Mandya, Karnataka: Angered by failed promises and false assurances made by successive governments, farmers in Mandya district are trying to revive a farmer movement in the run-up to the 12 May Karnataka assembly elections, hoping unity will bring better bargaining powers.
Considered the epicentre of Karnataka’s farmer movement, Mandya has seen about 200 farmers committing suicide in 2015 and 2016 due to distress over droughts and mounting loans.
Farmers here are looking to Darshan Puttannaiah, the son of late farmer leader and legislator K.S. Puttannaiah, to take up their cause. But it will be an uphill task for Darshan, despite the Congress giving him full support. He is pitted against C.S. Puttaraju, the Janata Dal (Secular) member of Parliament from Mandya. And the task of fighting for the seat won’t get any easier after the government’s decision not to release water from 8-23 April led to heavy losses.
Doreswamy, a farmer, said farmers took out loans and went in for sowing based on information released by the water board. “From gold, cattle, land to even LPG cylinders were pledged by people to raise money for sowing," he said.
Debt is the biggest cause of farmers’ suicides, but the Karnataka government’s farm loan waiver of Rs8,165 crore benefits only about 2.2 million of the over 40 million farmers in Karnataka, according to farmers in the region.
Now, they face a new challenge, villagers said in Pankanahalli, a hamlet of about 2,000 residents in Mandya district—micro-finance, which encourages women to take up short-term loans.
“We know the burden of debt but we know that the women will take care of the household, should something happen to us. But now, they are also under the threat of going into debt," Soombanahalli Suresh, a farm leader said. said.
Like the rest of rural India, which is patriarchal, indebted farmers in Mandya are also finding it difficult to marry off their daughters, let alone find brides for their sons.
“Even farmers’ families look for grooms for their daughters outside agriculture, because they know the problems," Suresh said. Most youngsters from farming backgrounds have been unable to find suitable jobs, despite being educated, forcing them to return to farming, adding to the pressure on land. Many others like the 17-year-old son of Puttaraju, a farmer who committed suicide in 2016 after failing to repay a Rs1 lakh loan, have been forced to work as daily wage labourers.