Tamil Nadu farmers soldier on with skull protest in Delhi's heat even as government turns deaf ear

For nearly a fortnight now, drought-hit farmers have been camping at Jantar Mantar with skulls they say are of farmers who committed suicide.

Two young farmers created a stir of sorts at the Jantar Mantar protest site Saturday morning after they climbed up trees to raise their voice against alleged government apathy towards their cause.

This on a day when support continued to pour in for drought-hit farmers from Tamil Nadu who are protesting at Jantar Mantar in the national capital.

The duo is part of the ongoing skull protest at Janatar Mantar. The skulls, they say, are of their fellow farmers who have committed suicides in the face of the Cauvery basin's worst drought in the last 150 years.

While people from Tamil Nadu living and working in NCR have been helping the farmers with ration and supplies for over a fortnight now, the south Indian film industry too has risen to the cause.

Popular actors Prakash Raj, Vishal and noted director Pandiraj visited the protest side on Saturday to express solidarity with the farmers' cause. Talking to the media, Vishal expressed sympathy with the distressed farmers.

"Farmers are committing suicide for even loans of Rs 50,000, we spend more than this in parties, their voice should be heard," he said. The actors were reported to have promised the farmers a meeting with Prime Minster Narendra Modi, but left later in the day without much success.

84 FARMERS CAMPING AT JANTAR MANTAR

About 84 farmers are living in tents at Jantar Mantar for almost a fortnight to press for their demands. Ignored by the government, heat of Delhi is taking a toll on the young protestors.

Akilan, one of the protesters, climbed the tree with a fellow farmer out of frustration.

The 19-year-old engineering college dropout aimed to become a mechanical engineer, but was forced to leave college after first semester as his father was left with no money to pay for his fees after back-to-back crop failure. His family owns 10 acres of land in Namakkal district, one of the five districts of the Cauvery basin worst hit by drought.

Akilan told India Today, "I couldn't deposit 2nd semester fees, so had applied for education loan but was refused by the bank because my father already has a farm loan, so I was dumped out of the college two months back."

"My father has a loan of Rs 2.5 lakh, our onion and corn crops failed...(there has been) no crop in the past one and a half years," he adds.

THE DEMANDS

The South Indian Rivers Linking Farmers Association has put forth a five-point demand to bail out distressed farmers. With very little rain, the Cauvery basin is experiencing its worst drought in 150 years.

Agitating farmers are demanding the formation of a Cauvery Management Committee, linking of all rivers by Smart Waterways Project and profitable prices for agricultural produce apart from farm loan waiver for them.

P Ayyakannu, who is leading the farmers, said that they have met Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, Union Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan Singh and Union Minister for Water Resources Uma Bharti, but have had little success.

"The Tamil Nadu Government had demanded Rs 40,000 crore (in) aid for the drought-hit farmers but the Center has approved a paltry sum of about Rs 2000 crore so far," he told India Today.

T Haq, director of the Council for Social Development, told India Today that farmer distress has become an election issue for political parties but not enough is being done.

"BJP had made several promises in its 2014 general elections manifesto, UPA I had waived farm loans as well but a lot more needs to be done to stop farmer suicides, important steps like loan waiver for small and medium farmers and crop insurance scheme should be implemented in a better way," he says.

NO ONE TO LISTEN TO THE FARMERS?

As the mercury continues to soar in the National Capital, the farmers, dressed in cotton loins and holding at least half a dozen human skulls allegedly of farmers who have committed suicide, may find the going becoming tough in the days to come as the union government looks in no mood to pay heed to their demands.

The debt-ridden Tamil Nadu government (its financial liabilities touched Rs 2 lakh crore in 2016), on the other hand, continues to empty its coffers to dole out freebies.

Interestingly, according to rough estimates, the sops sanctioned by the late Chief Minister J Jayalalitha on her first day in office last year could cost the exchequer up to Rs 8,000 crore annually and Rs 40,000 crore over a period of five years - the exact amount state government had demanded from the Centre to bail out its farmers.

The late CM had sanctioned farm loans from cooperative banks, mangalsutra for women getting married, free power for households and free power to handloom weavers.