Friday, April 28

Suicides rock Punjab's farmlands

An NDTV report by Swati Maheshwari

The Green Revolution increased farmers' incomes and standard of living but also raised aspirations and consumption, which often became difficult to sustain.
Bonded labour has historically been one of our biggest social evils, but clearly, the more things change, the more they remain the same.
This is reflected in the condition of farmers in the Punjab, some of who have been forced to kill themselves because of debts. Now, their families without any source of income are miserable, often surviving on the whims and fancies of relatives.
Marriage for 18-year-old Satpal is a distant, almost impossible dream. Her father Hakim Singh, a small farmer in Doodhiya Village of Sangrur district killed himself four years ago, when their cotton crop failed.
He had borrowed Rs three lakh to get a tube well installed. It is a familiar tale in Punjab. Hakim Singh was brought back dead one day from the farm by his brothers. He had consumed pesticide.
Today, his wife and children live at the mercy of their uncles. All three children work as daily wagers, but are mainly paid in kind, not cash.
Grim scenario
"I can't think of marriage because if I get married, then what will happen to them? I asked my uncle for Rs one lakh for a nursing course but he refused and instead built this house. Now I am doing my BA," said Satpal Kaur.
"The village women taunt me and say that you don't have a husband, marry them off to anybody. But how can I do that? Even if I look for a middle level family, they will demand a scooter or a car. She is studying while she is with us, the rest is her destiny," said Amarjeet Kaur, Satpal's mother.
Government estimates, which are highly conservative, say nearly 3000 farmers in Punjab have been driven to kill themselves in the last 20years. Rural indebtedness and repeated crop failure are the main reasons.
It's a grim picture. Add to that social problems like alcoholism, drug addiction, conspicuous consumption and unemployment, and escape from conditions like these for families such as Satpal's seems almost impossible.
Satpal's family still owes over Rs 70,000 to the moneylender. She says when she graduates and gets a job in a bigger town, she will ensure that her family is finally free.

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