Tamil Nadu farmers: How monsoon, politics and note ban brought skull protest to Jantar Mantar

As Tamil Nadu farmers' skull protest at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi enters 11th day, here's all you need to know about this uncanny agitation.

While the north India shivers during the month of December, Tamil Nadu rejoices the last month of the year. Tamil Nadu farmers depend on winter monsoon for their livelihood and prosperity.

But their samba (winter crop) failed before they could be sowed.

As it turned out that by the first week of January, more than one-third of the paddy fields were reported to have gone unsowed. And, now some farmers have travelled from Cauvery region of Tamil Nadu to New Delhi and holding protest at Jantar Mantar.

They are seen agitating with human skulls symbolising the dreaded fate that they stare at if Centre does not provide them help.

The farmers are demanding a drought relief package of Rs 40,000 crore to Tamil Nadu.


October-December period brings northeast monsoon to Tamil Nadu. December is the rainiest month for the state. The NE monsoon goes unnoticed as the rest of India depends on dominant southwest monsoon.

But the last year northeast monsoon had the worst spell in the last 140 years. Against the average of 438.2 mm rain, the October-December season recorded a mere 168.4 mm rain.

Even cyclone Vardah did not help much despite bringing heavy rain for five days in Tamil Nadu besides causing huge loss.

The average shortfall of rain was 62 per cent but it was more than 80 per cent in several agricultural pockets. The previous worst was recorded in 1876 when October-December period received only 163.5 cm rain.

The Tamil Nadu government officially declared a drought in the state on January 10 this year. But by then more than 140 farmers had reportedly ended their lives since October. A NHRC report sent to Tamil Nadu government on January 5 mentioned about 106 farmers committing suicide in one month.


Tamil Nadu had already been facing water scarcity before the winter monsoon recorded its worst since 1876. The Tamil Nadu farmers had lost their kuruwai (summer crop) to the Cauvery dispute with Karnataka.

Karnataka had refused to share water with Tamil Nadu as per Cauvery award of 2007. Karnataka said it was in no position to share water as it faced acute drinking water problem.

According Central Water Commission report of January first week, all the five south Indian states recorded acute water shortage in their reservoirs. Tamil Nadu was the worst affected.

On January 5 - when winter monsoon had failed miserably - Tamil Nadu recorded a water shortage of 82 per cent in its reservoirs. It was the highest water deficit in India.

The Supreme Court tried to call truce between the warring states directing Karnataka to release 2,000 cusecs of water to Tamil Nadu till further orders. But, the farmers complained that there was not enough water for irrigation. The apex court will begin the final hearing in the matter on July 11 this year.

Earlier this month, Karnataka again told Tamil Nadu that it would not be releasing 2,000 cusecs water saying the reservoirs in the state had less than 20 per cent water and it faced a deficit of 2-3 TMC of drinking water.


While water sharing dispute with Karnataka and a failed northeast monsoon deprived the Tamil Nadu farmers of water, demonetisation rendered them seedless fully or partially.

The farmers have been dependent on the local money lenders for seasonal seed and fertiliser loans for ages. But, demonetisation sent those moneylenders into tizzy. The old currency became invalid.

Most of the farmers did not have enough money to buy seeds from big stalls. The government outlets needed cash - old or new - which farmers could not manage as their source dried out. Banks were not in a position to cater to the needs of small farmers. They had turned into the centres of money-exchange.

Finding no way out in their own way out and after waiting for almost three months, some of the Tamil Nadu farmers headed to New Delhi with hope that the Modi government will provide them some relief. They began their protest on March 14 at Jantar Mantar.

A week later, Centre approved a Rs 2014 crore relief package for Tamil Nadu, which had demanded a package of Rs 39,565 crore.