Tamil Nadu farmers on Sunday April 23 called off their Delhi strike after chief minister Edappadi Palaniswami promised to meet their demands of drought relief and farm loan waivers. Palaniswami, who arrived in the national capital yesterday, attended the NITI Aayog meeting along with chief ministers of other states.
More than 100 farmers from southern Tamil Nadu state had mounted an eye-catching protest in the capital, Delhi, more than a month ago. They brandished human skulls, held live mice in their mouths, shaved their heads, and slashed their hands.
CM Palaniswami had met the farmers who have been protesting at Delhi’s Jantar Mantar for justice. The chief minister assured the farmers that their demands will be met and urged them to call off their protest. The move came after Palaniswami met Prime Minister Narendra Modi today and highlighted the farmers’ issue. He had also discussed the issue with Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and Home Minister Rajnath Singh. The farmers’ union said if their demands are not met by May 25, they will resume their strike.
The Tamil Nadu farmers had been protesting at Jantar Mantar for the last 40 days. The farmers, who had staging a protest for more than a month demanding a Rs40,000 crore drought relief package, farm loan waiver and setting up of the Cauvery Management Board by the Centre, had earlier refused to end their agitation despite requests by several Union and state ministers. “We will be leaving for home today or tomorrow and we will be taking part in a state-wide bandh on 25 April in Tamil Nadu,” said Ayyakannu.
With 60 per cent deficit in rainfall, Tamil Nadu witnessed its worst drought in 140 year. The protesting farmers have been demanding a Rs. 40,000-crore drought relief package, farm loan waiver and setting up of the Cauvery Management Board by the centre. Over the last 39 days, they have shaved their heads, halved their moustaches, held mice and snakes in their mouths, conducted mock funerals, flogged themselves and even carried skulls of other farmers who had committed suicide due to debt pressure.
Calling the agitation a “success”, Ayyakkannu said the Centre had “undermined us and meted out step-motherly treatment”. “However, the agitation has become a success and has caught the attention of people across the world. We received support from youths and farmers across the country,” he said. “The chief minister and the union finance minister have the power to take a call on our demands. We have decided to call off the agitation for a period of one month based on the assurances given by our chief minister,” farmers’ leader P. Ayyakannu told reporters. “If the promises are not met, we would resume the protest in the national capital in a bigger way on 25 May.”
Ayyakkannu said the decision was taken also based on the assurances given by Leader of Opposition in the Tamil Nadu assembly M.K. Stalin, MDMK’s Premalatha Vijayakanth, Tamil Manila Congress chief G.K. Vasan and the BJP’s Pon Radhakrishnan.
Palaniswami, who took part in a Niti Aayog meeting at the Rashtrapati Bhavan in New Delhi, said he had submitted a memorandum containing demands of the farmers to the prime minister. “Among other issues, we also raised the farmers’ issue in the meeting with the PM,” Palaniswami told reporters.
Earlier this month, dozens of protesters blocked all six lanes of Chennai’s arterial Kathipaara flyover by tying an iron chain to the poles on either side to express solidarity with the farmers protesting in Delhi. They were demanding waivers on farm loan repayments and relief funds, among other things. The Madras High Court, too, had directed state government to expand its farm loan waiver scheme to include farmers who own land over five acres. However, there is no relief for those who have borrowed from nationalized banks. The state had sought Rs. 40,000 crore from the centre, which sanctioned only Rs. 4,000 crore.
During the course of the protest, the farmers have turned to increasingly desperate measures to direct attention to their issues. They have shaved their heads and half their moustaches and kept mice and snakes in their mouths, conducted mock funerals, flogged themselves and even carried skulls which they claimed were of farmers who had committed suicide due to debt pressure.
Tamil Nadu is facing its worst farming crisis in decades because of lack of water due to poor rainfall, low crop prices, and dwindling access to formal credit.
More than 50 debt-stricken farmers have taken their lives in drought-affected districts since October, according to officials. A local farmers association insists the number of farm-related suicides and death of farmers is more than 250. The farmers are demanding ample drought relief funds, pensions for elderly farmers, a waiver on repayments of loans, better prices for their crops and the interlinking of rivers to irrigate their lands.
It appears to be a drought that India forgot, so Palanisamy and his spirited co-protesters mounted a unique, eye-catching protest to put pressure on the government to act.
They are demanding ample drought relief funds, pensions for elderly farmers, a waiver on the repayment of crop and farm loans, better prices for their crops and the interlinking of rivers to irrigate their lands. Wearing traditional sarong-like garments and turbans, these farmers have brandished human skulls that they claim belong to dead farmers.
Last week, a farmer Chinnagodangy Palanisamy, 65, held a live mouse between his teeth to draw the government’s attention to the plight of farmers in his native state of Tamil Nadu. “I and my fellow farmers were trying to convey the message that we will be forced to eat mice if things don’t improve,” he told me, sitting in a makeshift tent near Delhi’s Jantar Mantar observatory, one of the areas of the Indian capital where protests are permitted. The tatty tent and the street outside have been home to Palanisamy and his 100-odd fellow farmers for some 40 days now. They hail from drought-affected districts of the southern state of Tamil Nadu, one of India’s most developed states.
Fire-fighters rescued a protestor who tied a noose around his neck and tried to hang himself from a tree at the venue. Many of them have been taken to the hospital and treated for acute dehydration. The protesters have also eaten food off the road, and stripped near the prime minister’s office in the heart of the city after they were reportedly refused a meeting.
Some complain that the famously inward-looking Delhi media have painted their protest as an exotic freak show, often missing the pain and desperation driving it.
India is heavily dependent on monsoon rains, which have been poor for two years in a row. Draught is common issue for entire India. At least 330 million people are affected by drought in India, the government has told the Supreme Court. The government said that nearly 256 districts across India, home to nearly a quarter of the population were impacted by the drought. The drought is taking place as a heat wave extends across much of India with temperatures crossing 40C for days now. Authorities say this number is likely to rise further given that some states with water shortages have not yet submitted status reports.
Schools have been shut in the eastern state of Orissa and more than 100 deaths due to heatstroke have been reported from across the country, including from the southern states of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh which saw more than 2,000 deaths last summer. The western state of Maharashtra, one of the worst affected by the drought, shifted out 13 Indian Premier League (IPL) cricket matches due to be played in the state next month because of the amount of water needed to prepare pitches. IPL is the worst form of cricket – the false entertainment being pampered as a profitable business by ht parliament and state assemblies infested with cricket mafia members. The government has asked local municipalities to stop supplying water to swimming pools and, in an unprecedented move, a train carrying half a million litres of drinking water was sent to the area of Latur.
There is growing public concern over the lack of water in many parts of the state following two successive years of drought and crop failures.
Drought-hit farmers in India have suspended a protest, after an assurance that their demands would be met. The farmers union said they would resume their protest if their demands were not met by 25 May.
Most villagers suffer from non-availability of drinking water. Safe drinking water has been a very serious problem Indians face.