Kota Neelima’s Shoes of the Dead is a stark portrayal of rural India’s ills and an insight into the functioning of dynastic politics in our country followed by a true picture on the working of Indian democracy.
The author has illustrated the problem of successive crop failures in central India through the story of a farmer, Sudhakar Bhadra who commits suicide, burdened by his debts to money lenders and banks.
The story is set in Mityala where Sudhakar’s brother Gangiri chucks up his well paid teacher’s job to ensure justice for the families of the dead who are deprived of compensation because of many reasons.
Neelima has once again raised the burning issue of farmer’s suicide in our country and the politics involved in tackling the problem.
She has managed to bring out the real happenings in the rural heartland, how the all powerful district committee at Mityala (responsible for deciding the compensation) routinely dismisses claims by widows including Sudhakars and other families as not admissible.
The author describes in detail how the Mityala community out-rightly rejects the news of suicide committed by several farmers in their district and cancels out the compensation to their families.
The entire story is set in the background of the rise of an ambitious politician, Keyur Kashinath .
He is a first time MP from the constituency of Mityala which is witnessing a spate of suicide by farmers as they are unable to pay off their loans due to recurring drought and crop failures.
Keyur, heir to his father Vaishnav Kashinath’s vast power centre in Delhi, is facing this crisis for the first time in his political life as every suicide in his constituency certified by the committee as debt-related is not only a blot on the party’s image but also his competence.
The Shoes of the Dead has two protagonists in direct confrontation: Gangiri who wants justice for farmers and their families and Keyur who does not want to blemish his fledgling political career.
Taking the first steps to end the prevailing situation at Mityala, Gangiri begins investigation into his brother Sudhakar’s death by talking to various committee members and the reasons for dismissing claims for compensation.
His inquiries unfolds the nexus between various people including the money lender, the bank officials and also the doctor.
Gangiri fights the continuing despair as well as the politician’s fight for power in a dynastic set up. Their two worlds result in conflict pushing both of them to the limits of morality from where there is no turning back. Well, the readers have to ponder and remember that at stake is the truth about inherited democratic power and finally, there is only one ‘winner’ as both of them fight for their own interest.
An interesting read about the prevailing situation in the country, the book raises many age old problems and issues confronting India but focuses on the grave crises in Indian agriculture and the ordeal of farmers who unable to bear with the situation have been killing themselves and putting their families in dire straits.
The author Kota Neelima is political editor at The Sunday Guardian and a Research Fellow for South Asia Studies at The Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University, Washington, DC.
Her previously published work includes the novels Riverstones and Death of a Moneylender.