Since TDP chief Chandrababu Naidu offered to help the family, YSRCP supporters and authorities have questioned their ‘worthiness’ for support.

A farmer and his wife ploughing their field while their daughters pull the yoke in front of them
Coronavirus Welfare Tuesday, July 28, 2020 - 16:09

Over the weekend, a video of a man ploughing his field with his daughters pulling the yoke with their hands went viral. Like many others, the family had been facing financial difficulties since the pandemic began and had been unable to rent a tractor or bulls. The video reached actor Sonu Sood, who volunteered to help the family, as he has done in multiple instances lately. 

The tractor bought by Sonu Sood reached the family on Sunday evening. V Nageswara Rao, the farmer seen in the viral video, went to sleep relieved that his family now had something to fall back on until the COVID-19 crisis went away. His neighbours and local reporters also seemed happy for him and congratulated him over his good fortune. However, since Monday morning, his integrity has been questioned, along with the ‘authenticity’ of his poverty. 

The negative comments and accusations began soon after TDP chief Chandrababu Naidu announced on Sunday night that he would support the education of Nageswara Rao’s daughters, Vennela and Chandana. 

On Monday morning, revenue officials showed up at Nageswara Rao’s house, to assess his financial status and to verify if he had any properties in his name. 

Nageswara Rao, who was previously involved in citizens’ rights activism, had been running a tea stall in Madanapalle town of Chittoor district for more than 12 years. With the pandemic and lockdown badly affecting his income, he returned to his parents’ house in Mahalrajupalle village, Kambhamvaripalle mandal in the same district.  

‘Never asked for help’

Explaining the context in which the video was recorded about ten days ago, Nageswara Rao tells TNM, “The previous day, I told my family that because of our financial situation, we should drop the idea of farming this season. My daughters insisted that we should sow at least enough for ourselves, if not to sell in the market. When I said that we could not afford bulls or a tractor as the rent was too high, they insisted on helping, along with my nephews and other relatives who were visiting us at the time.”

The girls and their cousins took turns while dragging the yoke, and recorded videos of each other. His nephews ended up posting his daughters’ video online, which soon became viral. 

Nageswara Rao says that he and his family never meant to use the video to seek any benefit. “It was a family video we had just recorded for ourselves,” he says. 

However, it was picked up by the media and reported with unverified details and different narratives. “These channels went ahead and reported whatever they liked, without consulting me. Someone reported “Nageswara rao sowing tomato in Madanapalle Rural.” That was not tomato, we were not in Madanapalle rural,” he says. 

The video has also received negative comments, with people pointing out that his daughters were seen laughing, and claiming that it is therefore ‘staged’. Nageswara Rao says that the family had been joking around and making the girls laugh, to make the work less tiring. 

“People are saying why are my daughters laughing, how come they’re fat? Are they going to understand us from our skin colour and our bodies?” he had earlier said in an interview with BBC Telugu. 

Chittoor Farmer Nageswara Rao with his daughters Vennela and Chandana

‘Inquiry’ into the family’s poverty 

On Monday morning, the Mandal Revenue Officer (MRO) and Mandal Parishad Development Officer (MPDO) of Kambhamvaripalle showed up at Nageswara Rao’s house. They told him that since he had received the tractor the previous evening, the District Collector asked them to carry out an inquiry and report on his financial status. 

Questioning the need for such an inquiry, Nageswara Rao says, “I didn’t cheat anyone or take it from the government, somebody has donated it.” 

The MRO conducted a detailed inquiry to confirm that he did not have any properties in his name. This was followed by an insensitive, prejudiced conversation with the MPDO, says Nageswara Rao. 

“He made hurtful comments while asking me about contesting for an MLA seat in the past, about our plans for my older daughter to study medicine.” The MPDO wondered how he could contest elections, and have ambitious plans for an expensive education for his daughter, if he was indeed poor, Nageswara Rao says. 

“The MPDO said that on one hand I am saying I am so poor that I had to make my daughters plough the field, but how could I be so poor if I had such plans for my children… I was very upset by this, I told him it wasn’t right. I have been a human rights activist. As a Dalit, Scheduled Caste man, can we not even think of getting our children to study medicine?” 

He also explains his foray into Assembly elections in 2009. “I had contested on Jaya Prakash Narayana’s Lok Satta Party ticket. That was not a party where you needed a lot of money to contest,” he says. 

In his interview with BBC Telugu, Nageswara Rao asked, “If I was not Dalit, if I was wealthy, would anyone have come to my village and made inquiries?”

Caught in party rivalry 

The viral video was tweeted by a journalist on Saturday, and was noticed by Sonu Sood on Sunday. “The video somehow reached that gentleman (Sonu Sood), who sent us that tractor. I was very relieved and happy that night, that I don’t have to worry about the lockdown being extended any more… But then Chandrababu Naidu announced that he would help with my daughters’ education. Right after that, YSRCP supporters started making accusations against me, saying I am not a farmer, I am not poor etc.”, says Nageswara Rao. 

Supporters of the ruling YSRCP have listed various welfare schemes under which benefits have been transferred to the family, to insinuate that the family was ‘not deserving’ of help. However, all the schemes listed are meant for individuals and households with income below the poverty line. 

“I cannot believe the things that people are saying. The article in Sakshi newspaper today brought tears to my eyes. They have listed all the schemes under which the YSRCP government gave me money. These benefits were given to my family the way they were given to all other beneficiaries in the state, it was not a special favour. I don’t understand the mudslinging,” he says. 

Sakshi media is owned by Chief Minister Jagan’s family, and is seen as visibly inclined towards the ruling YSRCP. On Tuesday, the Chittoor district edition of Sakshi carried an article with the headline ‘Publicity Stunt!’, listing the welfare scheme benefits transferred to the family (Pension for Nageswara Rao’s parents, Amma Vodi (school fees assistance) for his younger daughter, Rythu Bharosa (farmer assistance for his father’s land), and COVID-19 relief.) 

“I have advocated for civil liberties and citizens rights in the past. I have spoken against encounters and state violence during TDP rule. I was even detained and questioned by the police when the attack on Naidu's life happened in Alipiri in 2003.  I have no affiliation with the TDP. Just because Chandrababu Naidu has offered help now, YSRCP supporters are saying I am not worthy of any support,” he says. 

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