2,078 votes. Or 0.17 per cent of total 12 lakh valid votes polled in Bathinda Lok Sabha constituency. That is all she has got to show as result of her efforts as she took on two stars – Akali Dal leader and Union minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal and Congress’ Raja Amrinder Singh Warring.
She may not have been able to make a dent in the margin by which Badal won the seat, but the poll outing itself is the “biggest victory of her life” for Veerpal Kaur (40), a farm suicide widow from village Ralla of Mansa. “My victory is that our voice was heard. It reached at least 2,078 people. At least 2,078 people know the pain of families that go through this tragedy. With the resources I had. I could have never won (the seat). Saadi jitt hoyi hai kyunki saadi aawaz suni gayi hai. assi apni aawaz chakkan vic kamyaab hoye hain.. (I have won because my voice has been heard. I was successful in making my voice reach people). The issue of farmer suicides has been highlighted, which no political party talks about during polls,” says Veerpal, whose husband Dharamvir allegedly committed suicide due to debt in 2003. Prior to that her father and father-in-law too had ended their lives.
Still under a debt of over Rs 8 lakh, the Anganwadi helper, who earns Rs 2,800 a month, Veerpal crowdfunded her campaign. She got a little over Rs 1 lakh to fund her campaign.
She moved across 700 villages in the constituency in a hired autorickshaw, a loudspeaker mounted on it, paying Rs 1,300 a day as rent, distributing leaflets and carrying a ghara (earthen pitcher that was her symbol), leaving home at 4 am and returning midnight.
Two days after results are in, her 19-year old daughter Diljot is admitted to ICU at PGIMER Chandigarh with stomach infection. She has no money for her treatment. “Like my campaign, my daughter’s treatment too will be carried out with donations,” says Veerpal.
It wasn’t an easy decision to contest the polls, Veerpal found no any better way to raise “the issue of farmer suicides which political parties forget and remember as per their convenience”.
Veerpal never got any compensation for any of the three suicides in her family. She didn’t get the benefit of farm loan waiver announced by Amarinder Singh led Congress government in state.
“I had no money to organize rallies and meetings. Wherever we could find a group of people, we would give them leaflets and talk about our issue. Some would donate money, some would forward our leaflets on WhatsApp groups and on social media,” she says.
As per the data released by Bhartiya Kisan Union (Ekta Ugrahan), at least 900 farmers and farm labourers have committed suicide in Punjab from March 2017 to December 2018. This includes 430 from January 2018 to December 2018 when Congress government started its farm loan waiver scheme. More than 90 per cent of these farmers are from Malwa region including Bathinda, Sangrur, Mansa districts.
Another woman Manjit Kaur (53), whose husband Sukhdev Singh allegedly committed suicide, also contested polls from Bathinda along with Veerpal. She received 1,072 (0.09 per cent) votes.
Kiranjit Kaur, convenor, Kisan-Mazdoor Khudkushi Peerit Parivaar Committee, says that with over 3,000 votes they polled, the two candidates’ mission to highlight the issue of farmer suicides stands accomplished. “No political party talks about farmer suicides in poll season because it goes against them. Over 3,000 votes with the kind of resources that both women have is no less victory,” Kiranjit Kaur says. The organization paid Rs 25,000 security deposit for both candidates.
Meanwhile, Veerpal has a message for Harsimrat. “I made endless rounds to her office for years and got nothing. Neither she ever came to our house to console or offer any help. My only request to her is that at least now please help farm suicide families and help their children in getting education and jobs. Hunn taan jaavey lokan vich tey ohna dey dukh saanjhey karey, ohna di madad kare (At least now go to those families and help them),” she says.