New Delhi, January 27th 2020: In a National Consultation co-organised by MahilaKisanAdhikaarManch (MAKAAM) and UN Women on the “Status of Women Farmers in Farm Suicide Families”, affected women demanded a special support package from the government from this Budget itself. “We find that governments are not doing enough to prevent farm suicides. They are not even extending adequate and uniform support to farm-suicide affected families for the women to continue with their lives, livelihoods and familial responsibilities despite the fact that such suicides are due to faulty farming policies”, said MAKAAM in a statement.
Several women farmers complained about the government not recognising their husbands’ suicides as a ‘farm suicide’ and therefore, not extending any support to the families, and how they are having to contend with outstanding debts. Women also talked about how the land title is not transferred to her even after the husband’s suicide.
“I am from P.A.Palli from Nalgonda district, Telangana and we do cultivation on leased in land. My husband committed suicide in 2018 and we have an outstanding debt of Rs.6 lakhs. We applied for ex-gratia with the help of local activists and have been trying to access this support – I have gone to the local revenue office at the mandal and district level several times but to no use so far. As my husband did not own any land in his name, I am not considered as “eligible” for getting ex-gratia”, explained Korra Shanthi of Telangana. MAKAAM activists highlighted the many vexatious issues with regard to recognition of farm suicides as ‘genuine’ or ‘eligible’ by the government.
“We found that there is a wide variation in the R&R package given by different states. For one thing, there are some states which don’t want to acknowledge that suicides are happening, and don’t have any policy to support the surviving women in the suicide-affected families. Andhra Pradesh has begun providing a compensation of Rs. 7 lakhs for each family where a farm suicide has occurred. On the other hand, Maharashtra which has the largest number of farm suicides gives only 1 lakh rupees ex-gratia. Telangana on paper gives 6 lakh rupees compensation but has hardly been doing so after subsuming farm suicide cases into a Farmer Insurance scheme called RythuBeemaPadhakam. Punjab is performing abysmally by systematically ignoring farm suicides and leaving the woman to cope with the aftermath of the suicide all by herself. There are numerous cases of multiple suicides within the same family in a state like Punjab”, explained Seema Kulkarni of MAKAAM/SOPPECOM.
Presenting findings of recent studies that assessed the status of women in farm suicide-affected families from Maharashtra, Karnataka, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, MAKAAM stated that one of the biggest hurdles for the women to get on with their lives is the outstanding debts left behind by the deceased farmer. “There is no mechanism or policy in place for the women to be freed up from debt made by the deceased farmer, and certainly not there in scheduled commercial banks and cooperative banks when even some Micro-Finance Institutions seem to write off outstanding debt”, said Kavitha Kuruganti of MAKAAM/ASHA. “There used to be a one-time settlement mechanism in the Andhra Pradesh package earlier, which was also used in certain cases, to settle within one lakh rupees paid by the government all outstanding institutional as well as private loans to liberate the woman from never-ending debt. We need such a mechanism to be put into place uniformly across the country”, she said.
Ashalatha Satyam of MAKAAM/RythuSwarajya Vedika in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh informed that the field studies also pointed to many women having to pull out their children from education after the farm suicide. “Only Karnataka government has an explicit policy for supporting the education of children from farm suicide families, including reimbursing the fees in private institutions. However, even here, the implementation is meagre and lacks coordination between different agencies. Such a policy does not exist in other states, even though Maharashtra government had passed a resolution asking the Education department to formulate a support package related to fees”, she explained.
Kiranjeet Kaur from Punjab, from a farm suicide-affected family herself, pointed that the problem of lack of support for such families begins with the government refusing to acknowledge a farm suicide as ‘eligible’/‘genuine’. “Many criteria used by governments to circumvent any official recognition of the real reflection of agrarian distress and their own policy failures prevent the acknowledgement of suicides in all cases – land ownership and outstanding institutional debts are made criteria, which mean that suicides of agricultural labourers, tenant farmers, women farmers and ones who have borrowed from private moneylenders don’t get counted as ‘eligible’ or ‘genuine’”, she explained.
MAKAAM also demanded that the NCRB and Ministry of Home Affairs maintain separate data for rural and urban suicides within women’s suicides classified as “housewife” and “daily wage worker” suicides. “Women’s lack of visibility or recognition as Farmers due to lack of land ownership is also getting reflected in their numbers not showing up in the farm suicide lists unwillingly published by governments”, said MAKAAM members.
“Repeated natural disasters are exacerbating the crisis for farmers. There is no effective crop insurance or disaster compensation mechanism in the country, even though climate change is now a reality and agriculture has become riskier than ever before. On the market front, farmers are not able to recover even their cost of cultivation and liberalised trade or free trade agreements don’t help the matter”, pointed out Fatima Burnad of MAKAAM / Tamil Nadu Women’s Forum.
“We are here in Delhi, just before Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman presents her budget proposals, to press the government to build in an R&R package that allows a decent chance for women farmers from farm suicide families to continue with their farming. We also demand that old cases also be re-opened for gram sabha-based inquiries and supported”, said MAKAAM. The National Consultation saw the participation of several state government representatives from Maharashtra, Punjab, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Karnataka but no representative from the Union Government.
“Wawarahe, tar power ahe”, says Lakshmibai (name changed) from Yavatmal district of Vidarbha region of Maharashtra. “If there is land, there is power”, she explained. “My in-laws were very unhappy about transferring land title in my name. My brother-in-law threw out all my belongings and said you leave your son here and get out of the house. All this happened on the day my share of the land was to be measured. They did not allow my land to be measured”, she shared. “My husband’s land is still not in my name and the creditors are harassing me”, says Ujjwalatai from Osmanabad district, Maharashtra. “If I was given some farm land, I would work very hard to do my farming properly, and to provide education for my children”, said Neelima (name changed), from Akola district. Women farmers also wanted proper healthcare and education support from government. Some women farmers described the social stigma that they faced, and in some cases, sexual harassment and even rape.Kantabai (name changed) from Osmanabad district of Marathwada shared that her brother-in-law raped her for a year after her husband’s death. “One official asked me for sexual favours to get my pension papers moving”, said Madhuritai (name changed) of Wardha district.
– From the reports of MAKAAM after extensive field interviews available at http://bit.ly/BoldWomenFarmers
For more information, contact:
Seema Kulkarni at 9423582423; Kavitha Kuruganti at 8880067772; Ashalatha Satyam at 9490119242