Rural Telangana, where almost 62 percent of the population lives, had played a crucial role in the formation of the new state in 2014. As the Legislative Assembly goes to polls on 7 December, narratives of families of farmer suicides in the prosperous Nalgonda district, highlight how little their life has changed. Nalgonda has the highest number of farmer suicides, according to data available since the state’s formation.
A Suicide of a Different Kind
Kathula Venkataiah, 45, committed suicide like thousands of farmers do every year in India, because of crop failure and unpaid debts. But this farmer suicide was different.
A resident of Manimadde village of Shali Gowraram mandal in Nalgonda district, Venkataiah was a staunch supporter of the separate state of Telangana. He had participated in village marches and believed that Telangana’s statehood would be the best solution for the rural distress he himself faced, and witnessed around him. And yet, he killed himself 12 days after the formation of Telangana on 2 June 2014.
His stunned family has never gone back to agriculture since then. They have also never again believed in political solutions to farm distress.
Too busy to read? Listen to this instead.
Inability to repay debt was the main reason for Venkataiah’s suicide; he had owed Rs 4,30,000 at the time of his death, according to official documents. As Venkataiah did not own land, banks had trouble lending to him, and he borrowed from private moneylenders on an interest of Rs 1.50 to Rs 2.
About 50.6 percent of household credit needs in the state are met by private loans, according to Telangana Social Development Report 2017.
This dependence on private moneylenders is despite over 83 percent rural access to bank credit, according to the same report.
Further, government schemes like Rythu Bandhu, are meant for farmers who cultivate their own land, and not for tenant/landless farmers who are the worst affected by distress. A report by Rythu Swarajya Vedika with TISS in 2018, finds that 20 percent of land in the state is cultivated by tenant farmers, but they account for 75 percent of farmer suicides in Telangana.
Incomplete Walls, Unfulfilled Promises
The children of tenant farmers face a different challenge; there is no land to farm, and education does not lead to employment. Even with 64.2 percent literacy rate, Nalgonda district has only 49.9 percent working population, according to the 2011 Census. It is not surprising therefore, that after Venkataiah’s death, all his three children dropped out of school to earn a livelihood instead.
His wife Narsamma, now works as domestic help and lives in Hyderabad along with her youngest daughter, Sravanthi, 18, who is employed as a helper at a private hospital.
In Manimadde village, where the family met this reporter this week, they live in a half-constructed two-room house of cement and brick. Part of the state compensation paid after Venkataiah’s death had gone into building the house, but was not enough to finish it.
In a way, the incomplete walls of a farmer’s house are a harsh reminder of the unfulfilled promises of Telangana, to those alive and those dead.
In another part of Nalgonda in Chandanpally village, Rupani Radha recalls the death of her husband, Janayya, in November 2014, four months after the formation of Telangana state. She now supports three children between the ages of 8-14 years, through farm labour, and by cultivating cotton on 2 acres of rain-fed land that used to belong to her husband. The land is now in the name of her 8-year-old son, transferred by her husband’s family after his death. This has proved a hurdle for getting benefits of government schemes as her son is not of age.
Welfare State: A Sham?
Welfare had failed to assist her in times of need. For instance, when she had to undergo a surgery for kidney stones in June 2018, she had to borrow Rs 1 lakh from private sources. She says that the free health scheme ‘Aarogyasri’ would have taken time to come though, and she could not wait. And now, after the surgery, the loan has added to her burden as she is unable to do farm labour to repay it.
She is educated till class 10, but there are no jobs for educated women in the villages. The unemployment rate in Nalgonda district among rural men is 4 percent, while among rural women it is 26 percent, according to the Ministry of Labour and Employment, Government of India.
Radha’s only other option is agriculture. “I must work as farm labour to pay for the cotton crop on our field. I have harvested about 5 quintals, which will fetch me about Rs 20,000, but I will make no profit,” she says. But like Narsamma, even Radha must reconcile to the indifference of the state that no longer needs the farmer, except perhaps, during elections.
For live updates on the farmers march in Delhi, click here.
(Kota Neelima is an author and researcher. Her latest book is ‘Widows of Vidarbha: Making of Shadows’ by Oxford University Press, 2018. She tweets at @KotaNeelima. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)