Sandeep Sahu

The fire that a shattered Brunda Sahu lit on his paddy field devastated by ‘chakada’ insects on Tuesday, a day before committing suicide at the very same place the next day, is spreading frighteningly fast and threatening to engulf almost the whole of western Odisha and parts of south Odisha in its flames. As eminent farmers’ leader Lingaraj noted while sitting on dharna with his body, Brunda hit upon this ‘novel’ way of protest against the unmitigated apathy of the local administration after exhausting all available options to draw its attention.

In the umpteenth rerun of the well rehearsed charade that follows every famer suicide, multiple rounds of ‘high level’ meetings have been taking place in the state secretariat since Brunda committed suicide on Wednesday. Teams have been dispatched and inquiry reports sought based on which ‘action’ will be taken, we have been assured by the Agriculture minister Dr. Damodar Rout.

As part of the routine perfected over time, a stream of sarkari officials have descended on Brunda’s house in Kalapani village of Bargarh district after his suicide. Those who should have been answering questions on why Brunda had to first burn his damaged crops and then commit suicide have instead badgered his family members with questions all day, leaving them very little time to mourn the death of the family head.

On their part, politicians of all hues have shed their due share of crocodile tears with the Congress, in a bid to draw some attention, even taking the ludicrous step of filing an FIR against the Agriculture minister in the Bargarh police station blaming him for Brunda’s death.

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Amid the fast-paced developments following his suicide, the one question that keeps coming back to the mind is: could Brunda’s life have been saved? The answer has to be ‘Perhaps’. If only the local officials had responded to his desperate pleas in time; if only the mandarins in the state secretariat had held emergency meetings before, not after, his death; if only the officials had made a beeline to his house at least on the day he burnt his standing crops, if not before! But then, that would have been so uncharacteristic of officialdom, wouldn’t it? On Thursday, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik asserted that his government is ‘always with the farmers’. “… except when he needs it the most,” he might have as well added!

Just imagine the state of Brunda’s mind when he ignited the fire on his chakada-infested crop. Only a farmer driven to the end of the tether could have taken such a step. Visuals of his burning crops should have set the alarm bells ringing in the local administration and officials should have rushed to his house on Tuesday itself and assured him of all help and due compensation for crop loss. But given the all-pervasive cynicism about government promises, even this may not have been enough to persuade Brunda to abandon thoughts of committing suicide. After all, why would someone, who has made endless trips to government offices in a desperate bid to be heard and returned unheard every time, trust any assurance given by the same set of officials that drove him to the edge of the precipice in the first place? May be a word from the collector – or even the Agriculture minister – over phone would have helped. But then where is the time in the busy schedule of these worthies for an unknown farmer in faraway Kalapani (unless he committed suicide, that is)?

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Given the Agriculture minister’s emphatic assertion in the past that a farmer ‘never commits suicide’, it would be interesting to see what he attributes the death of Brunda to. If the ‘farmer-friendly’ Naveen Patnaik government is to be believed, not a single farmer has committed suicide in due to crop loss, loan burden and the like even as the media and farmers’ organizations have reported hundreds of farmer suicides in the state since 2015. The suicides have all been attributed to everything from disease to domestic quarrel to drinking. These fantastic reasons conjured by the state apparatus have convinced no one and actually opened the government to ridicule. The done-to-death claim of four Krishi Karman awards in five years has fallen flat in the face of four farmer suicides in the last one week alone. Let the death of Brunda mark a complete departure from past practice. Let government officials stop wracking their brains thinking about how to explain away his death and make a fresh beginning by admitting that crop loss drove him to suicide. It would do more to refurbish the pro-farmer credentials of the government than all the denials over the years.