‘Many Kalawatis whom Rahulji has not visited’

By Shyam Pandharipande, IANS,

Pandharkawda (Maharashtra) : Exactly a week after Congress MP Rahul Gandhi visited her humble hut and later mentioned her case in parliament during the trust motion debate, Kalawati Bandurkar led a farmers’ sit in agitation here Friday demanding the promised loan disbursal and relief to tide over the month-long dry spell.

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The mother of nine children, who has been single-handedly tilling her un-irrigated contract-farmland ever since her debt-ridden husband Parshuram ended his life three years ago, submitted a memorandum of farmers’ demands to sub divisional officer Sarang Kondulkar along with her personal one in the presence of about 2,000 farmers and Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti (VJAS) president Kishor Tiwari.

While VJAS has said in its memorandum that many farmers have not yet received the loan notwithstanding government claims, Kalawati, who tills the farm of an acquaintance on contract basis, has sought a piece of land, a house under the Indira Aawas Yojana and assistance under the Rajiv Gandhi Niradhar Yojana (scheme for destitute) so as to mitigate her hardship.

Thanking the young Congress MP for visiting her rented thatched house sans power in village Jalka in Yavatmal district and for his kind words, Kalawati said in her memorandum that a stream of journalists and sympathizers came calling since the VVIP visit. It made her famous overnight but has not yet brought two square meals for her and her family or money for farming.

“No one from the administration or the Congress came to meet me after Rahulji’s visit”, Kalawati, who has become a new symbol of India’s ‘suicide capital’, told IANS.

“Rahulji was touched to the core to see my plight and it showed; he also praised me for my courage but it is increasingly difficult to pull on, tilling someone else’s land on rent, spending huge sums and ending up with meagre crop and meagre income”, Kalawati said just before submitting the two memoranda.

In her impressive extempore speech at the sit-in rally, Kalawati said remunerative price for cotton, loan waiver and fresh credit for all farmers and a comprehensive relief scheme for all widows of farmers who committed suicide are a must and that there should be no dithering from that.

“I might have become a household name in the country after Rahulji’s visit to my home but I don’t want anything for myself alone for that reason”, the widow said, adding: “There are many Kalawatis whom Rahulji has not visited and, god forbid, there could be many more of them tomorrow if the agrarian crisis is not addressed comprehensively,” the untutored widow said to a thunderous applause from a surprised audience.

On Dec 12, 2005, Kalawati’s husband sold cotton he harvested that rabi season, repaid personal loans from the proceeds, freed his wife’s ‘mangalsutra’ (golden necklace married Hindu women wear as a sign of ‘blessed’ marital status) and came home with a balance of Rs.4,000 plus – his season’s income.

Tying the mangalsutra around Kalawati’s neck, Parshuram told her he would soon be back from a visit to the farm, picked up a can of pesticide he had hid from her and went out. He never returned.

“Only two of our seven daughters were married then and we had decided to marry off the next two that season… we had also received proposals for them but we had no money even for ‘kunku’ (engagement ceremony),” Kalawati recalled.

The Bandurkars had no money for the education of the remaining five daughters and two sons either, or for cultivating the next season’s crop. The agrarian crisis that year was acute. Bank loan was ruled out for them as they did not own the land. Going to a private moneylender too would be futile as they had nothing to mortgage.

In the all-enveloping darkness, suicide was the only way out that Parshuram could see!

Kishor Tiwari and some of the farm activists’ friends, including a few journalists, have been supporting Kalawati since the grim tragedy with money, two buffaloes and a few goats. On their part, Kalawati and her children – a badly shattered Kalawati too was on the verge of suicide initially but collected herself soon enough – dug their heels and have been toiling hard.

Caught in the labyrinth of rules and laws, the government could not help Kalawati much, she being a persona non-grata – she doesn’t own agricultural land or house and doesn’t belong to any of the categories like Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe that are entitled for benefit under various schemes for weaker sections such as Antyoday Yojana.

“The government extended to her an assistance of Rs.10,000 immediately after her husband’s death; gave her Rs.10,000 again in August 2006 and has been paying her a pension of Rs.625 per month,” district collector Sanjay Deshmukh told IANS.

As for providing her a house under the Indira Aawas Yojana, Deshmukh said, the Gram Sabha (village council) makes the selection of eligible beneficiaries and also prepares a priority list based on individual poverty level.

“There will be trouble if I tinker with the list; it would amount to breach of the rule and injustice to a more deserving person”, he said. “There are many Kalawatis and my heart goes out to all of them, but I have to follow the rules,” he added.

Refuting the VJAS claim that loan has not been disbursed, the district collector said, loans worth Rs.720 million have already been disbursed in the district out of a credit plan of Rs.5.52 billion.

“It is true that district cooperative banks do not have enough money for loan disbursal but I requested the nationalised banks to extend loan against individual no-objection certificates from the DCCs and they agreed,” Deshmukh said, pointing out that almost Rs.300 million of the total loan disbursals so far has come from nationalised banks.