For the past two days, 61-year-old Josy Kurien has been religiously going to Ramanagara in his native Kuttanad, just a few kilometres away from his residence in Nedumudi panchayat.
Like hundreds of other farmers in the region, Josy is protesting over their plight in an attempt to gain the Centre's attention.
From 10am to 5pm, hundreds of farmers from the 14 panchayats in Kuttanad, are on a six-day hunger strike reiterating their demands including that the Centre write off their loans.
Josy, who has been a farmer all his life, now owes Rs 20 lakh to a bank, including the compound interest accumulated over the past year. With his paddy crops yielding only about one-third of the normal produce, Josy, like many others, is now neck deep in debt.
"I, along with three others, availed a loan amount of Rs 4 lakh in 2014 at 4% interest. With low produce, and the 40 acre leased land filling with saline water just ahead of the harvest, we are in misery," Josy tells TNM.
On Monday, under the aegis of Kuttanad Vikasana Samrakshana Samiti (KVSS), thousands of farmers in the region began a 6-day satyagraha. Speaking to TNM, the Samiti's Chairman Father Thomas Peelianickal says that the group has five demands. Kuttanad has about 15,000 farmers, each of whom owes at least Rs 50,000.
"First and foremost, considering the plight the farmers are in, the Centre must write off their loans. Two, the banks charge penal interest if the farmer fails to pay back the loan amount on time. Contrary to the normal interest rate of 4%, the penal interest goes up to 11%. This will only pull the farmer into more crisis," Father Thomas says.
The third demand put forth by the farmers is that all kinds of loans availed by them should be considered under the ambit of farmer loans.
"A farmer does not only avail loans for the purpose of farming. He has to find money to send his children to school, pay for medical expenses of the family and the like. And so, for whatever purposes the farmers avail loans, they must be considered as farmer loans and 4% interest rate must apply to them," Father Thomas explains.
To categorise Kuttanad as an ago-eco spot of national importance, is the samiti's fourth demand. By doing so, they recommend that special policies and schemes should be developed, taking into consideration, the agricultural heritage of Kuttanad.
They argue that it is not just agriculture that needs to be protected, but also the environment and the farmers. The farmers have also urged the Centre to do a comprehensive study on Kuttanad, before framing policies for the farmers.
"Now, someone sitting in Delhi is formulating policies for the farmers, which is not the right method to practice. The Centre must do a study on Kuttanad, create a database of the place and then take decisions on farmer loans and compensation depending on the findings of this study," Father Thomas explains.
Josy, who is already reeling from mounting debt, has also spent nearly Rs 13 lakh on his father's treatment.
"I have borrowed from every possible money lender to meet the expenses of the treatment. It would have been easier if only all that came under the provision of farmer loans," Josy says.
A peaceful protest
The Samiti has made it a point to hold the protest in a peaceful manner, the organisers assert. The protest, that was inaugurated by Transport Minister Thomas Chandy on Monday, will continue to be peaceful, they assure.
However, the farmers believe that unless the farmers are forced to resort to violent means of protest, the Centre will only ignore them.
"Even after the protest, if the Centre does not pay heed to our demands, we will conduct a sit-in protest outside the RBI office in Thiruvananthapuram. It took days before the Centre took note of the protests held by farmers from Tamil Nadu. Why is it that they are pushing us against the walls?" asks Josy.
The protest will be called off on Saturday evening.