Dramatic protest by Tamil Nadu farmers at Jantar Mantar, Delhi

A group of Tamil Nadu farmers with garland of skulls around their necks have been waiting to meet the Prime Minister and the Finance Minister at Delhi’s Jantar Mantar

Photo by Pramod Pushkarna/National Herald
Photo by Pramod Pushkarna/National Herald
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Iyyakannu

We had called on Finance Minister Arun Jaitley in March 2016 demanding a loan waiver. He had assured that he would help us out but nothing has been done so far.

In Tamil Nadu we have had drought for 10 successive years. The last two years however have been the worst. We lost our crops. We do not have anything to eat. Some of us survived by eating rats and snakes. Some of us survived on rat curry.

Reports highlighting our distress were published in local newspapers. Taking suo moto cognisance of the issue, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) sent a notice to the state government on January 5, 2017.

After that, the then chief minister of the state O Panneerselvam declared drought and announced a relief package of ₹2,247 crores. The state government offered ₹3,000-5,500 as compensation but that was obviously not enough. Farmers who were dependent on irrigation for their crop were expected to receive ₹5,465 per acre, while those who depended on seasonal rain were to receive ₹3,000 per acre. How were we to survive on such small amounts?

In a desperate attempt to draw attention, two of my colleagues tried to commit suicide at Jantar Mantar on March 15 morning by hanging themselves from a tree but were stopped by fire brigade personnel who reached in time.

“In Tamil Nadu we have had drought for ten successive years. The last two years however have been the worst. We lost our crops. We do not have anything to eat. Some of us survived by eating rats and snakes. Some of us survived on rat curry.”
Iyyakannu

All the protesters (over 150 people) who are sitting here at Jantar Mantar have come from Trichy, Karur and Thanjavur districts. We are facing the worst drought in 140 years. According to the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD), Tamil Nadu in 2016 witnessed the worst rainfall since 1876.

We are wearing a garland of skulls to show our anguish. These skulls are of our near and dear ones who committed suicide in past years. We want to meet Prime Minister Modi to explain how we have suffered. These skulls and bowls are to show him that the Centre’s failure to help and provide drought relief is killing us.

We also want to meet Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan Singh to demand loan waiver and a special package. If we are not allowed, we will commit mass suicide here in Jantar Mantar. There is no option other than ending our lives left before us.

We have decided to sit on indefinite hunger strike. We will not go from Delhi unless our demands are fulfilled. Apart from loan waiver and increased compensation package, we are also demanding that Government expedite the river inter-linking project so that we can have water all through the season.

“We are wearing a garland of skulls to show our anguish. These skulls are of our near and dear ones who committed suicide in past years. We want to meet Prime Minister Modi to explain how we have suffered. These skulls and bowls are to show him that the Centre’s failure to help and provide drought relief is killing us.”
Iyyakannu

We have nothing except our lives. What is the point of living like this? 144 farmers committed suicide within three months—from October to December—in 2016. Four hundred have ended their lives in one year due to distress caused by non-payment of loans and consecutive crop failure. But nobody acted. That is what forced us to come all the way to Delhi.

We are unable to repay our loan. Banks have seized our property. Our land would be sold if government does not interfere. Many of us mortgaged our wives’ jewellery to repay the loan but the crisis is still there.

Before coming to Delhi, we tried to meet leaders from AIADMK and DMK but their approach was totally unsympathetic. We also met the agriculture secretary of Tamil Nadu but nothing happened. Leaders of the AIADMK were busy with their internal party feud and power struggle. Nobody had time to listen us.

Iyyakannu* heads Desiya Thenidhiya Nathigal Inaippu Vivasayigal Sangam, a farmers’ organisation in Tamil Nadu.

*As told to Vishwa Deepak.

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Published: 16 Mar 2017, 7:23 PM
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