news Wednesday, July 29, 2015 - 05:30
  Twenty-five farmers have killed themselves in Mandya district alone in one month. Visits to the families of farmers who had killed themselves show little by way of a pattern in the absence of a comprehensive study. So far, the deaths refuse to be categorized in any manner - Dalit farmers and Vokkaliga farmers have killed themselves; the quantum of land they owned ranges between a few guntas (less than an acre) to around several acres; they are mostly sugarcane farmers but one sericulturist too killed himself; their debts too varied. But one thing is a constant – politicians in this pre-dominantly Vokkaliga belt have given personal financial assistance to many of the deceased farmers’ families. This phenomenon has not been seen in places like Haveri district which has also seen a high number of suicides. Madhu S, a 24-year-old sericulturist killed himself last week. His aunt Shobha thinks that he did so because of the fear of facing those he borrowed money from. The family has accumulated debts of around Rs 7 lakh, on account of the weddings of two female family members. This year, cocoon prices fell sharply, and sericulturists say they do not even recover the cost of their intial investment. These posters have been put up in several places in Arachakalli village. On Tuesday, actor and the Congress’ Mandya Lok Sabha candidate Ramya visited the houses of deceased farmers and gave away Rs 50,000 to each of the families as personal assistance. Before her, it was Maddur MLA D C Thammanna (JDS), R Ashok (BJP) and former chief minister S M Krishna. All of them are Vokkaligas. When The News Minute visited the families of some of the farmers who had killed themselves in Maddur taluk on Mondy, all except one family said that they had been given money by one or more politician. Amounts ranged between Rs 25,000 and Rs 50,000. An activist of Karnataka Jana Shakti (KJS) Mallige said that this was a common practice in the old Mysore region to give money when visiting the house of a deceased person, because of the expenses involved in the way the Vokkaligas practice the tithi (the rituals associated with funerals). Expenses of funerals are very high and involve feeding relatives and guests for several days in a grand manner and also the family of the deceased person giving expensive clothing to certain members of the family. “Here, practically entire villages are your extended family, because marriages occur within a small geographical area, unlike in other places where families from far-off villages inter-marry. We have managed to create some awareness about having simple wedding, but neither we (KJS), nor the farmers’ groups have been able to address this.” Shivanna's parents sitting by his photograph. His mother Savithramma says that the family called him "simha raja" because he shouldered the responsibility of looking after the family. The irony of the situation has not escaped anybody. Farmers who spoke to The News Minute agreed that politicians from all parties gave money when a farmer committed suicide, but did nothing in terms of policy to address their distress. Asked why, Ravi Kumar, a farmer said: “We (farmers) are not one family. We are Congress farmers, BJP farmers, JD(S) farmers. We have never been able to unite as family.” He says that unlike in the past, the farmers’ movement too has also not been able to unite farmers on this level to protect their own interests. But the interests of farmers are varied, and the mind bogglingly complex situation is a result of government polices since the 1990s, economists and activists say. One reason why the farmers’ movement has failed to get politicians to act is that farmers’ leaders too are content with obtaining relief for those close to them, Ravi Kumar adds. But this is just the tip of the iceberg, according to Mallige. “Unlike other communities, Vokkaligas do not provide social security for individual community members. Among some communities, when someone suffers financial loss, the community will pitch in to help, but Vokkaligas do have anything other than their identity.” The Vokkaliga community is spread across the Old Mysore region, Mandya, Hassan, Kolar, Ramnagara, Bangalore Rural districts. The term Vokkaliga means “land-owner” and in Mandya , the majority of them are land-owning farmers or agricultural labourers. Even in Mandya, there are class differences among Vokkaligas – there are landless among them for generations while there are also rich families who own several acres of land. Even as these exist within the community, Mallige says that the community feels cheated when they look at Scheduled Castes. “There is a perception that the government looks after the SCs. There are a lot of government schemes but if you look at them closely, Dalits cannot avail of any benefits through them either because the schemes are ineffective, down right useless, or due to practical difficulties. But the Vokkaligas don’t know that, and this has created a sense of isolation.” She says that while there is a retinue of politicians waiting to capture the Vokkaliga vote, no one really cares. “Because of a lack of political movements, the Vokkaligas don’t know how to channel their frustrations and address these issues with their political leaders and this is leading to caste conflicts, which is more dangerous,” Mallige says.
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