Bundelkhand’s Women Farmers Battle Drought, Debt

sarju devi bundelkhand
57-year-old farmer Sarju Devi had committed suicide by jumping in front of a train next to her land. She thought the outstanding loans would die with her but they didn't.

BHATTPURA VILLAGE, JHANSI: In the Bundelkhand region, 46-year-old Munni reportedly hanged herself from a tree last Wednesday, right on her farmland which had left her with a debt of Rs. 3.5 lakh because it just wasn’t yielding.

In April last year, 57-year-old farmer Sarju Devi had committed suicide by jumping in front of a train next to her land. She thought the outstanding loans would die with her, but carried on and have multiplied since in interests. Sarju Devi had taken Rs. 2.83 lakh as loan from State Bank of India in 2009 to buy a tractor but her family is still getting notices for it and the amount they owe is now a massive Rs. 8 lakh.

Her family did get Rs. 7 lakh as compensation from chief minister Akhilesh Yadav, but that went straight to paying off a private money lender and the family is struggling to pay back the bank.

“My mother was stressed as she expected a lot of yield and got very little,” her daughter told NDTV. The family had no time to mourn with three siblings and their children to feed, and only 40 bighas of land to count on. The next Khareef crop season saw no rain and the latest Rabi season is already looking weak because of the lack of water for irrigation. But the bank is sending notices even after Sarju Devi’s death.

“We told the bank, mother had died, but they said you better pay… they were threatening us,” said her son Matadin.

The administration told NDTV they would ensure that the banks wouldn’t try to reclaim any money till March 31, to make concessions for the drought but notices had not stopped for anyone.

District Magistrate Anurag Yadav acknowledges that women could be affected but he denies the figure of 400 suicides in Bundelkhand in the past year. “I have personally done a report and in Jhansi found only 20 in the last year,” he said.

Activists say that is a major underestimation. They also say women are suffering in other ways. “In some cases, we have seen domestic violence rise due to the farming distress,” said Sanjay Singh, an activist working in the area.

In Sarju Devi’s village there are several other women farmers, mostly widows, struggling with loans. Like Bhunna who lives with her widowed daughter-in-law and has mortgaged her land to a private contractor. Her loan is Rs. 1,36,000. Or Hafeezan, whose sons have gone off to be labourers in Hyderabad but she’s still clinging to her plot of land that doesn’t yield. If there is one thing these women farmers share with the men, it is the joint plea to the government to write off their wealth.

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