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Posted at: Jan 16, 2016, 3:02 PM; last updated: Jan 16, 2016, 3:02 PM (IST)FIELD REPORTS

Waiting for roof to crumble, as she tries to re-build life

Saroj Rani is a strong, brave mother of three, left to fend for herself after her debt-ridden husband committed suicide, and in-laws died of cancer. She puts up that brave face, she says, to face the world, ‘for I know how the burden of just surviving kills me daily, how my kids have no future’.

Baba Nanak Educational Society’s effort

  • Located in the heartland of the farmer suicide area in Sangrur, the Baba Nanak Educational Society deserves a word of mention for looking after families of farmers who committed suicide, and paying for the education of their children with a monthly aid of Rs 1,000. The Society is helping more than 450 children.The Baba Nanak Society has also compiled a record of all 465 families affected by suicide based on affidavits by the panchayats. Inderjeet Singh Jaijee, its chairman, says, “No government survey, till date, has brought out the real ground situation. The data given is ridiculous in context of big differences in the figures compiled by PAU (Ludhiana), Punjabi University (Patiala) and GNDU (Amritsar). And in the current situation where farmers have been ignored by the government and also nature, there is no solution in sight.”

Sanjeev Singh Bariana

Tribune News Service

Balran (sangrur), January 15

Living under a crumbling roof of a kutcha house, Saroj Rani, the 32-year-old widow of Babli Singh, a farmer who committed suicide in 2010, says that “whenever it rains, a portion of the roof crumbles. We take life one day at a time. More often than not, I wake up sweating in the middle of the night after dreaming of my children being buried under the collapsed roof”.

Saroj Rani is the mother of two daughters and a son. Sukhpal Kaur is 15, Veerpal Kaur 13 and the youngest, Sagar Singh, is 10 years old. “Daily life is a struggle. It hurts more when I see my children every now and then looking at the roof even when there is the slightest of sound, fearing the structure might come down any moment. My little son jumps and shouts ‘oye teri’ every time he hears a sound, especially at night,” she says.

She lowers her voice so the children don’t overhear. “I don’t show myself to be a weakling publicly,” she says, “but I die each day knowing that I am unable to do anything to prevent an impending catastrophe. I don’t have any money or skills to earn better than by working in houses cleaning cowdung and courtyards. Slowly, but surely, the worst phase in our lives is coming. It is only a question of when.”

Sitting on the bed, in the only room of the house, along with her children, Saroj Rani recounts how following his family line, her husband had taken 5 acres on theka (contract). Things were going fine till one day, in 2008, his mother complained of a severe stomach ache. She had been taking painkillers from a chemist, but on that particular day, the pain was unbearable and her moans turned into howls. Babli Singh took her to a hospital in Sangrur. She was diagnosed with cancer of the liver at a very late stage. Expensive medicines were bought, but she died a few days later.

“My husband started talking to himself and would lose his temper frequently. One night in October 2010, he came home while I was cooking for the children. Following a hurried conversation with me, saying he had been unable to manage any money, he just walked away silently to the rooftop. He had taken a kerosene can without my knowledge. I only heard screams of ‘agg agg’ (fire fire) from the neighbourhood a little later.”

By the time a few boys could reach the top, he had collapsed. They rushed him to the nearest ‘sarkari hasptal’ (government hospital), “but he had died”.

She’s unable to hold back tears, but composes herself soon enough. Even if she “makes an effort” to appear brave, as she puts it, Saroj Rani is a strong woman.

“My husband had borrowed more than Rs 15 lakh from arhtiyas, who sent their men or came in person till last year asking me for the money. I kept on saying I had none and had no means whatsoever to return it. There is some respite these days, but whenever one of them meets me in the street, I am told to remind my children of how much our family owes.”

After her husband committed suicide, her father-in-law too was detected with cancer. “I could not give him any special treatment, but worked sincerely and literally begged to buy medicines for him. He too died about a year after his son.” 

The young widow adds, “Working in three houses and getting Rs 300 from each, I am also getting a government pension of Rs 750 per month, besides Rs 1,000 per month from Baba Nanak Education Society. The money means nothing for the future of my children.”

She says widows of farmers have lost breadwinners. “I feel sorry for them, but a majority at least have a small patch of land to grow something. We have none. And most importantly, there are an unspecified but a pretty large number of families of those tilling land on contract having committed suicide. They have zero support.”

She says the children at times go without food when she gets sick. “Neighbours do help but I wonder that if this life is our lot, perhaps the roof collapsing on us would not be a bad ending.” And then she composes herself again. Life has to go on, for whatever it is worth.  

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