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Posted at: Jan 14, 2016, 12:42 AM; last updated: Jan 14, 2016, 12:27 AM (IST)FIELD REPORTS

They cry, stop, cry again. ‘Is there no way out?’

A 10-year-old cries his heart out on seeing a bank notice of the debt against his name. His grandmother, mother, chachi — all widows of indebted farmers who gave up — go through the same cycle day in and day out. Bebe hopes for a miracle.

Sanjeev Singh Bariana

Tribune News Service

lehal kalan (Sangrur), Jan 13

Jaspreet Singh is 10, and looks every bit like a boy his age as he walks in from school at 4 pm, though he is wearing chappals, not shoes, in the cold. His mother Jasvir Kaur, chachi and grandmother sit in the courtyard with the pictures of their dead husbands.

Jasvir Kaur hands him a ruffled piece of paper, and the reaction is instant.

“Will I escape money-seekers only after I hang myself like chachaji and pitaji?” he almost lets out a shriek, as we all look up. “Banks keep asking me, again and again, for loan money I never took. My father did not take any money from any bank, nor did I,” he says, and tears flow freely. His, and of all those present.

The paper is a letter from the Lehal Kalan Multipurpose Cooperative Agriculture Society, indicating Rs 56,849 outstanding against Jaspreet’s name.

“I know they both took phaha (hung themselves). Bapuji (grandfather) had failed to repay his loan and consumed sulphas. Bebe (grandmother), I want you to  remember that I will never marry and nor will chacha’s son, because otherwise our brides will be widows like our mothers.”

Karnail Kaur breaks down and hugs her grandson tightly. She looks at her young daughters-in-law and bursts out crying: “I have no reply to his questions. I had hidden this letter from him. The poor child knows today that he will stay poor throughout and will only be repaying the debt of his elders. I also have no answer to the silent eyes of my young daughters-in-law. None of them committed mistakes in their lives to be left without any support. None of them is more than 30. The elder one married 12 years back and the younger only six years back. They have very young children to take care of and a very long life ahead.”

Just as my photo-journalist colleague picks up his camera to click pictures, chachi Paramjit Kaur intervenes. “Phaji (brother), I request you, please don’t publish the picture of our crying son. The poor child will live with the image for the rest of his life.”

Wiping her tears, Karnail Kaur says in a choked voice, “We had 7 acres and were content. My husband, Surjit Singh, had borrowed some money for the wedding of our sons. He took a loan from the cooperative bank and other institutions, besides some money from our relatives. Unable to pay back because of a heavy component of interest, at least 4 acres were sold. My husband was a very honest man. He did not want to hold back any payment and returned whatever he could. In the process, our house, often, was starved even of basic needs.”

She recalls how he became very quiet and avoided all queries. “He sometimes got angry. One day, in March 2012, we found him dead in the storeroom. We never talked about his suicide to anyone outside our home initially,” Karnail Kaur says.

Her younger son, Sukhjinder Singh, she says, was very docile, “but had given up on any struggle very soon”.

“He would often ask us all, particularly his wife, to serve poison to everyone. He thought there would never be enough crop returns to repay our loans. Everyone will refuse us loans, he would say. Lootere bann jaande haan (It is better to become wayside looters). It was a very humid day in July 2012 when we were walking towards our fields. A group of villagers came rushing and told us he had hanged himself.”

Elder son Nirmal, she adds, was a quiet soul. “He would speak very gently. One day, after returning from the fields, on a hot day in June 2014, he looked very upset. I probed him again and again. He kept repeating that he was a worthless man because he could do nothing for his home or his children. The same evening, he tied a noose around his neck.”

Jasvir Kaur pitches in: “Against the popular notion of farmers being alcoholics and consuming poison when they have nothing in their hands, my husband and his brother were sober. Even our father-in-law did not consume any intoxicant. They were simple, honest people who killed themselves because the existing system in agriculture had no hope of any relief for small farmers.”

Paramjit Kaur, the younger daughter-in-law, joins in: “No one threatens us openly but repeated messages from banks and certain relatives are a pressure, to which we have no reply. When we don’t have any money, how can we pay back? We only have a buffalo which gives us milk for a little over six months to sell. The Baba Nanak Education Society gives our children a scholarship of Rs 1,000 every month.”

Jasvir Kaur says they have been told about a total loan debt of Rs 15 lakh. “There is no way we can repay. No one has come to understand our reality and suggest a way out. The only time we met some authorities was when we three were called to a police station to verify the death of our husbands. We have applied for widow pension several times, but that hasn’t come.”

An agitated Jaspreet, who had gone inside, hurriedly returns: “Bebe, rovo na. Eh tang karr rahen ne? Rabb aape sodhuga enha nu [Don’t cry. Are they (creditors) troubling you? God will set them right].”

Karnail Kaur asks her to calm down. “I pray in the gurdwara every day for a miracle. I believe miracles do happen.” For her family, they’d better.  

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