Print edition : October 22, 2004

M. VENKATESAM (35) died of starvation on August 10, taking the death toll of weavers in Sircilla to five in the last one month. Venkatesam, who had had work off and on with a master weaver for the last one year, with a weekly income of Rs.200, had absolutely no work in his last two months. The family of four (wife, widowed mother and sister, who lost her weaver husband last year) survived on the Rs.25 a week earned by his wife Vijaya by rolling beedies. Venkatesam contracted jaundice and a viral infection in July. Having exhausted all sources of borrowing, the family began to reduce food intake. Unable to get treatment, Venkatesam succumbed to jaundice. The three women of his family are now left with a debt of Rs.25,000.

The survivors in Venkatesam's family.-K. GAJENDRAN

None of the welfare measures of the government has been of any use to the family. For instance, the Andhyodaya scheme that provides poor weaver families with 35 kg of rice at subsidised price or the ration card that gives subsidised rice and kerosene could not be utilised by the family since it had no money at all. Now it depends on beedi rolling for survival. Venkatesam's mother Pramila has no clue how she is going to repay the loan, for which the lenders are pressuring her. "I wish all three of us also die of starvation as there seems to be no solution in sight," she says.

It is the same story with the families of Bhaskar (26), J. Isthari (40), Sathyanarayana (35) and many others who died of starvation leaving their wives to fend for the family and repay debts ranging from Rs.15,000 to Rs.50,000.

Pushpa Rammohan, Pramila Sathyanarayana, Sripathi Manasa and dozens of other women Frontline met said the various schemes such as leaf plate-making, petticoat-making and training to stitch on modern machines that the government announced after the 2001 crisis were operational just for a few months.

Says Karimnagar Collector C. Parthasarathy: "The State government is doing all it can to help the families of those who committed suicide. In Sircilla, 61 families have been given Rs.5,000 each from the National Family Benefit Fund. The present government has announced widow pension to 75 women, house plots to 20 families and houses to 33 families." But Pramila is not impressed. She says: "These measures are only temporary. The present government should think of offering a permanent solution unlike the TDP government, which never understood our problems."

According to her, former Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu came to Sircilla soon after the 2001 crisis to open a hospital there. "He hopped out of the helicopter and then into it without even setting foot into this town to hear our problems. Time is running out for us. We cannot continue like this for long. Unless the government does something soon, suicide will be the only permanent solution for most of us," she says.

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