Warangal's suicide rush soars with farmers' rising debts

The inevitable followed: desperate farmers have begun their tryst with death. At least 10 farmers have committed suicide over the last week in the district. Overall, the suicide toll in the state has crossed 150 in the state, according to figures put out by the Opposition. The government, however, puts the death toll at 25.

Warangal district is considered the ‘suicide capital’ of Andhra Pradesh since 1998 when cotton crops failed and farmers killed themselves in hundreds. The farm suicides first started in Warangal district and it leads other districts in the state in the number of farmer suicides. Across the country in desperate pockets like this one, 17,107 farmers committed suicide in 2003.

Last Friday (Aug 21, 2009) three farmers from the district killed themselves by consuming pesticide. They have been identified as M Srinivas Goud (33) of Kothapalli, Bhukya Ramulu (45) of Maqdoompura and K Dhananjaya (25) of Barigalonpalli. For the first time this ‘suicide’ season, three men killed themselves the same day.

The youngest among them, 25-year-old Dhananjaya, was married barely two years ago and has a son who is three months old. His parents Rajamma and Basavaraj were inconsolable. Wife Anita was still in a daze, unable to speak on Saturday evening.

Young and confident, Dhananjay prepared to cultivate five acres, three of his own and two that he leased for Rs 7,000 each (the amount is paid before the season begins). He purchased a motor and pipes to draw water from a nearby lake to irrigate his field. He was not downcast even when the pair of oxen he bought for Rs 30,000 died. So confident was he of success that he dared to purchase another pair.

He planned to grow paddy to cut down the risks of going wholly commercial. He also bought eight bags of fertiliser in advance since last year they had a nightmarish experience, standing in line for 24 hours and being beaten up by police as fertiliser stock vanished from the market. He even persuaded his father to get two crop loans, one from a bank and another from a cooperative society.

The debt ballooned to Rs 2 lakh but Dhananjay was not worried. He even planned to construct the house sanctioned to him under Indiramma Housing Scheme of the government once he harvested his crops. When the rains were delayed, he began to worry. “We kept telling him we will find a way out,” said his mother Rajamma.
When the paddy seedlings that he had kept ready to transplant once rains came, began to wither. It was then that the stark truth drove home; Dhananjay’s hopes began to wane.

“If we had even the smallest of suspicion that he would kill himself, we would not have allowed him out of sight,” said a weeping Rajamma. A thoroughly depressed Dhananjaya left for the fields early on August 21. When he didn’t return even by 9 pm, the family went looking for him. They found him dead.

“He has escaped but we are trapped. How am I to take care of this new mother and an infant,” Rajamma wailed at the double jeopardy that she found herself in.
Changes brought on by 15 years of economic reforms have opened Indian farmers to global competition and given them access to expensive and promising biotechnology, but not necessarily opened the way to higher prices, bank loans, irrigation or insurance against pests and rain.

Rajaiah, a relative of the family, and also a farmer, said they have not witnessed “this kind of drought” in the last 30-35 years. The groundwater fell too deep for the boring machines while the nearby Ramappa lake shrank by half, its water too little to be pumped by motors.

“Agriculture means suffering. We thought this would be easier than our caste vocation but it has become too huge a burden,” he said.

The Yadava family traditionally were into sheep and goat-rearing but with decreasing grazing land, high mortality of animals due to various diseases and an emotional need to climb socially prompted them to switch to agriculture. “Our problems are due to one reason alone. We have no water,” said Rajaiah.

The local MLA, who is from the Telugu Desam Party (TDP), and formerly a Naxalite, Seethakka, agrees with Rajaiah. It was in her constituency, Mulug, that the three farmers have committed suicide. “We have the Godavari (flowing through the district), and mountains and streams in plenty but no measures like check dams to store water have been taken up,” she said.

“The truth of debt of farmers is that it sucks you in deeper and deeper. It is impossible to get out,” she said summarising the tragedy facing Warangal farmers.

 

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