The Modi government claims to have introduced several pro-farmer and pro-poor schemes, which it robustly markets at the time of election. But I don’t know who benefits from them.
What I witnessed in the lockdown was the anti-farmer face of this government, which refused to buy our crops or ensure minimum support prices. This is the same government that seldom hesitates to waiver the loans of crony capitalists.
I shudder to think of the losses I have incurred. But the numbers come rattling to me in my sleep. It is somewhere between $18,800 and $20,000.
“How will we repay the loan, papa?” my children ask.
By June, I usually start repaying the loan. But I have no money to do so this year. The government isn’t even willing to write off the interest on it.
Many peasant farmers may have ended their lives already. In reply to a right-to-information disclosure in October 2019, government reported that 15,356 farmers in Maharashtra had committed suicide between 2013 and 2018. This means that seven farmers committed suicide every day for six years.
Not only do I have massive debt, but my cultivation cycle has been badly hit. After the grapes are harvested in March, there is usually a crucial period of thread-cutting and treatment of leaves, followed by resting of the plants.
None of that could be done because of the unplanned lockdown. The harvest usually due in October is now likely to drag until December, adding to my financial woes.
Usually from January to March, we also borrow from the neighbourhood grocer and local vendors. They happily give us rations and other essentials on credit as they are certain that we will repay them once the yields start coming.
I haven’t paid for the rations I have taken since January and the grocer is becoming uneasy. He may stop our supplies from next month.
Meanwhile, at the end of June, my 74-year-old mother suffered a stroke. The local doctor recommended that she be taken to the Nashik district hospital but we cannot afford to do that. If something happens to my mother, I will not be able to forgive myself.
But I am helpless. There’s no money and a huge debt. Besides my mother, I have to look after my wife and two children and my brother’s widow and her two children.
Reports on farmers’ suicides, usually relegated to the inside pages of newspapers, fill my mind. But I restrain that thought. What would happen to the three women and four children in my family if I wasn’t around?
[As told to Aaqib Athar]
Over 40% of Indians rely on agriculture for their livelihood, according to the World Bank. But this sector has been under pressure for a number of years due to crop failures and price drops. Many small-scale farmers borrow from moneylenders who charge exorbitant interest rates. Suicides are common in this sector when crops fail: a 2015 study attributed almost 40% of farmers’ suicides to financial pressure. Although the Modi government has introduced minimum support prices for crops, few farmers are benefitting. The government is also in the thick of a controversy over the Prime Minister’s Crop Insurance Scheme. Farmers allege that it is designed to benefit the private insurance companies as premiums are compulsory but hidden clauses mean the policies often do not pay out.