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Posted at: Jan 19, 2016, 1:00 AM; last updated: Jan 19, 2016, 12:49 AM (IST)FIELD REPORTS

Question I dare not ask: Why not sell 2.5 acres?

The men are gone. Two women, and an ailing boy, are left with 2.5 acres of agriculture land, no farming tools, and a staggering debt. Yet, the matriarch remains steadfast: ‘Land is our world, that is who we are. How can I let that go too? Who are we without it?’
Question I dare not ask: Why not sell 2.5 acres?
Sukhdev Kaur with her daughter-in-law Parminder Kaur (holding a picture of her late husband) and grandson Khushdeep. Photo by writer

Gurdeep Singh Mann    

Tribune News Service

Deon (Bathinda), January 18  

Sukhdev Kaur knows she can’t complain of any lack of sympathy in her Deon village cluster since her 45-year-old son Ranjit Singh hanged himself from a tree on January 2. The 72-year-old also knows that sympathy cannot reduce the debt burden or secure a future for her daughter-in-law and ailing grandson. “Sympathy could not save my son, could it?” she looks up, wiping her face with a shawl to give her constant wailing a break.

“All we do is console her by visiting as often as we can and reassure her that all the sorrows will soon be  over,” a well-wisher intervenes. “If we had money, we would have given it. She knows that.” And then quietly forewarns me: “Don’t ask her about selling the land. Bebe gets upset, very upset.” 

The family had a reasonable income from the two-crop cycle till about a decade back. They would go through the usual ups and downs, but within manageable limits. Their days of despair began with the death in quick succession of both of Ranjit’s brothers — one in a road accident and the other by accidentally inhaling pesticide — and his elder son.

Ranjit’s younger son Khushdeep Singh was diagnosed with a lung problem, and weak eyesight that forced him to opt out of school. He had no option but to borrow money from ‘arhtiyas’ for his treatment, incurring a burden of Rs 6 lakh. Selling land was an option, but Sukhdev Kaur would not hear of it. “Land is our world. Who are we without it? What are we going to do without farming?” she would fiercely argue.

With both his brothers dead and short of helping hands, Ranjit had pinned hope on his growing-up elder son, Nirmal Singh, to help him in the fields. Another jolt was to come when Nirmal, all of 16, took ill and passed away.

“We were under a debt of a few thousands when Ranjit’s 30-year-old brother Iqbal died in a road accident. The amount had doubled after the death of my other son, Buta Singh (45), who inhaled pesticide while spraying it in the fields. The debt today stands at Rs 11 lakh,” Sukhdev Kaur wails.

Ranjit, she claims, could not manage to get hold of any money after his cotton crop on 2.5 acres failed recently. “Apart from the 2.5 acres, he had taken 2 acres on contract, but since we had failed to pay the contract amount, the interest kept piling up. On January 2, my son gave up,” she says, letting out a wail. Daughter-in-law Parminder Kaur, who sits nearby, maintains a stoic silence, with a forlorn expression. 

“My three sons are gone, my grandson is gone, 15-year-old Khushdeep is weak of health, and I have absolutely no idea how we are going to survive, what do we do with our lives,” she says. Mindful of how she was sure to flare up, what they do with 2.5 acres is a question I purposely avoid.

The farm equipment had been sold off quite some time back, and the three are now desperate to shift out of the house built in the middle of the fields. “Bahut aukha hai,” Parminder says, her expression not changing, “it is quite difficult for two women and a fragile son to live in a house situated in the middle of agricultural fields. We really can’t manage anymore without some help, some support.”

Some relatives and villagers have bought them a small plot inside the village, but constructing a house seems a dream. “The debt looms large on my mind all the time,” says the septuagenarian. Parminder, she points at her daughter-in-law, “is a pious woman. She keeps herself immersed in work; it helps her not to think of the difficult times, and the even more difficult times ahead”. 

The old lady starts crying again. There’s the land, I want to remind her, even if it is only 2.5 acres. But how can you ask a farmer’s wife and a farmer’s mother that question?


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