Deoli/Paradi, April 17: “I hope I have a bride the next time we meet,” says Diwakar Sudhanshio. “It could take five years or more and I’ll be 33 by then, but god would be kind if he just got some woman to say she was ready to marry me. It’s crazy, nobody sends their daughters here.”
In his ill-fitting belt and gaudy shirt, Diwakar “Sir”, a teacher at the distant Sitabai College, stands out in Deoli. But it is only his hideous sartorial sense that marks him out in this Vidharba village, full of dark tales and rancid smell.
A Dalit, he shares everything else with the dozens of men who fail to get married because fathers will not give their daughters to a village where it is routine for women to hang themselves due to helplessness and poverty.
“Sir” won’t get a bride even as girls, some as young as 12, have their virginity “sold” to the highest bidder in an open fair in parts of interior Vidharba.
As recently as April 14, Mira Jitendra Sudhanshio tried to kill herself by hanging from the uneven wooden beam running through the ceiling of her small hut. She survived death but villagers are not sure she will survive the attempts being made by her husband to marry for the third time in search of a male child.
Jitendra, her husband, already has two daughters from Mira and another girl from his first wife.
“He wants a son as he thinks the boy will help him out in the cotton fields by the time he turns 10,” said Sandip Dnyanedeo, a social worker. “Girls become too much of a liability.”
Last year, Ashabai Yeshwantrao committed suicide here. Whatever she and her husband did, they could just not get rid of the family’s debts of Rs 20,000.
Ask the villagers how many people have committed suicide in the last couple of years and they look at each other before rattling off the names of their dead: “Nagesh Bopade and his mother Maina bai, Suresh Shinde and his father Seshrao Shinde, Rajiv Umade, Suresh Nilkan, Usha Ambulkar, Lilabai Patond. Want more'”
As a little boy with a bloated belly drags a stray dog by a plastic thread around its neck, almost killing the poor animal, Diwakar reprimands him before announcing sardonically that while the rest of the country battles with population control, his village has to deal with death control. “No wonder I am not getting a woman though I am a teacher.”
To travel the 10-odd km from Deoli to Paradi takes about an hour by car. The dried Katebuna river forms a ravine and separates the lowlands from Paradi, a village that totters precariously on the sloping shoulder of a hillock.
The village doesn’t have a phone and its people have around 500 quintals of unsold cotton. “Prices have come down from Rs 2,400 a quintal to about Rs 1,300 a quintal. Those who have cotton are waiting for the prices to go up, only we can’t wait for more than a month now. The cotton will go bad,” says Keshavrao Ingde at Paradi. “Come, I’ll will show you how we live.”
It is pitch dark inside the hovel of Devrao Ramchander. He shares his home — an oblong piece of darkness — with a goat and a wife. “The farmers haven’t sold their cotton and because of that daily wage earners like us have no job. It is difficult to manage a meal. Sometimes we beg,” Ramchander says trying to quieten the goat, which seems angry at intruders in its already tiny space.
If dipping cotton sales, suicides, hunger and hospitals are a problem, unemployment is a disease that is rampant in every house.
Sheshrao Avdhoot is a graduate in Marathi literature from S.R. College, in Washim district. But every morning he goes in search of sundry manual work, bringing home Rs 20 by evening. His wife, Vijaya, also a graduate, joins him in his search for work. There is no other way they can feed their three children. Next door, in the house of Bhimrao, a two-year-old boy sits on the cold earth, naked and hungry, trying hard to swallow the tough, dry roti his mother has given him.
“You have come here but please don’t venture further into Pangri,” Keshavrao warns. “The Banjaras and Adivasis living there stone all those who they think are government officials,” he adds.
“Nothing reaches them ever. Recently, a Banjaran died when she delivered her baby in the bullock cart that was taking her to hospital. It was dark, there are no roads and the hospital is around 12 km away. Jeena, marna dono mushkil. Kabhi nazuk haalat me bailgadi pe chadho to malum padega.”