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Urgent appeal to Government for Relief Package within Feb 2020 Budget for Women Farmers from Farm Suicide Families

Dr. Lakshmi Unnithan
Dr. Lakshmi Unnithan

Climate change is a reality, the natural disasters are putting farmers at a continuous loss, Agriculture has become riskier than before, and still there is no effective crop insurance, or disaster compensation for the farmers who feeds us. On the market front the farmers are not able to recover even their cost of cultivation and liberalised trade or free trade agreements don’t help the matter”, pointed out Fatima Burnad of MAKAAM / Tamil Nadu Women’s Forum. As per Official data of National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) 332,798 farm suicides have taken place in India between 1996 and 2016 with 94% of them being men.19968 female farmer suicides have also been counted into this reporting. It could be concluded from the studies presented by MAKAAM that 312,830 women from farm households have been suddenly tend to fend for themsleves, to manage the home and the farm. The official numbers are quite under reported and conveniently manipulated as analysed by many  scholars.

Women from Suicide prone States like Maharashtra, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Telengana, Andrapradesh and Punjab were in New Delhi participating and raising their voices 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 a single voice they raised concerns about the silence that prevailed within the governments to prevent farm suicides. Prevention was further down the lane, but extending adequate and uniform support to farm-suicide affected families for the women to continue with their lives, livelihoods and familial responsibilities were the utmost that they demanded from this budget which will be released within a few days.

Agriculture World was present there in conversing and listening patiently to their stories.In the Rainfed regions of Tamilnadu and Karnataka, India continue to rely on borewells rather than Conservation strategies or structures and other mechanisms to cope with drought. Digging two and three borewells, digging up 2000 feet was found to be the norm there. What we cannot understand is how do they cope with drought? Single Women Farmers from these regions when interviewed, we found that crop loss due to scarcity of water was the main reason behind the suicide of their family members. Unpredictability of rains and crop losses seem to be the main reason. What we couldn’t understand was that the Groundwater levels have become dangerously  low in the areas and still they resort to the borewells.

What we understand is that there was no unified policy in India that compensates the families of farmers who have committed suicide. The Pensions vary from 700 to 2200 and exgratia varies from 1 Lakh to 7 Lakhs. But the exgratia income also haven’t reached except some, due to lags in processing files or unknown reasons.

There as much as 70,000cases in Maharashtra according to NRCB, but only 30 % of them have received benefits. There is a contradiction between NRCB data and Revenue Department data says Kavitha Srinivasan from Karnataka. The Revenue department has specific conditions for beneficiaries: they must own their farmland ,they must have taken an institutional loan form a bank and they should have suffered crop failure in that year. All the above does not recognise the cumulative nature of the agricultural debt crisis  in India. Many cultivators do no own the land ,yet they take credit from money lenders. Things cannot be generalised as per the Revenue Department.

In the case of 40 year old Veerpal Kaur from Punjab,she shares her  emotional and tragic story where her  father committed suicide due to rising debts and failing crops. These kind of Women are left no where within their families and in their husbands families.Veerpal Kaur is left with no lands but kids to tend to with no support or no job. Kaur became a widow at 21, with a debt of 8 Lakhs.We heard tragic stories where in many were forced to stop the studies of their chidren, many face sexual harassment from money lenders and also within the families, some forced their young girls into marriage.

MAKAAM activists highlighted the many annoying issues with regard to recognition of farm suicides as ‘genuine’ or ‘eligible’ by the government. As the husband did not own any land in his name, she wasn’t considered as “eligible” for getting ex-gratia”, explained Korra Shanthi of Telangana. P.A.Palli from Nalgonda district, Telangana did cultivation on leased in land. Her husband committed suicide in 2018 and they have an outstanding debt of Rs.6 lakhs. They applied for ex-gratia with the help of local activists and have been trying to access this support –and has gone to the local revenue office at the mandal and district level several times but to no use so far.

Recent studies from MAKAM   assessed the status of women in farm suicide-affected families from Maharashtra, Karnataka, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu.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.

We sincerely hope the government listens to these pleas and the  Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman is gracious enough to include some relief package through her  budget proposals ad pressurise the government in turn to build a Relief package  that paved the way for a  decent chance for women farmers from farm suicide families to continue with their farming.

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