THE Minister came and left, but the debt to the bank remains. Saraswati Ambarwar's husband Ramdas committed suicide in January 1997. After local activists highlighted the plight of indebted farmers in Vidarbha, Narayan Rane, the Revenue Minister of the time, visited the area. He met Saraswati and made several promises - the government would give her Rs.1 lakh as compensation, it would waive all of Ramdas' bank loans, it would pay for her daughters' education and for her farm expenses for three years. But the compensation cheque was all she got. The bank loan has doubled from Rs.25,000, because the interest has accumulated. Saraswati keeps getting default notices from the bank, which has threatened to auction her house. Paying off the loan seems impossible. Saraswati barely has enough to survive. "After getting so many default notices, I managed to collect Rs.9,000 and paid back the debt partly. That was three years back," said Saraswati.
"My husband owed Rs.40,000 to a moneylender in Adilabad, Andhra Pradesh, just 50 km away. When he came to collect his money, he realised I could not pay and cancelled the loan." Saraswati used the government cheque to pay for her eldest daughter's wedding. One of her daughters slumped into a major depression after Ramdas' death. The other has been constantly ill. "Last year I had to take Rs.40,000 from my brother-in-law Arun just to pay for her treatment," she said. When her husband died, he left a suicide note asking Arun to look after his family. Since then Arun helps her to cultivate the 12 acres of land that Ramdas left behind. "Whatever we get from farming is not enough. Arun helps us out when we run short. It may be better if I sell the land," said Saraswati.
Seven years after Ramdas' death, the situation in Vidarbha's countryside has not changed much. Even today, a couple of suicides are reported every day. There are several widows like Saraswati who are struggling with the legacy of loans that their husbands have left behind.