HYDERABAD: Meeting the family members of a farmer who died by suicide can take a toll on one’s mental health, as the hopelessness, sorrow and the uncertain future that awaits the victims’ family members tend to emotionally drain the visitor. But Puli Raju has been documenting, researching, advocating and helping the families of those farmers who perished in their line of duty to feed humanity for the past two decades.
Raju, who works as a teacher in Siddipet district, has so far visited around 2,500 households across the State, covering 1,50,000 km, since 2001 and continues to do so, to instill confidence in such bereaved families and let them know that there are people who care for them.
He documents the lives of such farmers and their relatives by visiting the affected families and enquiring the reasons which prompted the farmers to die by suicide. After joining hands with like-minded people, his individual effort snowballed into a movement that focuses on ensuring justice to such families. By involving companies and professionals as donors, he has helped children belonging to the affected families meet their educational and other needs.
By making use of the provisions of GO 421 issued by the erstwhile AP government and GO 194 issued by Telangana, which assure monetary compensation to the affected families, he has been spearheading legal battles with those officials who are reluctant to accept the cases as “farmer suicides”. A case filed by him and P Srihari Rao in the High Court between 2014-18 helped about 400 families receive compensation from the then State government.
He was awarded the Rythu Nestham in 2019 and the Best Teacher Award on June 2, 2017. Though things have changed since then, and the State has been witnessing a dip in farmer suicides, he still believes it’s not going to end anytime soon, unless chronic issues surrounding agriculture are addressed. Though the State government has introduced schemes such as Rythu Bandhu and Rythu Bima, farmers continue to end lives due to financial crisis.
“On February 21 this year, a young farmer named Jadhav Tukaram from Pat Pat thanda of Neredugonda in Adilabad district killed himself after suffering back-to-back losses in soya and cotton farming due to heavy rains. Tukaram’s three-acre land was registered in his father’s name and he and his brother had taken four to five acres additionally on lease for cultivation. As Rythu Bima insured the only person in possession of the pattadar, Tukaram’s family didn’t get compensation for the `4 lakh debt,” shares Raju.
He also points out the issue of 400 suicide cases that happened before 2018, for which proceedings were issued by the government but families were yet to be compensated.“The money lenders assume that the families have been compensated, but in reality they aren’t,” Puli Raju says, adding that he has been pursuing the matter with the highest political authorities and the authorities and departments concerned, but to no avail.
Observing that more and more young farmers were taking lands on lease and given the rising input costs on farm machinery, seeds and labour, the Siddipet teacher feels that unless produces yield profits and not just minimum support, farmers would continue to be in distress.
(If you are having suicidal thoughts, or are worried about a friend or need emotional support, someone is always there to listen. Call Sneha Foundation - 04424640050 (available 24x7) or iCall, the Tata Institute of Social Sciences' helpline - 02225521111, which is available Monday to Saturday from 8 am to 10 pm.)