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TN farmers in skull protest

S. Rama Naidu is a qualified aeronautical engineer from Vellore. Today, he sat on a pavement on Jantar Mantar road with farmers from his drought-hit home state Tamil Nadu, human skulls laid out before them.

By Pheroze L. Vincent
  • Published 22.03.17
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New Delhi, March 21: S. Rama Naidu is a qualified aeronautical engineer from Vellore. Today, he sat on a pavement on Jantar Mantar road with farmers from his drought-hit home state Tamil Nadu, human skulls laid out before them.

"We protest with skulls because that is how we will end up soon if our distress continues. Debts have accumulated for years and the drought has hit us badly. We don't just want our loans to be waived, we want the system to change for agriculture and peasants to survive," Naidu said.

The protesters say around 400 farmers have killed themselves over the past six months and claim that the skulls, apparently dug out of family graves, are of some of the farmers who committed suicide.

No official figure was immediately available except the Rs 3 lakh that the Tamil Nadu government announced in January as solatium for families of 17 farmers who ended their lives in two districts, Nagapattinam and Thanjavur.

Earlier this year, farmers had protested in their home state with rats in their mouths, prompting the state government to declare a drought and announce the compensation.

Tamil Nadu has been hit by its worst drought in 140 years and the farmers who have been protesting on Jantar Mantar since March 14 are demanding a waiver of all loans - from banks and private lenders. They are also demanding fair prices for agricultural produce, interlinking of rivers and Rs 40,000 crore for the state as drought relief from the Centre.

For the first four days, 172 farmers slept on the Jantar Mantar pavement and had corn flour rotis and spinach at a Gurdwara langar nearby.

"We aren't used to this cold at night and the food was new to us. Twenty-five of us fell ill and were taken to hospital. Some had to go back home," P. Ayyakannu, who is leading the sit-in by the Joint Forum of Tamil Nadu Farmers Associations in Delhi.

Night temperatures in the capital have been hovering around 15 degrees Celsius.

But word soon spread in Delhi's Tamil community. "We are all descendants of peasants," said Manoj S., a lawyer. "The least we could do is arrange for food, shelter and doctors for the elders protesting here."

Naidu, who has researched on agriculture after graduating, said this was the only profession where the costs - labour, seeds and fertiliser - as well as the revenue were decided by others. "Middlemen exploit us and the rates dictated by the government are unrealistic. Our over-reliance on the green revolution's methods have led to this situation where we can't withstand a drought," he said, criticising the use of chemicals and fertilisers.

"It will take time for the land to rejuvenate as we move back to traditional scientific methods that can increase yield. Until then, we deserve the support of the government."

Today, Ayyakannu and the others were accompanied to Parliament by Lok Sabha deputy Speaker M. Thambidurai of the AIADMK to meet finance minister Arun Jaitley. "We met the finance minister last year too, but got no relief. This time, he came out of the House and assured us that he would speak to the RBI and get back to us in two days," Ayyakannu said.

P.K. Deivasigamani, the president of the forum, said Narendra Modi had in one stroke make currency invalid. "What stops him from telling banks and moneylenders to stop humiliating us and driving our men to kill themselves?"