Vaishali Yede got married 10 years ago. Her husband Sudhakar committed suicide two years later. In between, she gave birth to two children. Shortly after her husband’s death, she was abandoned by her in-laws. Today, Yede's kids go to school, she is associated with a farm union, and gained a measure of fame for having delivered a heart-wrenching speech at the Marathi Literary Festival. At 28, Yede is scarily vivacious, considering the life she has led.
Draped in a saree, flashing a grin in her dimly-lit, derelict one-room home in Yavatmal’s Rajur village in Maharashtra, Yede said Sudhakar borrowed Rs 75,000 from a moneylender. “I don’t know the interest rate they agreed upon, but a loan from a moneylender only bleeds farmers," she said in a disarming tone. "When he realised he won’t be able to handle it, he hanged himself, leaving me to care for our children.”
That was in 2011, when their son was two, and their daughter was just a month old.
When Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis, announced a farm loan waiver of Rs 34,000 crore in June 2017, Yede was afraid that it would give her little relief. Two years on, with the loan waiver still not completely enforced, her fears have come true.
According to the May 2018 report of State Level Bankers' Committee (SLBC), the 2017-18 financial year clocked a -50 percent year-on-year growth in terms of agriculture credit disbursement. The crop loan disbursement was inadequate the following year too. In other words, with earlier dues yet to be cleared, banks could not issue fresh loans.
“Farmers have always borrowed money from moneylenders. But the delayed enforcement of the waiver has perpetuated it,” she said. “When banks don’t disburse crop loans, it pushes more farmers into the web of moneylenders. That is the last thing Yavatmal needs.”
Yavatmal is one of the worst-hit districts in terms of agrarian crisis. It falls in the division of Amravati, part of the agrarian region of Vidarbha. The division accounted for 4,384 farmer suicides, or 36.5 percent of the state’s total farmer suicides in the past five years. A majority of farmers who kill themselves are men, though suicide by female farmers are often not properly accounted for.
In a patriarchal setup, Yede said it requires support and tremendous mental strength for a woman to survive after her husband commits suicide. “People say unspeakable things behind your back, and nobody stands up for you,” she said. “Not even family.”
Sudhakar and his two brothers had nine acres of farmland. After his death, the family usurped his share, and abandoned Yede. Eight years on, Yede and her children remains estranged from them, even though they live a mere two blocks away. “It’s as if we do not exist,” she said with a wistful smile. “I was all alone. So, for a year after Sudhakar’s death, I lived with my parents. I learnt stitching, and started working at an Anganwadi school.”
She still works there, earning Rs 3000 a month. The kids study at the village public school. Life is relatively stable with her parents’ support, with a routine kicking in. But Yede worries about the day her children finish school. “I somehow manage now, but how will I pay for their further education?” she wondered. “I don’t even have any land to mortgage for a loan.”
For extra cash, Yede on occasion doubles up as an agricultural labourer. “School lasts from 10 am to 3 pm,” she said. “I work other people’s farmland from 7 am t0 9 am and from 3.30 pm to 6.30 pm. I get Rs 100 for a day’s work in the cotton fields.”
Cultivation of cotton and soybean, two major crops in Yavatmal, requires a fair amount of labour. The monsoon in Vidarbha has been decent this season, so labourers have had work. But the past two years saw a disappointing monsoon. “We didn’t have work because the harvest was meagre,” said Yede. “We do not have much irrigation facilities in times of inadequate rainfall. Crop prices fell. This government has hardly done anything for the farmers, but people still vote for BJP because they built toilets. And the Opposition is weak.”
Much like the rest of the state, the ruling BJP-Shiv Sena alliance is formidable in Yavatmal, the district where Narendra Modi kicked off his 2014 campaign for prime ministership with a chai pe charcha. Even though Congress has enjoyed a presence in the district largely due to Uttamrao Patil, the tide seems to have turned, which coincides with the rise of Modi.
The BJP-Shiv Sena combine holds six of the seven Assembly constituencies in Yavatmal. However, internal one-upmanship could cost them a seat or two. The ticket distribution has left Shiv Sena grumpy. Six of seven candidates belong to the BJP, prompting the Sena to prop up rebel candidates.
The question is whether the Congress has a face in Yavatmal, or indeed Vidarbha, to exploit the infighting within the ruling alliance. Manikrao Thakre, former state Congress president, once a commanding face in Yavatmal, is a spent force.
Yede also tried her hand at politics. In the 2019 Lok Sabha election, she contested on a Prahar Janshakti Party ticket. The outfit was founded by MLA and farm leader Bacchu Kadu. He offered her the ticket after her gut-wrenching speech at the Akhil Bharatiya Marathi Sahitya Sammelan, or Marathi Literary Festival, went viral. The festival organisers faced backlash after rescinding Nayantara Sehgal’s invite after criticism from certain right-wing groups. They invited Yede to inaugurate the festival to save face.
Yede got over 20,000 votes, but lost by a wide margin. “Our entire campaign was crowd-funded,” she said. “I got those votes without distributing liquor, mutton or money. But I am sad to say not enough farmers voted for me. I did not want to get into the Parliament for my own benefit. I know what a farm widow goes through. I know the issues farmers face. I know how difficult it is to get a crop loan.”
According to the SLBC data, the targeted crop loan disbursement for this year’s Kharif season was just over Rs 2,100 crore in Yavatmal. But the achievement stands at 58 percent by 15 September, 2019, in spite of the fact that Fadnavis approved a Rs 87,000 crore credit plan for agriculture in May 2019 and urged banks to disburse crop loans by being sensitive.
In the entire state, the targeted disbursement is even worse: 45 percent, four points above the disbursement in Vidarbha. “At this rate, farmers will continue to be pushed in the direction of moneylenders,” said Yede. “And that never ends well.”
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Updated Date: Oct 19, 2019 16:53:24 IST