July 6, 2006
Last week, near the local Urdu school in Waifed, a village in the interiors of Maharashtra, a helipad was constructed at breakneck speed.
And when at 4:30 pm on Friday, Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh alighted from a military aircraft, the excitement in the village of 5,000 people was palpable.
More than 80 per cent of the farmers in Waifed — in the heart of the cotton-growing belt of Maharashtra — don't have irrigation facilities. And their village, like many others in the region, has seen farmer after farmer committing suicide.
Various studies have found that the reason is debt, which many sons of the soil are unable to pay off.
In last six months, about 600 debt-trapped farmers have ended their lives, prompting the Central government to sit up, and the prime minister to pay a visit himself.
Among those present at the meeting called by Prime Minister Singh at the Urdu school was Vijay Jawandhia, who has been fighting for farmers' rights for more than three decades.
"I am a farmer who has had the opportunity to understand both urban and rural life closely. Very early in life, I understood that reasons behind the poverty in the villages doesn't lie in the villages," says Jawandhia.
Jawandhia, who has an MSc degree from Nagpur, is not just a leader of the farmers' organisation Shetkari Sangathana. He has spent his life, in his own small but determined way, trying to bring sanity in the government's agriculture policy.
And he wants the cell phone and Sensex-obsessed country to start thinking about the real reasons why the Indian farmer doesn't find life worth living anymore.
Image: Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh listening to a farmer in a meeting with suicide affected families and debt-stressed farmers at Dhamangoan, Amaravati in Maharashtra on June 30, 2006. .