Debt, drought and death: Two suicides a day since October in Tamil Nadu

Last week, the farmer distress reached Delhi, with a group of Tamil Nadu farmers starting a sit-in at Jantar Mantar.

Written by Arun Janardhanan | Nagapattinam | Updated: March 21, 2017 7:46 am
tamil nadu, tamil nadu farmer, farmer suicides, farmer suicides tamil nadu, tamil nadu drought, tamil nadu farmers protest, farmers protest, jantar mantar protest, india news Rani with her son and father in Nagapattinam. Her husband Murugaiyyan, a farmer, committed suicide. Arun Janardhanan

On January 1, R Panneerselvam stepped out of his home thrice to check on his wasted paddy crop on his 3-acre land. The final time, a tired Pannerselvam flopped down on a chair and asked his eldest son to fetch him tea from a nearby stall. By the time his son returned, Panneerselvam had killed himself. In home after home in Tamil Nadu, the story of the 52-year-old from Nattirippu Keezhetheruvu, hardly 3 km from the native village of DMK patriarch M Karunanidhi in Thiruvarur district, keeps repeating — with south-west and north-east monsoons failing, farmers kept visiting their fields with hope, till that too dried up.

The Coordination Committee of the All Tamilnadu Farmers’ Association puts the total number of farmer suicides in the state since October at 254. In delta districts alone, around 80,000 acres of crops are estimated to have been lost. Last week, the government distributed Rs 3 lakh per family, for the deaths it has shortlisted officially as farmer deaths in Nagapattinam and Thanjavur districts.

P R Pandian, the president of the association, says the government figure for the two districts stands at just 58, and that even this money is yet to reach all farmers. “After major protests in December and January, the government also announced several packages, but compensations are yet to come to our bank accounts. They said it is being processed. Besides, only small farmers (who have up to 5 acres land) will get these financial benefits (Rs 5,465 per acre). The government has no plan to address farmers who have more than 5 acres.”

In Tamil Nadu’s farmer belt, most farmers own one to three acres of land, and invest around Rs 15,000 to 18,000 per acre during each season. Last week, the farmer distress reached Delhi, with a group of Tamil Nadu farmers starting a sit-in at Jantar Mantar.

Among those who killed themselves was 48-year-old farmer V Murugaiyyan, in Pirinjumulai in Nagapattinam district. He left behind a 40-year-old wife, Rani, a daughter, Nithya, who is in Class 12, and a disabled 11-year-old son, Hariharan. “He hanged himself with an old sari we used as a swing for Hariharan,” says Rani, breaking down.

Rani says Murugaiyyan had taken 3 acres of paddy field on lease, for a sum of Rs 80,000. “He borrowed Rs 1 lakh from a relative and a private financier. Crops withered in just 20 days (in early November 2016),” she says, after Harichandra canal, a waterway on the Cauvery, dried up. “If excess rain spoiled our crop last year, there was no rain at all this time.”

DMK leader M K Stalin visited Rani after Murugaiyyan’s suicide and gave Rs 1 lakh, part of it as cheque. She is among those to have received the financial assistance from the state government too, but while Rs 1.25 lakh of the Rs Rs 3 lakh went to Murugaiyyan’s first wife, estranged from him for 25 years, the rest was spent on paying back the money Murugaiyyan borrowed.

While private money lenders and alcoholism are both factors adding to the farmer distress, demonetisation has further hit them hard. The family of S Rathinavel, 64, near Neivilaku in Vedaranyam, says he collapsed and died about eight days after Diwali, which fell on October 30. Before the season started in October, he had borrowed money from a private money lender for cultivation on 1.5 acres of leased land.

“We had applied for a crop loan and it was sanctioned in the first week of November. He was to get around Rs 10,000 before November 10 from the cooperative society. But with the currency ban rolled out on November 8, the society stopped disbursing loans. Crops were already withered. We lost the money and him,” says his wife Muthulakshmi, 48.

Since Rathinavel’s death wasn’t a suicide, his family isn’t even entitled to the Rs 3 lakh government compensation.

V Subramanian, a CPM leader from Nagapattinam who is part of the farmer protests, asks why the government has made no effort to carry out desilting and dredging works in water canals. “Some 26 water channels including Vellayar, Kaduvayaar, Harichandra river and Veerashoshanar are among those still awaiting massive desilting works. Situation is such that land owners have become daily wage labourers. Reluctant banks too have worsened the crisis, extending no help to farmers.”

One of the first measures announced by the new Chief Minister, Edappadi K Palaniswami, who took over after a long period of uncertainty, was a Rs 2,247-crore package for drought-hit farmers, benefiting more than 32 lakh farmers who had suffered huge losses due to crop failure. A senior government secretary with the Agriculture Department said they were also working on a demand to write off crop loans taken by farmers.

S Janakarajan, a professor of the Madras Institute of Development Studies (MIDS) who is doing a study on the distress in Cauvery delta, says the situation reflects the crisis in the agriculture sector.

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  1. A
    Mar 21, 2017 at 4:24 am
    Yes. Not just M.S. Swaminathan. The corrupt politicians like Neru, Indiralt;br/gt;received huge kick backs from American MNCs and allowed usage of harmful chemicals as fertilizers in the name of Green Revolution
    1. R
      Mar 21, 2017 at 4:12 am
      Ella thevadiya payalum katchiya valathanuva, avan kudumbatha valthanuva.
      1. R
        Mar 21, 2017 at 4:07 am
        Political bstrds and braministic bureaucratic scoundrels sold the country. Their annihilation is the only way out!
        1. I
          Intolerant Indian
          Mar 21, 2017 at 5:52 am
          This is all due to foreign media and NGO's. Please allow Jallikattu every month. It will solve all the problems.
          1. H
            Mar 21, 2017 at 1:00 am
            The farmers in TN and Karnatak are having a Bad;br/gt;lt;br/gt;Its drought for sure,every area in the Country side looks dry and dust bowl.
            1. M
              Mar 21, 2017 at 7:46 am
              1. M
                Mar 21, 2017 at 7:50 am
                That is nothing. They are now trying to sell ' us ' ORGANIC FOODSTUFFS PRICED DOUBLE !!!!
                1. M
                  Media Matters
                  Mar 21, 2017 at 4:18 am
                  Thanks to Indian Express for providing ink; space to one of the major issues of our Nation. Else, certain media is providing a pampered space for creating psycho-ware fare in the pluralistic society. Can Government and NGOs help debt ridden farmers to those who take inhumane decision to kill themselves out of compulsion!
                  1. L
                    Mar 21, 2017 at 5:12 am
                    dmk and aiADMK only saved Jallikattu and one Apollo hospital patient since October. Smell a rat ! Something very fishy ... !
                    1. S
                      Mar 21, 2017 at 10:45 am
                      Both Central and State Govt take action on the # of deaths, rather than media buff.... Please saved lives, families and food providers!!!
                      1. T
                        Mar 21, 2017 at 1:24 am
                        Unless CHEMICAL FARMING is fully abolished and COW BASED ORGANIC FARMING is implemented, nobody can prevent the 'devastation of our farming' and rescue our farmers from 'crop failure, debt trap and eventual suicide'.lt;br/gt;-lt;br/gt;Each state in India should take immediate steps to ban (1) Slaughter of Desi cows and bulls (2) Chemical Farming lt;br/gt;-lt;br/gt;Indian farm lands are becoming barren towards desertification due continuous use of harmful chemical fertilizers and poisonous pesticides for more than 6 decades.
                        1. T
                          t k
                          Mar 21, 2017 at 1:31 am
                          Unless bothDMK and ADMK parties are prevented from ruling TN, one cannot expect good rule and development of TN
                          1. K
                            Mar 21, 2017 at 1:13 pm
                            once PETA is banned, all the drought will vanish
                            1. B
                              Mar 21, 2017 at 2:05 am
                              independent tamilnadu is the only solution
                              1. V
                                Mar 21, 2017 at 1:07 am
                                People are stupid to elect a govt.and MLA who were busy for Jaya Lalita and sasikala ,still busy in power struggle and don't care for the people.People came on street for Jallikattu but not for these startving people,Jayalalita had made a claim that everyone gets food at 1 Rs.then why people should starve. It is purely a wrong policy to give free things instead making them strong and self sufficient.But our politicians know if you keep people hungry then you will come to power.
                                1. R
                                  Raj V
                                  Mar 21, 2017 at 1:02 am
                                  State government should swing into remedial action.
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