicide cases into a Farmer Insurance scheme called Rythu Beema Padhakam. Punjab is performing abysmally by systematically ignoring farm suicides and leaving the woman to cope with the aftermath of the suicide all by herself. There are numerous cases of multiple suicides within the same family in a state like Punjab”, explained Seema Kulkarni of MAKAAM.

Presenting findings of recent studies that assessed the status of women in farm suicide-affected families from Maharashtra, Karnataka, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, MAKAAM stated that one of the biggest hurdles for the women to get on with their lives is the outstanding debts left behind by the deceased farmer.

“There is no mechanism or policy in place for the women to be freed up from debt made by the deceased farmer, and certainly not there in scheduled commercial banks and cooperative banks when even some Micro-Finance Institutions seem to write off outstanding debt”, said Kavitha Kuruganti of MAKAAM/ASHA.

“There used to be a one-time settlement mechanism in the Andhra Pradesh package earlier, which was also used in certain cases, to settle within one lakh rupees paid by the government all outstanding institutional as well as private loans to liberate the woman from never-ending debt. We need such a mechanism to be put into place uniformly across the country”, she said.

Farm suicides continue unabated which also show that the various special packages tried out for these states have not been sufficient to address the deep-seated causes of the agrarian crisis. The special packages have neglected the women from these households and effectively thrown them out of agriculture into wage labour, indicative of the disregard of the state towards agrarian and rural distress in general and indicative of the neglect meted out to women farmers.

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