Guntur, Andhra Pradesh: Shiva Prasad wants to go to school. At 14, that is where he should be. That is where he was, in Class VII, preparing for his annual examination like millions of children at this time of the year.
But ten days back, a second successive year of drought pushed his father over the edge.
Rama Rao, a farmer in Guntur district of Andhra Pradesh, couldn’t face his debtors or family; he had run into a Rs 2 lakh debt to grow chillies and cotton on the four-acre piece of land on lease. Rama Rao lost hope and drank down a bottle of pesticide after inspecting the crop and realising it could not bail him out.
Prasad lost his father, home and his childhood.
The 14-year-old has started working at a local construction site, helping build someone’s house that earns him just about 150 rupees daily that keeps his family – mother and two elder siblings – from starvation.
He doesn’t have a home of his own any longer. They were thrown out of their rented accommodation after his father died. The landlord figured they couldn’t afford to pay the rent.
Tradition does not allow his mother or 16-year-old elder brother from stepping out of home within days of the father’s death; the sister has to be with her mother, at this time of crisis, helping with religious rituals.
So when Prasad gets home from work, he chips in with his siblings to build a shelter with whatever the family can find: poles, sticks and sheets that no one wants. His aunt went to the forest to cut and get them some branches that have now been cut into wooden poles.
“I don’t know what to do. Even my youngest son has to go to work. I can’t run home so need to send him to work till we repay our loans,” Lakshmi told NDTV, between sobs.
Prasad’s siblings – brother Anjaneyulu and sister Thirupatamma, 18 – had already dropped out of school to work as labourers to supplement the family income last year.
It is a tragedy that has been repeated across Andhra Pradesh that faces the third successive year of drought. The National Crime Records Bureau figures say 916 suicides by people in the farm sector were recorded in the state – an average of five people every two days – through 2015, up from 632 the previous year.
Back in this Guntur village, Thirupatamma is also preparing to join her younger brother at work as soon as possible. “There is not a rupee in hand. Only if we work, we can eat something,” she said.
But Shiva Prasad hasn’t lost hope. That he will go back to school. “My mother said after we repay our loans, I can go back to school,” he told NDTV.
“I hope the government or someone helps us,” he say, hands folded across his chest, eyes sharply focused with a graveness and intensity that you don’t expect to see in a child that age.
To support the family, you can donate here:
ACCOUNT NAME: Javvaji Lakshmi (Mother of Sivaprasad, Anjaneyulu and Thirupatamma)
ACCOUNT NO: 050310100301748
IFSC CODE: ANDB0000503
BANK NAME: Andhra Bank
BRANCH: Sattenapalle, Guntur
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