FOLLOWING three suicides and an attempted suicide by farmers protesting at Delhi’s borders, counselling services are now being provided at Singhu, and will begin at Ghazipur in the next few days. On Thursday, the counsellors came to the aid of a person from Kurukshetra who slit his wrist, escaping with superficial injuries, who has now been employed in ‘seva (voluntary service)’ to keep him occupied.
While doctors have been present at the protest sites, the NGO United Sikhs decided to offer counselling services alarmed by the suicide cases, and worried that there may be a spurt as the long stay in the open and in the cold, with no quick resolution in sight, plays on the minds of farmers.
Jasmeet Singh (45), who is part of the United Sikhs camp at Ghazipur, said they put up pamphlets and posters at Singhu a few days ago in Gurmukhi, encouraging farmers to come forward if they had any mental health issues.
The Kurukshetra resident who tried to kill himself said he had come to the protest site on January 2. “Earlier, I rushed into running traffic, and sustained injuries. I have been feeling very low and talking to someone is making me feel a little better,” he said.
“The pamphlets and posters we put up read — ‘How are you feeling? Is there any depression, irritability, agitation or anxiety? Come to us and we will help you’. We felt that with the recent suicide cases and farmers being away from home and their families for so long, there was a need for counselling,” Singh said, adding that pamphlets to be put up at Ghazipur were also ready.
At Singhu, among those holding counselling sessions are Sanya Kataria (26), who is doing PhD at Amity University, Noida, and is a Resident Clinical Psychologist at the university, and Manmeet Kaur (26), who has a private practice.
Kataria said the number of farmers coming to them has been rising every day. “We have seen around 50-60 people till now, and have taken proper therapy sessions with around 15-20 of them. The main issues we are seeing are depression, anxiety, aggression and agitation. There is also the issue of grief; of losing your fellow farmers,” Kataria said.
“It has been 40 days since they have been here, so there is burnout. There is also a major problem with sleep; many are not able to sleep and are going through mood swings. For some, effective listening is enough because they don’t have any outlet for their thoughts and emotions. It is cathartic,” she said, adding that those in need of medication are advised accordingly.
Farmers are also coming to them with family issues. A driver from a farming family in Haryana kept breaking down, telling the counsellors, “At least someone is listening to us. That makes a big difference.”
Doctors say the exposure to the cold is also leading to physical ailments.
Dr Harwinder Passi (26) of the Khalsa Sewa Society, Canada, just set up a camp in Ghazipur with leg massagers and other physiotherapy equipment. “We had done a recce and found that because of the cold, many old people were facing bone and muscle issues,” he said.
The three cases of suicide have been of Sant Baba Ram Singh (65), a religious leader from Haryana’s Karnal district who shot himself near Kundli; Amarjit Singh Rai (63) from Punjab’s Fazilka district, who consumed pesticide at the Tikri protest site; and Kashmir Singh Dass, a septuagenarian, who hanged himself at the Ghazipur protest. Niranjan Singh from Punjab’s Tarn Taran district attempted suicide at the Singhu border by consuming pest control tablets.
Meanwhile, the United Sikhs is providing another relief. It now has up and running four washing machines and dryers at the Ghazipur protest site, so that farmers don’t have to wash clothes by hand in the cold. These run on generators procured by a group of farmers from Shahjahanpur in Uttar Pradesh.
Said Surinder Singh, “We keep a register of names and contact numbers. Farmers give us their clothes and we call and tell them when their load is done. We have been getting at least 100 requests per day since we started.”