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Posted at: Jun 18, 2017, 2:08 AM; last updated: Jun 18, 2017, 2:08 AM (IST)SUICIDE BY FARMERS IN PUNJAB: WHERE DEBT MEANS DEATH

Why Lakhbir had to die in his guava orchard

Vishav Bharti in Dera Miran-Mir (Fatehgarh Sahib)
Farmers, especially small and marginal, continue to be victims of farm debts. According to an estimate, many farmers and farm labourers have ended their lives in the last five months in south-west Punjab. The Tribune looks at the ground reality
FOUR summers ago, he planted a guava sapling in his farmland. The sapling grew into a tree and was ready to bear fruit. Ironically, this summer, it was ready to bear the burden of Lakhbir Singh’s body. Among blooming white flowers, some of them already transformed into the tiny green fruit, his body was found hanging early morning on June 10.

Lakhbir Singh, 42 was the 65th farmer/agricultural labourer, to commit suicide after the Congress government came into power in March. 

As you walk through the serpentine streets, houses are dotted with Nanak Shahi bricks of Dera Miran-Mir, once an abode of medieval saint Mir-I-Miran. At the entrance a group of women is wailing, their heads covered with white dupattas. They mourn a farmer’s death - a first case of debt related suicide in the area.

Lakhbir and his brother Kuldeep inherited 3.5 acres along with Rs 5 lakh debt from their father, Jagjit Singh. The loan was meant for their father’s treatment who suffered from mental illness. They also had to marry their sisters off, says Kuldeep. About a year and a half back, their father died. Preceding his death was his fear how his sons would clear the debt.  The bank had sent them a legal notice: they had to pay back the loan. “How will we repay the loan?” was the only question the brothers would ask themselves for several months. Younger Kuldeep would tell his elder brother they could always sell some land. “But how much land do we have?” he would ask younger Kuldeep, worried about what his children would do if they had to sell their land.  Lakhbir’s son is a high school student, but it wasn’t him that he was worried about. It was his daughter, a student of 10+2, who would soon be marriageable. “He lived with that tension, but never discussed it. He told us to study,” says Arshdeep, the daughter. 

The sowing season neared. Lakhbir had of late stopped asking any questions. “He paced up and down from one room to another, hardly talking,” says his mother Harjinder Kaur. The night before he ended his life, he slept in the front yard; the family was inside. “We didn’t know when he walked away,” says Harjinder. In the morning, a worker found Lakhbir hanging from the guava tree. “I would have stopped him. I couldn’t,” sobs the mother.

It is Lakhbir’s bhog today. The entire village is in mourning. “Our village has never had such a case,” says Paramjeet Singh, a retired school teacher.

Outside, a raagi’s voice reverberates: Rang Maan Le Pyara…

Sobs get louder as scores of women with white duppattas fill up the place. Men are sitting silently in a separate group. An old man wonders if there is anyone in the government to hear the wails and feel the hopelessness.

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