Kiran Shantappa Ghorwade of Takliwadi in Shirol taluka of Maharashtra’s Kolhapur district had joined the farmers’ march in Delhi because he, like the thousands who gathered in the capital on Thursday and Friday, was hit by distress in the farm sector — a victim of repeated cycles of failed crops and poor market realisations, indebtedness, and difficulty in accessing any more credit.
Ghorwade (52), had outstanding dues of nearly Rs 6 lakh to the Kolhapur District Cooperative Bank, and a credit society. On Saturday, he died after falling from the third floor gallery of Ambedkar Bhawan in Delhi’s Jhandewalan.
After an autopsy, the body was handed over to Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana (SSS), a farmers’ organisation led by MP Raju Shetti, with whom Ghorwade had been associated for over 15 years.
Neighbours and relatives in Takliwadi, where the body reached Saturday night, said he had been active in farmers’ politics since 2002, and was an SSS foot soldier who had actively participated in multiple agitations for better cane prices. The Sanghatana had taken over 600 farmers to Delhi from Kolhapur.
Hours after the march, political speeches, and sloganeering on Friday evening, Ghorwade had returned to Room No. 29 on the third floor of Ambedkar Bhawan. Police received a call around 3.15 am Saturday.
“He was rushed to Lady Hardinge Medical College, where he was declared brought dead,” said a police officer. “Prima facie, it appears he accidentally fell from the third-floor corridor… No foul play is suspected.”
Ghorwade owned four acres of land, of which two acres were always reserved for sugarcane. On the remaining land, he grew seasonal crops including urad, wheat and soyabean. This year, his entire urad crop was destroyed by a pest attack and unseasonal rain.
Adinath Hingmare, a neighbour, said Ghorwade had uprooted his urad crop when it became clear it was going to fail, and opted for the pre-seasonal variety of cane this November. “His losses and subsequent indebtedness didn’t seem to be ending,” Hingmare told The Sunday Express. Given the scarcity of water in large parts of Maharashtra, Ghorwade had been tense about the cane crop too.
He was, however, more worried about unpaid dues dating back to almost a decade. He owed Rs 3 lakh to the Kolhapur District Cooperative Bank, from where he had taken a loan of Rs 1.2 lakh. “Unfortunately he didn’t qualify for the 2008-09 loan waiver and a spate of bad prices and crop losses saw his debt rising,” Hingmare said.
He had taken another Rs 3 lakh from the Shahu Cooperative Credit Society after mortgaging his land. “That was the only way he could raise capital for his cropping cycle,” another neighbour said.
Ghorwade mostly sold his cane to the nearby cooperative sugar mills, Jawahar Shetkari Sakhar Karkhana and Shree Datta Saharakri Sakhar Karkhana.
Over the years, Ghorwade had grown increasingly worried about his finances, neighbours said. His son Chetan (25) is a full-time farmer, too. Ghorwade’s wife Kamal and Chetan’s wife Pushpa were inconsolable on Saturday. Ghorwade’s daughter is pregnant, and had arrived at her parents’ home days before he left for Delhi.
Hingmare said Ghorwade had wanted to travel to Delhi to raise his voice. “Over the past few years, the condition of farmers who rely solely on their crops for survival has taken a turn for the worse. By joining other farmers he thought the problem would get a voice,” he said.
In Delhi, Bahadur (45), a guard at Ambedkar Bhawan, told The Sunday Express, “I saw the body on the floor around 3 am and raised an alarm… I didn’t see him falling. Someone called the police and they came in 30 minutes and took him to hospital.”
SSS founder Raju Shetti said he knew Ghorwade personally. “I spoke to his son, who requested that his body be sent home… The union will collect money and help out the family financially and in any other way possible. His body was taken to my residence in Delhi first. I then went to the airport with the body, from where it was flown to Pune.”
On Saturday afternoon, the mood at Ambedkar Bhawan was one of disbelief. “This happened late at night. I was fast asleep. I only found out at 4.30 am… I woke up hearing voices,” said Sushant Mirje (26), a sugarcane farmer from Kolhapur.
Standing at the gate of the building, 22-year-old Amar said, “We were so pleased about the protest yesterday… then this happened.”