Sunday, April 12, 2015

From prosperity to penury

NAIB SINGH hanged himself a fortnight ago in the land he had been tilling for five years at Bareh village in Mansa district of Punjab. He had hoped for a successful rabi wheat crop, but unseasonal rains reduced him to further penury. The 25-year-old left behind a debt burden of Rs.10 lakh for his family. His mother, Mahinder Kaur, does not know whether to mourn her son’s death or lament over the debt that she and her younger son Bant Singh have to repay. “Bant is still young but has started working in the fields of landowners. The loans have to be repaid and we have to make ends meet. We are left with no option but to sell our land to the moneylender. Naib decided to end his life before he could see through this shame,” said Mahinder Kaur.
Naib’s family owned only two acres (one acre is 0.4 hectare), but Naib had risked taking another 10 acres on contract, hoping that a bumper crop would yield sufficient profit to pull his family out of accumulated debts. Five months ago, Nikha Singh and Bhola Singh, two brothers of the same village, unable to recover even the full costs despite a successful paddy crop, committed suicide. Nikha hanged himself in the room of his house and Bhola drank a pesticide. A part of their loan, which they had taken from a bank was waived, and their mother sold their four acres to repay the loan taken from a moneylender. Parting with his land is the most traumatic experience in a farmer’s life; it brings dishonour to the family.
Bareh has seen 20 suicides in the past two years. Like Naib, Nikha and Bhola, most of those who killed themselves were small or medium farmers who had taken additional land on contract from bigger farmers, a well-established practice in the Malwa region.
Bareh is not an exception. Almost every village shares the same narrative. Suicides have become a trend among unsuccessful farmers in Malwa, Punjab’s biggest agricultural region known for its rich harvests and the prosperity ushered in by the Green Revolution. Malwa, which covers almost 60 per cent of the State’s territory, is famous for cotton, paddy and wheat. Unlike other parts of Punjab, Malwa is driven by its farmers and has given Punjab the status of the richest agricultural State in India. The heavily mechanised commercial farming encouraged by the Green Revolution brought in great wealth for the farmers. It is these factors that have made the farmers consider agriculture a prosperous business. They do not know anything except tilling the land.

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