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Sandeep Sahu

By Sandeep Sahu

Shatrughna Behera must be fidgeting in his grave, anxious to come out and shout out at the top of his voice for anybody who cares to listen; “No, I did not commit suicide because my unmarried handicapped daughter had suddenly become a burden. I committed suicide because I knew that with the crops completely lost, I did not have a chance in hell to repay the Rs 62, 000 loan I had taken from the Gramya Bank.”

Pradeep

But alas! Dead men, even if they died as recently as October 26, 2015, don’t speak!

Facts, however, speak - and speak quite eloquently. The collector’s report on Behera’s suicide, after duly acknowledging the loan burden and crop loss, comes to the astounding conclusion that “Crop loss is a fact, but the reason for committing suicide is not crop loss. He committed suicide because he had to spend a lot of money on his unmarried handicapped daughter.” It was obviously not the collector’s job to pause for a moment and wonder why Behera, who had sustained his daughter so long and had spent so much money on her care, would all of a sudden commit suicide and leave her to the mercy of God.

In contrast, the Nabarangpur collector appears to be smarter. Rather than contradict himself like his Keonjhar counterpart, he has taken the safest route possible by conveniently leaving the ‘reasons’ column in his report on the suicide of Dasaru Goud on November 16 blank. He has restricted himself to merely recording the facts of the case: that Goud had taken a loan of Rs 15, 000 from the local SHG and had suffered crop loss to the extent of 66%, leaving it for the government to draw its own conclusion.

But the Odisha government has actually gone one up on the Nabarangpur collector. While he had only blanked out the ‘reason’ column only in respect of the suicide of Goud, the government has chosen to blank out the entire ‘reason’ column from the list of collectors’ report on all 127 allegations of farmer suicide in the state! While this, in itself, is bad enough, what makes it even worse is the fact that it did so in the official collectors’ report furnished in the august House of the state Assembly by the government on Wednesday.

This rather crude and ill-advised move by the government raises at least two serious questions. First, does it not constitute a wilful act of omission aimed at hiding information that could puncture its oft-repeated claim that farmers in the suicide have been committing suicide for every conceivable (and some inconceivable too) reason but crop loss and loan burden. Second, is it not a fit case for a privilege notice since crucial information was withheld in a report officially laid in the Assembly by the government?

While the second is a point to ponder for the Opposition, there is plenty of food for thought in this for all those who are concerned about the miserable state of the farmers – especially of the subsistence kind - in the state.
The state government has made it abundantly clear that it would brazen it out and never admit a single case of farmer suicide due to crop loss and/or loan burden, even if there is a mountain of evidence pointing to the contrary. [To be fair to the government though, it has done what every government, including the Central government, does.] No wonder the collectors, always quick to read the political signals, are plain scared of attributing any death to the dreaded twin cause - crop loss/loan burden – even if their investigations on the ground have left no room for doubt that this precisely was the reason behind the suicide.

I often wonder why governments of all hues go to such lengths to deny what is all too obvious. Does anyone with even a nodding acquaintance with the ground realities believe the government when it says not one of the over 100 reported cases of farmer suicide is due to crop loss/loan burden? Would it not be politically more prudent - and perhaps rewarding too - to be upfront about it, admit that at least some of the suicide cases reported are attributable to these twin factors and do something concrete on the ground to prevent more such cases?
But then politics in India – as in Odisha – is seldom governed by logic, reason and prudence.

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