26-year-old Suraj Jadhav, a farmer from Solapur district, went live on Facebook last week saying that in the next life he would not take birth in a farmers’ family and become a farmer.
“My (this) life comes to an end here, there is no life left for me. The government doesn’t pay heed to farmers and is not bothered about farmers,” said Jadhav.
He was holding his mobile in one hand to record himself for Facebook live and unscrewed a cap of a poison bottle with teeth and gulped the poison. Suraj, who was later admitted to the hospital, died on Friday.
From January-November 2021, 2,489 farmers committed suicide in Maharashtra and farmers continue to end their lives in 2022.
“Farmer suicides continue and you must have read it in newspapers. But have you ever read what happens to the wives and children of these farmers? Do they follow into the footsteps of the farmer?” asks Ranjana Doiphode, a widow farmer from Osmabanad.
She answers her own question. “No. We don’t end our lives. We continue to sow in fields and look after our kids. We can’t leave farming as it is the only resource to survive,” she says. “Also, remember that we women are also farmers. Count us as farmers not just as widows,” Doiphode asserts.
Between 2016-2020, about 29,524 farmers ended their lives in India and Maharashtra tops the list with 12,462 farmers committing suicide during this period.
Fighting the system
“Life for a widow of a farmer is not easy,” says Sunanda Kharate, who works with abandoned women and farmers’ widows. “But these women are gritty. They don’t die.. they don’t want to die. I have seen hundreds of women who lock horns with the society and the system to survive and earn a livelihood,” she says.
A few years ago after her husband ended his life, a widow from Osmanabad village went to the sarpanch seeking help from the panchayat. The sarpanch wanted to exploit her. She went to the government babus and had the same experience. Women in the village came together and helped her to get things done. But this is not an isolated case. Widow farmers have to fight at all levels to survive.
Babytai Wagh, a widow farmer from Vidarbha says that the majority of widow farmers are into dairy, poultry, goat breeding, and many other agri based work to earn livelihood. “Complete dependence on farming is impossible and there is no option but to try something else but suicide is not an option available to women,” she says.
Keeping the hope alive
Many of these widow farmers are not even aware of International Women’s Day but they have certainly set their goals in life. Besides educating their kids, these women want to lead a life with dignity.
Many women are joining hands to form Farmer Producer Companies (FPC), trying their hands in the organic farming market and agro-based entrepreneurship. As farmer suicides stories continue to resonate in Maharashtra, widow farmers have chosen a tougher battle to fight.