Edited Excerpts from an interview
What made a person like you, an actor, come up with this campaign to help farmers?
I am also a farmer. I know the realities about farming and the pain farmers have to bear. We are doing it for them, and we are doing it for ourselves. We want to keep our humanity intact. Those who are dying are like my family.
As a country, we have to keep humanity alive in us before it dies. If we do not step forward to contribute, from where will help come? The fact is that the farmers’ situation is bad and that is why they are committing suicide. We will do our best with whatever is in our hands. What the government wants to do, it is free to do.
Apart from Akshay Kumar, is any other Hindi film celebrity coming forward to lend a hand?
Everyone has their own style of helping. It is not as if some people are insensitive. It’s just that it takes all kinds to make a world. Some are so busy in their own work, they hardly get time to do social work. But whenever they come to know that a tragic incident has taken place, they contribute in cash or kind. It is not necessary to help farmers by visiting them. We cannot resolve the farmers’ problems permanently. We can’t supply electricity to them. But we can provide them with water, for which we are doing our best.
Your efforts are commendable, yet farmer suicides are increasing constantly in India. According to you, where do we lack as a nation when it comes to empowering farmers?
It is very simple to understand farmers. They need basic utilities like electricity and water. If there is drought for one or two years, we want to ensure they get water. If there is no crop, what will they eat the whole year? For water supply, the riddle to be solved is how to get it to the farms. Volunteers with technical backgrounds are joining hands and coming forward via our campaign. I am sure we will be able to resolve these water problems. Governments on the whole have been a flop in this matter. We are doing groundwork right now, squeezing out time from our schedules to visit farmers, to understand their issues. Without regular visits, we cannot dig into their problems or help them.
Giving a helping hand to widows of farmers is good work, but what worries you the most when you consider the increase in suicide rates?
We have decided that families of those who committed suicide will get Rs 15,000 each so that they can buy seeds to plough the field. I feel that the first major problem is that farmers borrow money from government banks but if the rains fail, they have no option but to borrow from moneylenders by mortgaging their crop and property documents. The Rozgaar Yojana can give only Rs 180 per day to one member of a family that has children, wife, mother and father. At this level of earnings, nobody can run their houses because there is other expenditure school fee, medicine, etc. Many times, farmers are not able to fulfil the other desires and requirements of the family — a child might have to be denied a toy costing Rs 10. This unbearable pain makes them contemplate suicide. Helping them for one or two years is not the solution: we have to find sustainable solutions for their predicament.