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Farm widows seek divine intervention

Suicide-prone Vidarbha region angered by government apathy

Gulf News

Mumbai: In the suicide-prone Vidarbha region of Maharashtra, farm widows and farmers are planning to put up the photos of state Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan and Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar next to their deities in a temple on Republic Day and pray so that wisdom dawns on these leaders to resolve their woes.

“Day after day famers are killing themselves due to high debt and the persisting agrarian crisis and yet neither the concerned state or union minister, media or even civil society has a single candle to light for these poor farmers,” says Kishore Tiwari of Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti (VJAS), an organization representing farmers in this region.

Talking to Gulf News on telephone from Nagpur, Tiwari said more than 2000 farmers committed suicide in the worst-hit district of Yavatmal and the Vidarbha region comprising 11 districts saw 11,000 suicides since 2005. “Six more farmers committed suicide in the last 72 hours taking the toll to 20 in this new year.” The region has over three million cotton farmers. The failure of the Bt cotton crop in 4.2 million hectares of land has led to farmers off loading raw cotton at throw away prices since there has been no state intervention or compensation, he says, driving bankrupt farmers to kill themselves.

When the country celebrates Republic Day, “over 300 widows of farmers who committed suicide and 2000 farmers will congregate at the Maregaon village temple in Yavatmal district to pray and wish that Chavan and Pawar realize the ongoing tragedy before them and take necessary steps to save us,” said Bebitai Bais, President of Vidarbha Farmers’ Widows Association. Maregaon village is where a parliamentary panel headed by MP Basudeo Acharya visited last year to look into the causes of agrarian crisis and submitted its report to the Indian Parliament. “However, nothing came of it,” she says.

The irony of it all, says Tiwari, is that the Maharashtra government is spending millions of rupees on agriculture exhibitions in Nagpur, Yavatmal, Amaravati and Akola whilst Bharatiya Janata Party’s ex-president Nitin Gadkari will organize the Agro-Vision show in February, “denying relief and aid to starving farm widows and their families. Distressed farmers are not being given food security, health care or educational help even after the National Commission for Farmers headed by Dr M. S. Swaminathan and the Dr Narendra Jadhav Committee recommended the same.” The recent Rs 7.78 billion fund announced for drought assistance to Maharasthra has left out any mention of debt-trapped farmers of Vidarbha, said Tiwari.