Farmer suicides
Deeply hurt by bank manager's words, a farmer kills himself in Tirunelveli District
"I requested the bank six months’ time to pay back both my pending loans. But the manager ordered me to get out, gave me some receipt and said things that deeply hurt me."

These words are part of 72-year-old Vembukrishnan's last message to his family, friends and authorities. After writing this letter addressed to the Zonal head of the Indian overseas bank, the farmer from Tirunelveli district consumed poison and took his life on Thursday.

Vembukrishnan from Keezha Pillaiyarkulam, had visited the IOB branch in Manur on Tuesday to retrieve the jewellery he had mortgaged, but had come back home empty-handed.

The agriculturalist, in his letter, explains the alleged circumstances under which he decided to take the drastic step.

"I am a mere farmer from the above mentioned address. In 2007-2008, based on advice given by the Agricultural department, I took a loan from IOB for drip irrigation in my field. After this I took more loans to sow mango, chilli, plantain and paddy. I paid back the debt I incurred for mango and chilli plantations, but couldn't pay back the money I borrowed for plantain and paddy. I had dues up to Rs. 90,000. Despite the difficulties, I was facing, I paid the bank on a yearly basis. Only last year, I defaulted because I was ill. So, I mortgaged my wife's thaali (mangalusutra) to get additional money for agriculture. On the 7th of March I went back to pay Rs. 50,000 to the bank and get back the chain. They made me wait till 3pm in the bank. Then they told me I can't take back the thaali till I pay back the other loan. I promised the bank manager that I will re-mortgage my wife's thaali and pay off all my loans. But he said no. I was told I have to pay back my pending loan to get back her chain."

Following the farmer's suicide, the police have filed an FIR against the manager who allegedly insulted the farmer.

But Vembukrishnan's family is inconsolable. "What did they say to my uncle to make him want to take this cowardly step?" ask Karrupaiah, a relative, angrily. "How can these bank authorities harass us like this? This is not new. They have always spoken disrespectfully to farmers in the area. Even elderly men are treated with scorn," he alleges.

But this is not a tragedy that is new to Tamil Nadu. In January, a farmer near Erode committed suicide by hanging himself to death because he was unable to repay the loan he had availed to purchase a tractor and a cow. Incidentally, he had borrowed from IOB as well. According to media reports, he was notified by the bank after he failed to pay his dues last year.

Farmers unions have been up in arms against what they claim to be 'murder of farmers'. "These banks can't do anything to a Vijay Mallya who has borrowed thousands of crores and not returned it. But a poor farmer who has borrowed to make ends meet is pushed to death. This was not a suicide. It is a murder fueled by apathy for our plight," alleges Dheiva Sigamani, Head of the Tamil Nadu Vivasayi Sangangal Kootu Eyakkam. "To make matters worse, we are facing the worst drought in 140 years. Our lands are parched and farmers are helpless. Things are bound to get worse," he adds.

In January, the National Human Rights Council had issued a notice to the Tamil Nadu Government regarding continuing farmer deaths in the state. According to a Livemint report, the notice said, “The National Human Rights Commission has taken suo motu cognizance of media reports regarding the deaths of 106 farmers during a period of one month in Tamil Nadu which it considers as a matter of concern."

A month later, Chief Minister Edappadi Palaniswami, sanctioned the release of a Rs 2,247-crore package for drought-hit farmers. According to media reports, farmers who depend on irrigation for their crop were to get Rs 5,465 per acre while those who depend on seasonal rain would get Rs 3,000 per acre.

But Krishnan's family, claims they have received no relief so far. "My uncle was under immense pressure because the crop on his 5-acre land failed," says Karuppaiah. "He didn't say anything when he came back from the bank. He looked sad but we attributed it to the condition of our crop. On Thursday night, he said he was going to buy medicine and went out. He then came back, wrote the letter and killed himself. We are shattered by his death and our situation now has only gotten worse, "he says, before leaving to attend to relatives visiting their home.