VAISHALI YEDE didn’t get a wink of sleep on the night of January 10. The next morning, she was to inaugurate the Akhil Bhartiya Marathi Sahitya Sammelan in Yavatmal, in place of Sahitya Akademi winner Nayantara Sahgal after the festival organisers revoked the latter’s invitation citing protests by locals.
A farmer widow from Yavatmal, she couldn’t understand why she had been chosen for such a prestigious task.
“I had never faced such a crowd, that too, where people like the Maharashtra chief minister and other dignitaries were to attend. I kept thinking, a galliwali widow was preferred over a Dilliwali widow. But then I told myself, ‘If I don’t speak up now, I will never be able to’. And I want the world to know the plight of the farmer,” Yede told The Indian Express.
In her inaugural address at the literary fest, Yede had said, “Finally, a widow has been invited for an auspicious duty like this…” She went on to talk about how, the discussion around agrarian crisis gets limited to the one who commits suicide but rarely percolates down to look at the state of the families left behind.
Addressing the artists present, Yede had said that the discussion among the art and literary circles is also superficial. “Your work, movies, books, etc on the subject win awards and that is where the connection ends.”
Her speech at the literary festival may have helped her achieve what she set out to do in that moment but Yede is aware that it is not enough.
The 27-year-old is currently a part of a play that highlights the repercussions of suicides due to agrarian crisis. Titled Terava, the play was performed at the the Mumbai University campus recently as part of the 11th edition of the all-India drama festival, Vasant Natyotsav.
Directed by Harish Ithape and penned by Shyam Pethkar, the play depicts the problems farmer widows have to face, such as economic challenges, abandonment by in-laws and sexual harassment, as they become easy targets after their husbands’ death.
However, as opposed to casting actors, Ithape chose to work with farmer widows, encouraging them to present their problems on the stage. “The process of training them was long but it also became a tool of catharsis for these women,” said the director, who met these women through actor Nana Patekar’s Naam Foundation that works in this area.
Ithape also runs Agro Theatre in Wardha district of Vidarbha and helps educate the girl child of farmer widows.
Yede came in contact with Ithape almost three years ago. But it was mid-2018 when she agreed to act in the play. “I got married in 2009 and within two years, my husband killed himself after his crop failed back to back due to poor rainfall. My in-laws mistreated me even as I was trying to get back on my feet, find a job or a means to make ends meet,” she said.
What made it worse was her decision to continue wearing kumkum, bangles and jewellery. It made it tougher for her to battle the pressure from the family and the society but with help from some NGOs, Yede received a sewing machine that she put to use and started a small business.
The invitation to inaugurate the festival has changed how people in her village view her today — she is recognised and people “seem to respect” her. But Yede feels that respect is shallow, perhaps only bestowed on her due to her “fame”.
“Even today, I am not invited for haldi-kumkum functions of a marriage because the presence of a widow at such functions is considered inauspicious. But I no more care what people think; I have embraced the title of a widow.”