Activists say that in instances of farmer suicides, it is the women who are left to pay off moneylenders and want the government to rehabilitate such women.

Allocate funds to help women affected by farmer suicides Activists urge Ktaka govtRepresentational image
news Agriculture Tuesday, February 25, 2020 - 17:08

Sudha is a farmer, who cultivates green chillies and ragi in Karnataka’s Sira, located in Tumakuru. Sudha’s brother Shivanna, who was the sole breadwinner of the family, committed suicide three years ago due to severe crop losses. The day after Shivanna’s funeral, moneylenders showed up at her house demanding payment. Sudha, who was never consulted about any financial affairs and was strictly asked to not interfere in the family’s financial affairs prior to Shivanna’s death, was shocked to learn that she had to repay a debt of Rs 15 lakh to various moneylenders. Sira is one of the taluks in Karnataka that have been declared drought-hit for five consecutive years.

“I only knew that my brother had taken a bank loan for digging a borewell. He got 12 borewells dug and we did not get any water from any of them for a long time. When he died, all the moneylenders turned to me. They asked me to repay the money. Until then, I was not allowed to look into the family’s financial affairs. I did not know that my brother had taken so many loans and that we were living in such a bad condition,” Sudha says. Just like Sudha, thousands of women in families that have witnessed farmer suicides, are under immense pressure to repay loans. Sudha, whose family owns a 4 acre plot in Sira, says that she is now working as an agricultural labourer to repay the loans.

“Firstly, women are not informed about financial conditions. Our inputs are not taken when the men incur debts. My brother did not inform me or even confide in me the problems we were facing. I would have been better equipped to handle this if I knew,” Sudha says.

Just like Sudha, many women across Karnataka have been facing the pressure of repaying loans. Despite some of the famines receiving compensation, the burden is too high. To help women in agrarian economies cope with farmer suicides, the Mahila Kisan Adhikaar Manch (MAKAAM) is demanding that the Karnataka government prioritise the rehabilitation of women farmers, who have been affected by farmer suicides and allocate funds for the same in the upcoming budget, which is to be presented on March 5.

MAKAAM wants the state government to institute a comprehensive relief and rehabilitation package for affected women. It also demanded that the state government set up district level coordination and monitoring committees to deal with the issue of supporting affected women.

“In terms of benefits for farmer suicide families, there are various departments involved. We are demanding that like Maharashtra, Karnataka too issue ID cards to these women, who can go and avail the services provided to them. The district level committees will be responsible for helping them out in terms of coordinating with various departments,” says Kavitha Srinivasan, Karnataka convenor of MAKAAM.

Another demand is for the setting up of Kisan Helpline to address the issues of farmers and also set up mechanisms to address mental health issues of farming families. MAKAAM also conducted a study where it surveyed 52 families in five districts of Karnataka. All the families had been affected due to suicides.

“There are many problems that arise out of this. Women are the ones left behind in the cases of farmer suicides that have been documented. Since we do not have data on women farmer suicides, we cannot find out how many are succumbing to the pressure. But our study also found that in 18% of the farmer suicide families, the children were taken out of schools,” said Kavitha Kuruganti, who was a part of the MAKAAM team that conducted the study.

The study found that all women were aware of the compensation from the state government and the pension amount that is given to sanctioned cases of farmer suicides. However, it also found that less than half of the women surveyed knew about education support provided by the state.

“In the absence of economic support for livelihoods and without adequate social security measures like free healthcare, education, ration, pension, housing, these women end up borrowing more to meet daily survival needs, for healthcare of families and education of their children, thus entering into a further debt trap,” Kavitha said.

MAKAAM also wants the state government to start documenting cases of women farmer suicides to get an accurate picture of the condition in the state. “There are too many women farmers and they are not included in the data set collected. This is important,” Kavitha Kuruganti said.  

According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), there were 6,644 farmer suicides in Karnataka between 2016 and 2018. According to a study conducted by MAKAAM in 2019, Karnataka’s farmer suicides make up 18-23% of the total farmer suicides in India and are highly prevalent in Chikkamagaluru, Chitradurga, Davanagere, Mandya, Mysuru and Shivamogga districts.

“Clearing off outstanding debts was reported as the biggest burning problem by most widows, followed by continuing the education of their children. Social obligations and continuing with agriculture were cited as the next couple of responsibilities or problems looming in front of them. About 79% of the widows reported feeling stressed about managing a wide variety of responsibilities and a large majority felt overburdened by the responsibilities thrust on them after the suicides of their spouses,” the study said. 

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