The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Singh face to face with suicides
- I won’t marry a farmer, teen tells PM; I will kill myself, says cotton widow

Dhamangaon/Waifad (Maharashtra), June 30: Ujwala Wairkar told the Prime Minister she would never marry into a farmer’s house.

“My family wants me to marry into a farmer’s family. But looking at the condition of farmers, I don’t want to marry a farmer,” the 18-year-old farmer’s daughter said.

Ujwala, who is a higher secondary student, expressed preference for a salaried city groom.

Manmohan Singh’s visits to two villages in Vidarbha, where 1,600 farmers have killed themselves in five years, brought a momentary healing touch, though reports came in about the deaths of nine more.

Kishore Tiwari of the Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti, which maintains a daily suicide register, said the farmers had killed themselves by consuming poison or by hanging in Yavatmal, Akola and Washim districts.

“We have got confirmation of two more today, while police have not confirmed two other cases,” Tiwari said.

Still, the visit, with all its crushing security, fetched a smile or two from the villagers of Dhamangaon in Amravati and Waifad in Wardha district.

Till yesterday, Laxmi Masram of Waifad had not seen even a photograph of the Prime Minister. When Singh stepped into the tiny 10x12 courtyard of her house, first she lost her voice and then blurted her demands: a new house, decent toilets and a pump to draw water from the well. Simple.

In the two villages, Singh met over 90 farmers ' at Waifad they welcomed with garlands of cotton ' agreeing to consider most of their demands. Exactly what the government will offer by way of a package will be known tomorrow when Singh makes the announcement in Nagpur, where Union agriculture minister Sharad Pawar was putting the final touches.

Increasing the minimum support price at which the government buys cotton, improving irrigation facilities, providing quality seeds and restricting imports through higher duties were the main demands.

Singh accepted the demand for higher support price. “I will personally speak to the chairman of the Agricultural Costs and Prices Commission to discuss this issue,” he said. The commission recommends the price.

The farmers sought a price of Rs 2,700 per quintal and waiver of loans worth Rs 25,000.

“The burden of loans is a big problem. Before I leave (Vidarbha tomorrow), I will discuss with Vilasrao Deshmukh (Maharashtra chief minister) and Sharad Pawar and see what can be done to improve the situation,” Singh said in Hindi.

Some have blamed trade liberalisation, as part of India’s commitments to the World Trade Organisation, for the crisis farmers find themselves in.

At Waifad, leader Vijay Jawandia, a leader of the farmers’ organisation Shetkari Sanghatana, linked the suicides to globalisation. Despite all his sympathy for the farmers, Singh said: “We can’t keep ourselves away from the world. We have made provisions to protect the farmers in WTO negotiations, and we could increase the import duties on cotton to 100-150 per cent.”

Singh, who visited Gandhi’s Seva Gram ashram near Waifad ' the only Prime Minister to set foot there in 20 years since Rajiv Gandhi ' confronted the reality of suicide-struck families at Dhamangaon where he met 18 widows, apart from 38 indebted farmers.

Singh listened as a woman wept and narrated the death of her husband. Chaya Ghoduse said her husband killed himself in 2004 after accumulating debts up to Rs 1.18 lakh. He had sold two of the four acres he owned to marry off his sister. Then the rains failed.

Kalpana Chowdhary is struggling to support her five children. She lost a daughter because she couldn’t afford the medical expenses to treat her. “I can’t understand anything. I feel I will commit suicide if this goes on.”

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