Not a single farmer in Tamil Nadu has committed suicide. That is what the state government would have us believe. This, after the farmers staged a 40-day protest in Jantar Mantar that grabbed national attention because of the gory measures the farmer took to highlight their plight.
The farmers resorted to shaving off half their moustaches and beards, stripping in front of the Prime Minister’s office, holding mice and dead snakes in their mouths, and hanging skulls around their necks, which they claim belong to farmers in their state who committed suicide because of mounting debt.
The state government’s apathetic response was to a notice issued by the Supreme Court on April 13, asking the state government to report in two weeks’ time on the steps taken by them to address the farmer suicide issue. The court has also appointed counsel Gopal Sankaranarayanan as amicus curiae in the case.
The Supreme Court was hearing a PIL on the issue of farmer suicides, filed by the Tamil Nadu Centre for Public Interest Litigation, when it came down strongly on the Tamil Nadu government.
“The response that the Tamil Nadu government has given to Supreme Court might lead to contempt of court, because they have declared the whole of Tamil Nadu barring Chennai city drought-affected," says S. Ranganathan, General secretary, Cauvery Delta Farmers Welfare Association. "They have also demanded substantial relief from the Central government. They have the guts to say that the suicides are for personal reasons and not for drought. Why should they, then, unnecessarily declare the whole state as drought-affected? The Tamil Nadu government is not able to effectively convey the right reasons. Everybody knows it is one of the worst droughts in the last 140 years,” he adds.
The petitioners had earlier approached the Madurai bench of the Madras High Court, where the court had demanded an affidavit from the government on the steps taken by them to prevent farmer suicides.
“We condemn the response that the Tamil Nadu government has given to the Supreme Court. They have granted compensation to 82 farmers who committed suicide due to drought. If it was not for drought, then why did they not give it to all the farmers?" asks the President of a farmer union from the Delta region who doesn't want to be named. "What the Tamil Nadu government has told the Supreme Court is false. From November 4, 2016, about 200 farmers have committed suicide due to drought. On Thursday also, a farmer committed suicide in Ariyalur because he did not have money to pay his debts and his crops failed," he claims.
This comes days after Chief Minister Edapaddi Palaniswami on Sunday, assured to hold talks with the Prime Minister and fulfil their demands.
The farmers were demanding a special relief package after the state faced its worst drought in 140 years and to waive off their debts. One of their key demands is that the Centre should declare Tamil Nadu a drought-hit state.
The National Crime Records Bureau report states that 12,602 farmers and agricultural labourers killed themselves in 2015 in India, with 606 suicides being recorded in Tamil Nadu.