The death trap

Published : Oct 10, 2003 00:00 IST

ONLY a minority from amongst those in inextricable debt traps commit suicide. Defeated by circumstances over which they appear to have little control, the option of death no longer seems so terrifying to them. Some plan tragic compacts of death. Crushed by debt, Ishwarappa Bhagoji, a 40-year-old farmer from Hadaginahal village in Gokak taluk of Belgaum district and his pregnant wife Sakkaravva committed suicide after poisoning their three daughters - Shantavva, 6, Basavva, 3, and Shobha, 2.

Many farmers have died in the prime of their lives leaving small children. Shankare Godwa, 32, from Arechakanahalli village in Maddur taluk of Mandya district, committed suicide leaving his young wife and two children. He had a family support network and the extended family lived together in a large family house. "Our lives have changed since his death and we feel pressed from all sides" his brother L. Somegowda said.

The loss of her father for Savitha, the bright-faced schoolgoing daughter of Suresh Ningappa Bhavani, has been cushioned by the support given by the joint family of uncles, aunts and cousins with whom she lives. Her father, a 36-year old farmer from Hale Bankapura village in Shiggaon taluk of Haveri, hanged himself from a tree on his four-acre plot of land on August 19. He was driven to this by debts of over a lakh of rupees and the loss of his paddy crop.

"I used to try and give him confidence, but he could not bear this any longer, and would keep saying, `What do I do when the moneylender comes?' He used to say that his self esteem had been hurt," said his brother.

When the body of Shekavva Hiremath of Ganjigatti village of Shiggaon taluk was found hanging from a tree, the records of his indebtedness were recovered from his person. With them were his anguished jottings at the harassment he faced from moneylenders.

The recent spate of suicides have taken place largely amongst small and marginal peasants who have been hit hard by agrarian distress owing to three consecutive years of crop losses and the mounting burden of debt. There have reportedly been no suicides amongst agricultural labourers although they constitute a segment that is possibly the worst affected by drought and the series of adverse agricultural seasons that the State has experienced.

Landless labourers do not receive crop loans from banks as they have no land and given their uncertain repayment capacity, private creditors too do not advance them high loans. Agricultural labour migrates as a response to drought.

It is the small peasant with aspirations to improve his agriculture by availing himself of technologies that appear to be within his reach who appears to be financially and psychologically devastated by the agrarian crisis. The rising cost of production has forced him to make high investments in agriculture largely through capital borrowed from private creditors.

The timely arrival and full duration of the monsoon becomes a critical factor for the success of his crop. Three consecutive years of inadequate rainfall have resulted in a crushing debt bondage for a majority of small farmers.

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