Video Editor: Prashant Chauhan
Cameraperson: Smitha TK
23-year-old Mamta sits in the verandah grinding coconut and coriander paste in a mortar. It was 4 pm... soon, people would line up outside the house for hot dosas and tea. Her mother-in-law was busy prepping the shop, lining up all the cigarettes, paan masala packets and butter biscuits.
In the corner of the dimly lit room was a photograph of a young man. It has been a year since Mamta’s husband Chandu consumed a bottle of poison and died in this very house. When all his crops had failed, and continuous drought took a toll on his income, he began drowning in mounting debt.
Now, his wife and mother are left to run a hotel at home and a small shop to repay the Rs 5 lakh loan and sustain their family.
This is the story of several farmers in Karnataka who have committed suicide despite Karnataka being blessed with abundant resources.
So we at The Quint set out to villages in Mandya, Karnataka to find out what the farmers want from the upcoming elections.
Unconvinced by Band-Aid Solutions
The farmers say that they have a few pressing issues that need to be urgently resolved.
Their major demands are these: Loan waivers, low interest rates for loans, higher minimum support price, better irrigation methods, and a solution to water scarcity.
My son’s yield completely failed, no government gave us any water, he had a loan of 5 lakhs and had to support his 2 sisters and family. He didn’t know what else to do.Rajamma, mother of the deceased farmer Chandu.
The Cauvery issue has also been a major bone of contention polarising Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. For decades, the two states have been fighting over timelines, frequency, and quantity of water to be released. Now, political parties in Tamil Nadu are accusing the ruling party at the Centre of favouring Karnataka by not constituting the Cauvery Management Board, keeping elections in mind.
But some farmers ask, “How can we give you water when our own farmers are dying?”
The Siddaramaiah government had announced a crop loan waiver of Rs 50,000 for every farmer. The Chief Minister claimed Rs 8,165 crores were waived for 22,27,506 farmers across Karnataka.
But farmers say that is simply not enough, as they have taken loans of Rs 3-6 lakh and with failing crops and exorbitant interest rates, they have become impossible to repay. Many farmers also say that because they didn’t get subsidies from the government, they haven’t been able to afford to build storage facilities and godowns and so most of their produce has perished.
It is like refusing to give rice to a hungry man and rubbing some ghee on his lips instead.Ramasamy, Farmer
Ending Suicides Is the Priority
The reason why farmers say it is necessary to have farmer-oriented governance is to put an end to suicides.
The numbers have gone up: From 1,569 suicides in 2015 to 2,079 farmers in 2016. This even after India saw a 10% decline in suicide rates during this period.
Several leaders have promised farmers for a better life if they are elected to power but most remain skeptical about these lofty claims.
While travelling through these villages, The Quint chanced upon a small village Hodagatta.
Just over 20 kms from Mandya, this village with just about 600 people, has decided to boycott this Karnataka elections 2018.
There are no proper roads to reach this village, no public transport, no street lights, power cuts for at least 8 hours every day and only three small water tanks
to serve the entire village. Already, 100 people from here have gone to Bengaluru in search of jobs.
The villagers claim that no political parties have come here even to campaign.
None of the MLAs have even visited our village. It is because we are all Lingayats here. Whether it is Congress or JD (S). Even MLA Ambareesh won’t do anything. He won’t even come to our village.Rajesh, Panchayat Leader
They say that because political parties had ignored them completely anyway, they feel their votes won’t really matter. They say it is because all the villagers are Lingayats and parties were playing politics with religion in the region.
Recently, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Karnataka, he urged the people of Karnataka to vote for change in the Assembly elections, saying their mandate would decide the future of farmers and youth.
With every political party promising the same, who could possibly win the confidence of the farmers? 15 May 2018 will decide.