The VG Siddhartha suicide is proof that India has a heart. The way it responded to the news of the entrepreneur resorting to the extreme step, showed it was very moved.
But does it have a selective heart? Because the same India refuses to mourn for the farmer – an agriculture entrepreneur as he is called now – in the same manner. Like Siddhartha, the farmer too is driven by desperation. But his epitaph is reduced to a mere number. A dry statistic that dehumanises his existence.
243. Yes, that is the number of farmers, the Telangana government admits, who committed suicide due to failure of crops. However, either by design or oversight, the Government order issued on 1 August 2019, does not mention the period when these many farmers killed themselves. A senior bureaucrat of the Revenue department when asked by Filter Kaapi about it, simply responded by saying he was not aware of it.
The government has released Rs 14.58 crore towards payment of ex-gratia to families of the 243 farmers during the financial year 2019-20. Nalgonda district witnessed the highest number of suicides (45), followed by 32 in Khammam, 20 in Sangareddy and 19 in Karimnagar.
Farmers activist Kondal Reddy claims though 4200 farmers committed suicide since the formation of Telangana in June 2014, the government said only 1200 of them ended their life due to agricultural reasons.
“This 243 is from that list and corresponds to the 2015-18 period. Still another 250 familes are left, awaiting compensation from the government,” says Kondal Reddy.
In January 2019, Telangana chief secretary SK Joshi told The New Indian Express that since June 2018, no farmer in the state had committed suicide. Kondal Reddy disputes it saying after the Rythu Bima yojana was launched in mid-2018, the officials stopped identifying cases of farmer suicide.
“At least 400 farmers have killed themselves from mid-2018,” he says.
If that’s true, it should be a matter of concern. What it will convey is that despite Rythu Bandhu scheme that gave the landed farmer Rs 8000 (increased to Rs 10000 now) per acre in two instalments every year, it has not completely solved the problem of the farming class. This should also make the Telangana government re-think about the tenant farmer because he is the one actually tilling the land, bearing the risk yet getting no help from the administration.
According to the Agriculture Survey of 2015-16, close to 66 lakh farmers in Telangana belong to the SC and ST categories. Since they are the farmers who are largely landless, they are also most vulnerable. According to Rythu Swarajya Vedika, more than 75 per cent of the farmers who committed suicide since Telangana was formed in June 2014 were tenant farmers and landless agricultural labour.
Opposition leaders have pointed to tax terrorism as a factor that could have led to Siddhartha jumping off the Netravati river bridge. A lot has been written about how lonely the life of an entrepreneur in India is, with agencies – both government and private – pushing him to desperation.
But why is it that beyond platitudes and ex-gratia, the heart does not beat for the Indian farmer. The priority has to be to ensure the farmer is not driven to the pesticide bottle or the noose.
But while concessions given to any industry are perceived as kickstarting the economy, similar help extended to the agriculture sector is deemed to be a handout, a burden on the exchequer. The attitude of treating this entrepreneur as a second-class citizen has to first stop.