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Yavatmal: Campaigning in the time of suicides

October 05, 2009 09:05 IST

The dish TV antennas on asbestos or even thatched-roofs bring colour pictures in this village. "The cable TV networks, television sets come as dowry items during our marriages," says Babloo Rathode.

Both Bodan also possesses other kinds of colour pictures, much more in number than the satellite TV antennas under its sky: portraits fondly framed, laminated and with footnotes telling the name and a date — the day that person committed suicide under ever-mounting debts after his crops failed in the rain-scanty Vidharbha.

According to villagers, 19 farmers have committed suicide in this village so far, prompting Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi to visit the terrain in Maharashtra's Yavatmal district last year to take a first-hand account of the harsh realities. The last suicide took place on October 27, 2008, when Hari Yadav, with a loan burden of Rs 90,000, chose to drink pesticide as the monsoon betrayed, yielding almost nothing in the family's ten-acre land. This year, the family has again taken a loan of Rs 40,000, in desperate hope for revival.

"My father and my uncle each own five acres of land. My father took loans for farming cotton and also for the marriage of the daughters. We could marry off only one — Aasha," Ramesh Yadav says, as three young girls make themselves busy in household work.

"Three years ago, in another rainless season, he had sold off two buffaloes for Rs 15,000. So, last year, he had nothing else to fall back on," Ramesh adds.

Where the narrow road leaps up a hillock off the Wardha-Yavatmal highway, visitors will see a banner of NFCL 'adopting this village'. There are concrete roads and electricity poles. After the news of mass suicide spread across the country, the village received 24 buffaloes and eight water pumps, according to the villagers. The drinking water supply is no more a problem now but irrigation facilities are still a distant dream for the water-starved village, as it faces another drought season amid the election clamour.

"It is the same as last year. I have invested Rs 52,000 in my four-acre land for cotton and soybean. I will hardly get back Rs 20,000 from the crops. I have to sell my cows. Then I'll work as a labourer. Even then I don't think I can repay the entire loan," says Mohan Rathode, another farmer.

Ramesh Shelke's house has the portrait of his wife: "Lata Ramesh Shelke, died on 19/10/2006" says the footnote. In 2006, the loan burden was Rs 80,000 and the young housewife couldn't bear the sufferings. This year, Shelke's loan stands at Rs 60,000. The rain didn't come and the standing crops dried. Shelke left for Surat a fortnight ago to work as a labourer, leaving behind his mother, brother and three kids.

If you ask about the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme — the UPA's flagship initiative to provide jobs in rural India — Raju will produce a job card. 'Rozgaar Patrah 2714040173, Kutumb Nondani Patrah kramank 0506144'. The card was made on February 8, 2006, and all the pages are blank as on date! "Not a single job has been provided to us. We don't know where to go to get these jobs," Raju said.

Jobs may not come, but the candidates across the parties came to this village of a voting population of over 1,000.

"All of them are same. Whatever we demand, they say, 'yes, I'll do it. I will solve all your problems'. We get all sorts of assurances," says Shankar Dhare, who has been reeling under a loan of Rs 35,000 at a monthly interest rate of 8 per cent from a local money lender.

This year's monsoon, instead of heavy showers, has once again gifted a gloomy future and hardship in this ill-famed 'suicide zone' of Yavatmal district.

But Both Bodan will not miss its participation in the two upcoming events — Diwali and Assembly elections. "We always go to vote. And every time it is with the expectation of a better government," Ramesh Yadav speaks as his mother, Punji Bai, returns to their hut, holding the portrait of her husband in her arms.

Saubhadro Chatterji in Yavatmal
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