A hailstorm of death

Satyanarayan Iyer | Updated on November 24, 2017

Mourning People gathered around Sampathi Rama Darade’s home.

Bereaved Bhagwat Gawde next to the tree that felled Radhabai

For 45-year-old Sampathi Rama Darade, there was hope and optimism in the air. He had harvested jowar and wheat on his father’s three-acre farm and potentially stood to earn ₹45,000 from the produce. He was counting on the good rabi harvest to repay his loans and get his 18-year-old daughter married.

But Darade did not reckon with the fateful evening of March 12. That Wednesday evening, the skies opened up and ice pellets destroyed the family’s crops.

Sitting inside his thatched-roof hut on the edge of the field he could only watch helplessly as his dreams of getting his daughter married and repaying his instalments were washed away.

A week later, Darade consumed a large quantity of the insecticide endosulfan. His son was away working at the local sugar factory and others in the family were busy with their daily schedules.

An hour later a relative spotted Darade writhing in pain. The family rushed him to the civil hospital in nearby Ambajogai but efforts to revive him failed. He passed away nine hours later.

“He had borrowed ₹47,000 from a bank and ₹20,000 from the society bank and may have also taken other petty loans,” says his elder brother.

The death was reported in all the local newspapers but not a single government official (except the talathi, who the villagers say is powerless) came to visit the family. Most top politicians were campaigning in the nearby area for the upcoming elections.

Darade’s decision to end his life, however, has not changed anything, as far as the creditors are concerned. The loan was taken in the name of his 80-year-old father, who owns the land.

“It is just a temporary lull. Once the dust settles down, the creditors will come to ask for their instalments,” says Darade’s brother.

In the days following the hailstorm, over 40 debt-ridden farmers committed suicide. About 20 km from Darade’s home, a 60-year-old woman, Vanarasi Bajirao Mule, also ended her life.

This farmer, who also had debts to repay, set herself on fire on the afternoon of March 22.

When the hospital authorities came to take her body for a post-mortem, they notified the police. However, the police did not turn up for more than 10 hours. It was only an hour after the news of the suicide hit the local news channels, at 9 pm that they showed up.

Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan has appealed to farmers to stop killing themselves as the government has worked out a package to reduce their burden. However, the villagers seem to be unaware of any such scheme. Banks are insisting that the loans be repaid.

No shelter

In a cruel twist of fate, a babul tree under which Radhabai Gawde sought shelter on a farm in Ekdara village ended up claiming her life. The 35-year-old woman was a daily wager earning ₹100 a day. She was working in a cotton field when the skies opened up and ice rained down. Radhabai ran to the nearby tree for shelter.

Within moments the winds turned ferocious and a big branch snapped and fell on her, killing her instantly. Within 48 hours, the government gave ₹1,50,000 as compensation to her husband, Bhagwat Gawde. But the family home remains a picture of gloom.

A fortnight after the incident, Bhagwat is still in a state of shock, staring at the tree that claimed Radhabai’s life and left his three children without a mother.

Published on March 31, 2014

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