In Villages With Failed Crops, Depression Is Taking Root

29/04/2015 5:14 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
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Betwa Sharma

Chepora, AGRA

Rajviri, a farmer's wife, tried to kill herself twice, last week. Her neighbours described how she lay down on the train tracks close to their village of Chepora, around 35 kilometres from Agra city in Uttar Pradesh.

"I don't want to live anymore," she said last week, lying on a cot outside her home. “I wanted the train to slice through me so I don't have to face another day."

Unseasonal rains and hailstorms, which have destroyed crops in several states of northern India during the harvest season, also wreaked havoc in Chepora, where farmers lost their yields of wheat, mustard and potatoes. "I don't want to live anymore. I wanted the train to slice through me so I don't have to face another day."

Rajviri, 50, and her 65-year-old husband have no way of paying a bank loan of Rs. 1.5 lakh after losing their wheat crop. "My son's wedding is in May--how will we afford it, we have nothing left," she wailed as neighbours gathered around her cot. “My husband is diabetic and the shock has made him sicker. He stays in bed most of the time."

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Kuldeep Indolia stands on the train tracks where he rescued Rajviri near Chepora village.

Kuldeep Indolia, 20, who lives next door to Rajviri, forced her back from the train tracks both times, last week. "We told her not to give up hope. It took three guys to make her sit on a motorbike and bring her home," he said.

Depression Sweeps Villages

The intense suffering in the countryside exposes the lack of sensitivity and compassion with which state governments are dealing with this unfolding tragedy. While officials shirk responsibility by doling out paltry sums in compensation, farmers need their local administration to engage with them more meaningfully because farm distress doesn't manifest itself in just material loss.

R.P. Singh Pramar, a doctor in the town of Karavali, around 20 kilometers from Agra city, said that he is receiving three to five farmers everyday, who need mental counseling. "Many villagers can't sleep or eat. They are in desperate need for help but the government is not providing that support," he said.

"They get scared when they hear a family member saying 'please take care of the children when I'm gone,' or making morbid predictions."

Very often, Pramar said, it is the relatives of the depressed farmers who force them to seek help. "They get scared when they hear a family member saying 'please take care of the children when I'm gone,' or making morbid predictions," he said.

Many farmers have either died of shock at the sight of their ruined crops or killed themselves because they had no means left to clear high-interest loans with moneylenders, send their children to school or get them married.

Read: Modi And Rahul Gandhi Should Listen To This Farmer

Read: 601 Maharashtra Farmers Killed Themselves In Last 3 Months

But these farmer deaths failed to register with the public or politicians until Gajendra Singh, a farmer from Rajasthan, committed suicide in Delhi at the Aam Aadmi Party rally last week. Even this death resulted in an ugly blame game instead of any serious reflection on how to help farmers cope with their losses. More attention has been heaped on AAP spokesperson Ashutosh, who wept on television over Singh's death, than the forecast of below-average monsoons in India, this year, which could damage another cycle of crops, furthering the spectre of ruin.

The need for the government to reach out is made even more urgent by the breakdown of traditional support systems in the countryside. Closely-knit rural communities usually manage to weather catastrophes on their own because neighbours stick by each other through troubled times. But the crop crisis has caused a collective paralysis.

rp singh agra doc

R.P. Singh Pramar at his clinic in Karavali where he receives patients suffering from depression related to crop failure.

Pramar is advising villagers, who complain of depression and sleeping disorders, to seek help from mental health professionals in Agra. The physician recommended that the government dispatch teams of specialists to villages to provide counseling.

"It would be very good to have a trained psychologist here. The most I can do is hear their problems, tell them to have faith in God, and give them encouragement that things will get better," he said. "Giving medicines is not enough. Specialists should go to every village and chaupal to counsel people."

Read: Farmer Suicide At AAP Kisan Rally Starts Political Blame Game

Read: What We Know About Gajendra Singh

Rajviri's family members said that she did not suffer from depression before the crop crisis, but her mental health declined rapidly over the past month. After it became impossible for her to sleep, Rajviri made two visits to the Agra Institute of Mental Health and Hospital in the city. "I don't know how much speaking to doctors helps but the pills help me sleep. All I want to do is sleep," she said.

"I don't know how much speaking to doctors helps but the pills help me sleep. All I want to do is sleep."

But her family members are concerned that Rajviri can't do without the sleeping pills and she becomes violent when they hide the tablets. "One day she threatened to throw this big stone when we refused to give her another pill," said a female relative, who was pressing her feet.

agra women farmers

Women working in the field near Chepora village in Uttar Pradesh.

Downplaying The Crisis

While the Uttar Pradesh government claims around 55 farmers have committed suicide, and more than 350 have died of shock, the Union Agriculture Minister Sanjeev Balyan said over 300 farmers have killed themselves in the state.

Local officials have also attributed recent deaths to old age, natural causes and personal problems other than the loss of crops, which has given rise to accusations of the state government downplaying the extent of the agrarian crisis.

Shamsher Singh Dahiya, Haryana president of the Bharatiya Kisan Union, said that famers were dying over debts and depression across northern India. "It is a very grave situation and we are appealing to farmers not to commit suicide," he said. "Governments of Uttar Pradesh and Haryana that are denying the number of deaths are talking complete nonsense."

Earlier this month, the Agra Mental Institute opened a special cell for distressed farmers, and it was reported that almost 100 new patients were visiting for counseling every day. But in an interview with HufffPost India on Thursday, DM Rathore, the medical superintendent, said the numbers were not as high as the initial reports.

Read: Rain-Hit Farmers Line Up For Help At Agra Mental Institute

Read: Farmers Who Commit Suicide Are Cowards: Haryana Minister

The special cell was receiving four farmers on a daily basis, Rathore said, but most of them were patients who had already been getting treatment for other ailments at the mental institute, and now they were at risk of a relapse because of the crop crisis.

"The number of patients who are reporting significant stress are not that much high as expected earlier," he said. "After going through the trend of the patients in every season, this slight increase in the number of patients is there in previous years in this season. We are not able to fix and associate the rise in number of patients with this thing (crop crisis)."

"Around 90 percent of persons who commit suicide already have some or the other psychiatric problem."

Rathore also said that studies conducted in the West and India suggest "around 90 percent of persons who commit suicide already have some or the other psychiatric problem."

But earlier this month, the doctor told TOI about a 20 percent increase in patients found to be extremely vulnerable and under great stress. "Many new patients suffering from depression and adjustment disorder have been displaying suicidal tendencies," he said.

'My father wasn't old'

Around 15 kilometers from Rajviri's village, Roop Singh, 26, mourned the death of his father, who died of a heart attack on April 10 after visiting his wheat field. Rains and strong winds had flattened the crop, which had started rotting because of the dampness. The hail spoiled the grain in the wheat.

"After reaching the field, he clutched his heart and said it was paining. Those were his last words"

Singh, soft-spoken and broad-shouldered, saw his 53-year-old father collapse in the field. "My father wasn't old and he never had heart problems. He had a good breakfast that morning. But after reaching the field, he clutched his heart and said it was paining," he said , blinking back tears. "Those were his last words."

roop singh agra farmer

Roop Singh talks about his father who died from a heart attack after his wheat crop was destroyed.

And now, Singh, who has two children, has to shoulder the burden of the entire household which also involves getting his 19-year-old sister married. Her marriage was on the verge of being finalised before their father died. But they can't afford the wedding for at least a year after losing their crops. Relatives explained they may have to look for another match if the suitor doesn't wait.

Still traumatised by his father's death, and stressed out over these looming responsibilities, Singh can't sleep at night. The young farmer worries about whether changing weather patterns will continue to destroy crops, whether there will be enough to eat in the coming months, where will he get husk for the cattle, and how will he provide a good life to his children.

"All this is falling on me like a rock. It is too much to carry," he said.

Over the past two months, the village elders said that no one from the government has come to discuss their problems, and they haven't heard of the special cell for distressed farmers at the Agra Mental Institute. Singh said that he doesn't know much about mental counseling, but he would welcome the chance to vent about his anxieties.

"It would help to tell someone my problems and get advice. Getting rid of this fear and tension would be the first step to becoming productive again," he said.

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