The News Minute's Haritha John travelled through Nagapattinam in Tamil Nadu, hearing stories of farmers struggling under drought. Here is the second in her series of stories.
30-year-old Veeramani is the youngest of 13 farmers to have died among Nagapattinamâ€™s paddy fields in the past two months. Veeramani died of a heart attack, like all the others, with some of them dropping dead right in the middle of their dried-up fields reeling under severe drought.
In the wee hours of January 1, Veeramani had gone to his field. â€śWhen he returned, he came and sat outside the house and asked his wife for some water. He then collapsed,â€ť sobs Selvi, Veeramaniâ€™s mother, while telling The News Minute about the unexpected fate that befell her son.
A resident of the Kandamakudy hamlet located 14 kilometres away from Nagapattinam town, Veeramani lived with his wife Anitha and two daughters aged four and two, in one of ten shabby huts dotting the banks of a now dried-up pond.
Still lost in her grief, Selvi continues: â€śThis is the first time the pond has completely dried up. We have never had to face such a situation. Look at our fieldâ€¦ all yellow and brown. We took it on lease. I have never once in my life seen people abandon their crops, especially after the sprouting of grains.â€ť
Selvi with Veeramani's child
The devastating water scarcity has hit them so hard because it has come so late in the crop season. â€śIf we had faced severe water shortage before the planting season, we could have somehow borne the loss. But now we have already invested in the land, availing loans from private financiers.â€ť
Distressed over mounting debts and watching the crops fail, Veeramani used to come back to his hut in absolute distress. â€śHe could not bear to see the crops withering away in front of his own eyes. Ever since the drought began, he has been telling us about a lingering pain in his chest,â€ť explains Selvi.
â€śEvery night before going to bed, he repeatedly voiced his worries about the field. He could hardly sleep. Just the other day, he walked to the field at midnight,â€ť she recalls.
The dilapidated hut they call home has three tiny rooms â€“ one to store their meagre possessions, another to sleep in, while the last serves as the kitchen. A poster with Veeramaniâ€™s picture standing by the roadside is the only visible sign of mourning in the neighbourhood.
â€śThere was nothing wrong with his heart. This has come as a sudden shock to us. Ever since he died, his younger daughter, the two-year-old, is always sick. She cries day and night, asking for her father. Even today, her mother had to rush with her to the hospital,â€ť cries Selvi.
According to the Cauvery Farmers Association (CFA) functioning in Nagapattinam district, ten farmers succumbed to cardiac attacks on New Yearâ€™s Day. Three more had already died in December 2016, for the same reason.
Both CFA and the bereaved families claim that all the farmers died because of the immense pressure they were under, as they were forced to abandon their paddy fields due to extreme drought conditions. All of them were Samba rice cultivators.
Dhanapal, the President of the CFA, says that the organisation possesses documents to prove that these farmers died of cardiac arrest reportedly due to crop failure.
â€śWe have their medical records, post-mortem report and all other details to prove that extreme pressure brought about by drought and crop failure led to their death.â€ť
60-year-old Kaliaperumal, a resident of Oorkudi village located 10km from Nagapattinam, one of the ten who died on New Yearâ€™s Day, was found in his paddy field at around 10am that morning.
â€śHe was so worried about his daughterâ€™s marriage. And look at this house. It can collapse at any moment. He was planning to save some money from this yearâ€™s cultivation. In the beginning, water was available, so we planted the crops with such big hopes. But later, watching them wither was so painfulâ€¦ he simply could not bear it,â€ť says Arivinkodi, Kaliaperumalâ€™s wife.
â€śThat day, I followed him to the field after some time. When I reached there, I saw him lying right in the middle of the field. By the time we got him to the hospital, he was gone,â€ť she pauses.
She looks out at the parched and cracked fields that stand in front of her house: â€śWe have no idea how we will survive this drought. Death may probably be the only answer for all those who have life left in them.â€ť
Read first story in the series: Land of drought and death: Journey through devastated TN villages as farmer suicides rise