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Heavy debt drives farmers to suicides
Chitleen K Sethi
Tribune News Service

Bhutal Khurd (Sangrur), July 5
It is a non-descript village on the Punjab-Haryana border. Its claim to fame — six suicides in two years. All due to poverty. The latest suicide by a 25-year-old farm labourer, Babu Singh, took place in February. “My husband worked day and night but he was under a heavy debt. He had married off two sisters and had to pay Rs 2.5 Lakh to an arthiya,” said Sarabjit, Babu Singh’s wife.

Bhutal Khurd is a cluster of bare brick houses where more than 20 landlord families reside. Houses are supplied drinking water through a rubber tube submerged in an open sewerage nullah running through the village.

Every evening, women gather around a corner of the sewerage nullah, take out the rubber tube to fill water in cheap aluminum buckets or their daily needs.

For a farmer losing land is like losing his status in society. Now living in subhuman conditions, there is no other respectable way to earn livelihood. No factories to work in, no skill to take up small jobs in the city and to top it all, no education.

Moonak, with a population of 1.95 lakh, has one of the lowest rates of literacy in the state at 52.5 per cent. The subdivision does not have a college. There are schools, but no teachers. No one likes to come here and teach. “The village school is virtually empty. We have had no teacher in this school for the past 15 years. Students are being taught by certain young boys belonging to the village,” said Ram Dia, a volunteer of the Movement Against State Repression (MASR). The Sangrur administration has been talking about setting up a college in Moonak for the past many years. When nothing happened, the MASR bought 11 acres of land and started an ITI to teach certain skills to the unemployed for earning livelihood in the city.

In a study conducted by the Institute of Development and Communication, (1998), alcohol and drug abuse were found to be major causes for suicides among farmers. “The pesticide spray most of the young farmers are dying of is, in fact, used as a drug by many. In minute quantities, it gives a kick. But if mixed in high quantities, it is fatal. Many such deaths too are counted as suicides,” pointed out Mr Dharampal Singh, SDM, Moonak.

“Drug abuse is rampant in these villages. We have access to almost every form of drug. These come from UP and Rajasthan. Most men in the village are using drugs either in small or large quantities,” said Mr Jagroop Singh, a former sarpanch of Lehal Kalan village. No NGOs are working here and the first drug de-addiction centre is coming up in the district now.

Reiterating the conclusions of another study undertaken on the subject by the Agro Economic Research Centre, Punjab Agriculture University, Ludhiana, Mr Sarvjit Singh, Deputy Commissioner, Sangrur, said social support in villages had declined over the years. ‘‘Villagers are now more aware of what they cannot possess. While resources remain limited, or have rather diminished, demands and aspirations have sky-rocketed,’’ he said.

To be concluded
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