Thousands of farmers and activists in Maharashtra observed a day-long fast on Tuesday to commemorate the suicide of Sahebrao Karpe, the first farmer to end his life in the State, and to denounce what they called the government’s apathy towards the agrarian crisis.

Karpe, a farmer from drought-prone Yavatmal district of Maharashtra, committed suicide along with his wife and four children on March 19, 1986. A suicide note he left behind said, “ It is impossible to survive as a farmer.”

Tragic trigger

Karpe had mixed rat killer zinc phosphate in food and served it to his family before consuming it himself. The event triggered a spate of farmer suicides in Maharashtra. Karpe’s suicide was the first documented farmer suicide in the State and today Maharashtra is known as a farmer suicide zone.

BusinessLine recently reported that in the last five years (2014-2018), 14,034 farmers (that is, eight farmers a day) ended their lives and over 4,500 farmers committed suicide in Maharashtra after the State government announced the ₹34,000-crore loan waiver in June 2017.

For the last three years, Maharashtra farmers have been observing a day-long fast to draw the government’s attention to their plight.

“Thirty-two years after the first farmer suicide, where the farmer said that he was ending his life because of the agrarian crisis, nothing has changed. Instead, the crisis has deepened and farmer suicides have multiplied,” said Amar Habib, one of the activists and organisers of the agitation.

However, there is an irony in farmers and farm widows observing a day-long fast. With a monthly budget of ₹500, Aruna Bhokare, a farm widow from the Amravati district in Vidarbha region, has to fast almost every day as she struggles to feed her two daughters. Her husband Umesh committed suicide after repeated crop failure.

No outside support

Farmer leaders had appealed to netizens to join the fast and to declare solidarity with the farmers with #fastforfeeder hashtag. They also appealed to political parties to join the fast. However, hardly any support came from either group and the farmers were left to fight their own battle.

“From time to time, some farmers and farmers’ organisations have been making demands for waiver of farm loans, implementation of the Swaminathan Committee recommendations on minimum support price (MSP) for agricultural produce and guaranteed income for farmers and other agricultural policies, which is taken due note of by the government,” the Minister of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare told the Lok Sabha last month.