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Posted at: Jan 17, 2016, 2:15 AM; last updated: Jan 17, 2016, 2:15 AM (IST)FIELD REPORTS

Husband, 2 sons gave up, 66-yr-old can’t afford to

Husband, 2 sons gave up, 66-yr-old can’t afford to
Harbans Kaur and her daughter-in-law Harpreet Kaur with pictures of Lakhwinder Singh and Harpreet’s husband Nirvail Singh. Photo by writer

Praful Chander Nagpal

Tribune News Service

Fazilka, January 16

The dilapidated house has no door. “You never know, an angel might just walk in,” says Harbans Kaur. The 66-year-old is prone to delivering profound one-liners. It’s her way, perhaps, of maintaining sanity.

“I can’t even commit suicide, someone has to take care of my seven-year-old grandson and young daughter-in-law,” she says with a terse expression, as she sits on a broken cot in her dingy house situated along a stinking pond in Pakkan village.

Like Harbans Kaur, her widowed daughter-in-law Harpreet Kaur does not lift her gaze from the open entrance. “An angel just might walk in,” the matriarch repeats herself.

Harbans Kaur’s husband Piara Singh was 55 when he committed suicide 12 years back by consuming pesticides, leaving behind a debt for the family to fend for. Their two sons followed in his footsteps.

Eldest son Lakhwinder Singh (34) committed suicide by consuming pesticides in 2013. He was a bachelor. Three weeks ago, on December 21, Harbans Kaur’s married son Nirvail Singh (32), the youngest of the three brothers, ended his life, also by consuming poison. Left behind are his mother, brother Jarnail Singh, wife Harpreet Kaur (29), son Navjot (7) and a family debt of Rs 6 lakh.

The family had a small landholding of 18 kanals, divided into three shares.

The commission agents, a father-son duo, got 3 kanals transferred in their name in lieu of a loan, says Harbans Kaur. Having executed the sale deed of small chunks of land, they allegedly took benefit of the family’s ignorance and got deposited a bank cheque signed by Nirvail Singh. It bounced.

Fearing action, and in acute stress, Nirvail Singh consumed pesticide, says Harbans Kaur. After the suicide, the commission agents, from Arniwala in Fazilka district, were booked for abetting suicide.

“The village has witnessed three dozen suicides in the past 15 years. There have been consecutive crop failure, and problems of debt and poverty are getting worse, not better,” says Dharmpal Singh, the village sarpanch.

Pakkan village is home to nearly 4,000 people, majority of them marginal farmers and labourers. It is the last village of Fazilka district rubbing shoulders with Muktsar district, and falls under the Jalalabad Assembly segment, represented by Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal. “He never visited the village to express his sympathy with any grieving family,” says a village elder, Mukhtiar Singh.

“The small rivulet, Landi Kassi of Bhagsar minor, for the tail-end village remains insufficient for irrigation of cotton crop. The sub-soil water is brackish and unfit for irrigation. The topography of the village also adds to the misery of the small farmers. During the monsoon season, the excess water from Muktsar area flows to this village and inundates the crops as it is a low-lying area,” says Nachhtar Singh, a former sarpanch.

Of the total of 3,200 acres of land in the village, over 1,000 acres have been rendered barren. “The crop damage due to inundation is a regular feature,” he adds.

“None of the debt-ridden families of farmers who committed suicide has ever been paid any compensation by the government. It is the vicious circle of debt in which they continue to remain trapped,” points out a social activist of the village, Jaswinder Singh. 

Pakkan village has no government dispensary or veterinary centre. A primary school was upgraded five years ago. “Besides the problems of poverty and debt, most villagers are afflicted with hepatitis B and C,” says Jaswinder Singh. No survey, he claims, has ever been conducted about the deceased and the ailing. “The entire chunk of small landholdings in the village has been mortgaged to financiers.”

I thought it prudent to ask Additional Deputy Commissioner Charandev Singh Maan about the village. “The government is in the process of identifying the deceased farmers and would give every possible help to their kin,” he said. I thought of sharing this bit of news with Harbans Kaur, but again, thought it wise not to give false hope.

As I get up to leave and fold my hands, Harbans Kaur looks at me and then at the open door. “An angel just might walk in,” she mutters. About time.

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