HYDERABAD: A good man draws a circle around himself and cares for those within – his woman, his children. Other men draw a larger circle and bring within their brothers and sisters.
But some men have a great destiny. They must draw around themselves a circle that includes many, many more. Lost in conversation with senior journalist and author Kota Neelima who was in the city recently to share details of her latest project ‘Widows of Vidarbha’, the above quote from 10,000 BC movie suddenly flashed my mind and made me realise that it fit her perfectly.
Over the past two decades, Neelima has been working on the issue of farmer suicides, and the causes behind them. To find out the facts firsthand, which were conveniently ignored by mainstream media, she travelled to Vidarbha in Maharashtra, stayed there for a few weeks on and off and interacted with farmers.
“Farmer suicides rose dramatically after 2001 onwards, especially in the cotton belt regions of then united Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh. I wanted to investigate the reason. For ‘Widows of Vidarbha’ project, I interacted with the womenfolk whose spouses committed suicide, and felt their helplessness. There isn’t anything that prevents farmers from committing suicide”, she says matter-of-factly.
Continuing on the aspects behind farmer suicides, Neelima says, “There are two phases. First, the government kept saying they died due to reasons such as alcoholism, gambling, etc. My investigation proved otherwise and showed that the deaths are a result of unpaid debt and crop failure.
Farmers are unable to repay loans because they don’t get remunerative prices for their crop. Why does the Indian farmer still pray for rains every season, even in this twenty-first century? The second phase is that we have begun to normalise the distress. I’m hopeful that the next phase brings solutions to the problems.”
On loan waivers being doled out by states, she asks, “Why are they promised only before polls? This is a heartless gesture. Waivers must be independent of politics.”
Explaining about her latest book, Neelima says, “After writing three books about farmers, I felt I should write one about the woman who is suffering the ordeal of losing the sole breadwinner of the family, having to take care of her kids, seeing them leave their studies midway, etc. Widows of Vidarbha explores the stories of 18 women who have been invisible to the state, the community and even their families.”
But what about Telangana, which has taken up the much-publicised farmer investment support scheme, the first in the country? Neelima sounds a cautious note. “Rythu Bandhu is a welcome step, but it has to be seen if the amount being disbursed is actually used for procuring farm-related equipment. Also, the focus must be on small and marginal farmers, not the rich ones. Did the taxpayer money actually benefit the poor? Only time will tell if the scheme has really succeeded.”
Her fictional work Shoes of the dead has been chosen by award-winning film director Vetrimaaran as the subject of his upcoming film. Neelima is also an artist who creates oil on canvas paintings that have been showcased at exhibitions around the world. On future goals, Neelima says she is exploring a subject called ‘Periphery’. “For example, if we take agriculture, all the policies are designed with the assumption that a farmer is a man. The same goes for financial policies. In most, if not all cases, a woman is not at the centre, she is at the periphery. The main point is distress faced by womenfolk in the country. I’m working on identifying distress and their peripheries,” she says, before signing off.