PunjabPosted at: Jan 12, 2016, 1:04 PM; last updated: Jan 12, 2016, 1:04 PM (IST)FIELD REPORTS
Life four weddings and four funerals laterA house in a Sangrur village exemplifies the enormity of the farm crisis — the slow poison that indebtedness is
(From left) Bant Kaur, her daughter-in-law Baldev Kaur, Baldev Kaur’s daughter-in-law Gurpreet Kaur, Baldev Kaur’s sister-in-law Shinder Kaur (all widows), and Baldev Kaur’s daughter-in-law Amanpreet Kaur, whose husband is an alcoholic. Photo: amaninder pal
Tribune News Service
Chhajli (Sangrur), January 11
“Langh ayo, eho ghar hai randiyaan da (Come inside. Yes, this is the house of widows). All our men have committed suicide. Look at me. I was married twice in the same family. Still I am a widow. Pesticides consumed my two sons. This is a house of widows. You can easily locate this house by saying so,” says Baldev Kaur, as she throws open the doors of her house.
Its big entrance remains closed for almost the entire day. Men remain reluctant even to knock at its doors. Nobody stops here. But one of the easiest tasks to accomplish in this village is to locate this house. The tale of its five women residents, four of whom are widows, has turned it into a landmark of sorts.
Part I: Woman who won’t die till she repays debt, rupee by rupee
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The widows, apart from “bhog pictures” and memories of their husbands, also carry the farm debt left over.
Here, in this house, lives Baldev Kaur, once the daughter-in-law of a proud Punjabi farming family. Her two sons, husband and brother-in-law have committed suicide in the past 15 years. Her first husband died in a road accident 37 years ago. She was seven months’ pregnant then.
“It all started around 20 years ago. Despite a small joint landholding of over seven acres, we were a happy family. Around 1999-2000, Beant Singh, my second husband, took loan from a bank to compensate the farm losses. The debt mounted to Rs 5 lakh. Bank officials would frequent our house. Humiliated, one day in 2003, he locked himself inside his room. ‘It is better to die than face humiliation,’ he said and consumed poison,” recalls Baldev Kaur as she is joined by other “widows” of the family.
But Beant’s was not the first suicide in the family. Three years before him, her son Kulwinder had ended his life. “Kulwinder was merely 16 years old then. In his teens, he would ask for money from his father to buy sweets from the village shop. But months before his death, he had stopped doing so. One evening, my son consumed cellphose. I think he was disturbed over the repeated humiliation of his father,” she adds.
After four years, it was the turn of Baldev Kaur’s other son, Jograj. “He was in my womb when my first husband died. Jograj was under Rs 4 lakh debt, which he inherited from Beant. He failed to repay it,” she says.
Jograj’s widow Gurpreet Kaur recounts how the family was about to attend a social gathering when her husband killed himself. “It was early in the morning. Like his stepfather, he locked himself in a room and consumed poison. We found him dead hours later,” she says. Gurpreet tills her share of 2-acre land to ensure that her children — Gagandeep Singh (13) and Gurpreet Kaur (10) — go to school.
Baldev’s mother-in-law Bant Kaur, also a widow, is still alive. Naib Singh was her third son. He would till his share of 2.5-acre land. In 2011, he was under a debt of Rs 5 lakh.
“One evening, he jumped into a canal flowing near our village. Two years before he committed suicide, fire had damaged our wheat crop. He had to borrow Rs 2-3 lakh that year. He never came out of debt and shock after that,” says Naib’s widow Shinder Kaur, whose sons have stopped going to school after Class XII.
The family got Rs 2 lakh as compensation for Beant’s suicide, nothing for Jograj’s and Naib’s suicides.
Contrary to the portrayal on the big screen, this house of upper caste peasants has neither an SUV, nor a tractor, or even a motorbike. The widening gap between farm inputs’ costs and dwindling farm income has pushed its residents into penury. The widows know that despite their best efforts and their sincere wish to rid themselves of the debt, they can’t pay it back.
Today, Bant Kaur, Baldev Kaur, Shinder Kaur and Gurpreet Kaur till their remaining less than 4 acres of land together. Each widow carries a debt of Rs 5 lakh-8 lakh.
Baldev Kaur’s third son is an alcoholic. His wife Amanpreet Kaur stitches clothes for village girls to earn for their six-month-old son.
As Baldev Kaur accompanies us to the main gate, she mutters, “Only one man is left here. My alcoholic son. It hardly matters if he is alive or not. Teeviyaan da ghar bhariya piya e, siron nangiyaan da. Vekhi ve veera, je kite kuj mil jaave (Our house is full of ladies and there is nobody to take care of them. See brother, if someone can do something good for us).”