- Manjula Karnala husband, a farmer, killed himself in 2015
- She has paid off 2 lakhs of their debt, another 4 to go
- Has leased a new farm, sews clothes, studying for college degree
Yadadri, Telangana: Two years after her husband drank pesticide and killed himself unable to pay off farm debts, Manjula Karnala is a farmer herself.
At her home in a village in the Yadadri district of Telangana, about 80 km from Hyderabad, there are no photos of her husband, Sridhar Karnalala. Manjula explains that’s because her young son was tormented by reminders of his father. She keeps one picture of her husband locked up in her cupboard.
When Sridhar drank pesticide on Republic Day in 2015, he left behind a three-year-old son, a wife pregnant with their second child, and Rs 5.75 lakh in debt that had piled up as husband and wife tilled a two-acre farm they had leased together. Back-to-back years of drought meant their crop of cotton was ruined.
Manjula, a widow at 22, watched as debtors took away the land and the tractor that Sridhar had bought. Anything that was worth anything disappeared.
“I held on to only my two children, one in hand, the other my womb,” she said.
She still struggles with the fact that Sridhar, who was her partner at work and in life, did not confide in her when it was most crucial. “If only he had spoken to me, we could have done something -probably migrated to the city and found work.”
Manjula travelled to Hyderabad to seek assistance from government offices; she says she visited the home and office of Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao and Nizamabad MP Kavitha. She claims she got no assistance and was denied Rs 5 lakh compensation due to families of farmers who commit suicide.
The only help came from a security guard at the government headquarters who saw her, heavily pregnant, waiting outside for two consecutive days; he gave her Rs 5,000. She took the money and admitted herself at a Hyderabad hospital to deliver her baby.
And then she returned to her village. With her baby in tow, she first worked long hours at a factory. She then took a small plot of farmland on lease (a big portion of the produce is pledged to the land owner) and grew paddy and maize. A local NGO, Swaraj Bharathi Trust, gave her a sewing machine. She tailors clothes in her spare time to supplement her farming income.
“When you work hard, doors open. Now I feel confident that with just my work stitching blouses and saree falls, I can feed my children and family,” she said.
She has earned enough from her farm to pay off nearly Rs 2 lakh of the Rs 6 lakh loan taken by her husband.
Her biggest support, she says, is her mother-in-law, Lakshmi Narsamma. “It was important that I stay with her, supporting her to look after the children while she is away at work. Otherwise the world is a very harsh place for a young widow. She has shown a lot of courage,” the elderly lady says.
Manjula explains why people like her are determined that their children eschew farming.
“When we are growing a crop, we are given hope that it will sell at a good price. The minute produce arrives in the market, the price crashed. What should we do? If the government promises remunerative prices, I promise to make both my sons farmers,” she says.
“Otherwise it is better to sweep the streets and earn Rs 6,000 a month than to survive as a farmer.”
Manjula now owes over Rs 4 lakh to debtors and hopes to raise enough money to start a small shop where she can sell sarees, petticoats and blouses that she stitches. She is determined that both her sons should go to school and get an education, whether or not they take up farming. She herself has enrolled for a college degree through a distance learning programme.
If you would like to help, her bank account details are:
ACCOUNT NAME: Manjula Karnala
BANK NAME: State Bank of India
Branch Code: 8805
CIF NUMBER: 88535337715
ACCOUNT NUMBER: 35032847701
IFSC CODE: SBIN0008805
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