Widows of debt-ridden Vidarbha farmersDec 9, 2012 | Akash Bisht and Sadiq Naqvi
Dilapidated huts on one side and cotton fields on the other line the potholed road to Pada, a hamlet in Kelapur taluka of Yavatmal. It seems a perfect symbol of neglect and apathy.
Children in tattered clothes play alongside women drawing water in buckets from the well.
And we thought wells had gone extinct! In this village, there are no ‘sarkari’ hand pumps, nor a motorised borewell. The villagers’ distress is as visible as daylight though Pada, situated on NH 7, which goes to Kanyakumari via Hyderabad, falls in the middle of the cotton belt.
In one hut, a stoic Anju Bai Ghosari is busy tending her cattle. “I have a cow and a pair of oxen,” she says. “The cow provides us with enough milk for a few rounds of tea.” Her spouse, Gokul Das, committed suicide in 2007, a year after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visited Vidarbha and announced a special package for cotton farmers.
“He went to the field one day and did not return. He drank pesticide,” she says, very quietly. “We somehow rushed him to Pandharkawada where the doctor asked us to take him to Yavatmal. There, we were told he was dead.” His photo hangs in the centre of her only room. “It would have been good had he not taken the extreme step. We could have worked on the farm together.”
Gokul Das was a marginal farmer. He owned five acres of land on which he grew ‘white gold’, as the cotton crop was referred to in the good old days. “The crop had failed that year. My husband used to tell me about the debt that had accumulated. It was this pressure which took his life,” says Ghosari. Undeterred by the tragedy, Ghosari moved on. “I had no other choice. What would have happened to my two children? I had to think of their future.”
The resilient Ghosari wakes up at five every morning. After the household chores, she is off to the five-acre farm her husband left behind, besides the debt. Her daughter goes to the local school while the son has taken up agriculture. Her kids are lucky.
Unlike those of Nirmala Bai of the same village. “My son was in Class VI when my husband committed suicide. He left his studies to take care of the family,” she says. Her husband, Atma Ram, committed suicide in 2004 when the crop failed on their three-acre farm. Now her son, Satish, works on the farm. “My daughter had to be married off. It cost us Rs 1 lakh. There was already a loan of Rs 40,000 from the Madhyamati Bank and another Rs 10,000 from the farmers’ cooperative when my husband died.”
Meanwhile, Ghosari is yet to pay the debt she inherited. “I have paid some of it but a major part remains. The money that he borrowed from the farmers’ cooperative remains unpaid,” she says. This is in addition to the loans that she has to take every year for buying seeds, fertilizers, pesticides. “There is no other option. I have to take all this on credit.”
Ghosari has fallen into the same diabolical debt trap which killed her husband. Cotton farming is an option-less game in this region. “After the advent of Bt cotton, input costs have gone up several times. It takes more fertilizers, more water, more pesticides.”
“It hasn’t rained much this year,” she says, lost in thought. Ghosari, Satish and innumerable other villagers have to be constantly on the lookout for work. They work as labourers in the fields of others to earn some extra money. “I get Rs 150 to Rs 200 a day as wages. This is how my house runs,” says Ghosari.
“After putting in almost Rs 15,000 worth of input on each acre, I will barely be able to get some three quintals of cotton. How do I survive if I don’t take loans from the moneylender? A quintal of cotton fetches merely Rs 3,200 these days,” she says.
This is probably why Nirmala Bai is so deeply worried for her son. Barely 22, he is already under a debt of Rs 70,000.
(First published in The Hardnews)