When the capital woke up to farmer suicides

Photo: Vijay Pandey
Photo: Vijay Pandey

Hum chote kisan hain. Maafi dene ke liye hum kaun hain? Woh bade bade aadmi hain. Chahe woh BJP ho, ya AAP ho, ya Congress, woh bade bade log hain. (We are small farmers. Who are we to seek apology? They are big people. Be it the BJP, AAP or the Congress, they are all big people),” says Gopal Singh, uncle of Gajendra Singh, the farmer from Dausa, Rajasthan, who hanged himself from a tree near Delhi’s Jantar Mantar during an AAP rally on 22 April.

Gajendra, 41, died in a city known as a hub of political overtures by all and sundry. This time, the son of a dynasty was back. Elsewhere, a defiant BJP was walking around red faced, finding the debate around the Land Acquisition Bill a caustic affair. The Bill and the agrarian distress had given AAP a much-needed chance to rejuvenate itself after the bad press earned due to the infighting. Gajendra had walked into the eye of a storm that catapulted the plight of farmers from invisible rural India to the urban realm of imagination.

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Father to three school-going children, Gajendra was a local leader of sorts who used to attend political rallies in Delhi and Jaipur and speak on behalf of the farmers of his village. A fond lover of the safa (a kind of turban) and an expert at tying it, he spent much of his time doing that for his friends.

“When most of us lost our crops, Gajendra carried the dead harvest to the district collector’s office, placed it on the table and warned the official, ‘If you don’t protect us, we will protest till our last breath.’ He had grown a beard saying he would shave it only after the government looks into the plight of farmers,” says Gopal.

AAP spokesperson Deepak Bajpai tells Tehelka, “Our party does not support the Land Acquisition Bill and we will push forward a national scheme to give Rs 50,000 as compensation to every farmer. And we do not think Gajendra Singh’s death was a suicide. It was simply an unfortunate incident.”

While the media is agog with speculation, Gopal throws light on some aspects that show how the discussions that followed his nephew’s death have been largely misleading. “Everyone other than us, his kin, seem to know what happened. No one told us who is probing the matter and what is happening on that front,” he says. “And we have little hope that the investigation will reveal the truth.”

The futility of pondering over the political mud-slinging matches stands in stark contrast to how blatantly a family is kept away from knowing the details of a loved one’s death.

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A similar disdain is evident in the shocking comments made by Haryana Agriculture Minister OP Dhankar. Responding to Dhankar’s remark that farmers committing suicides are cowards and criminals, Gopal says, “No one has the right to call us criminals.”

In December 2012, the gruesome rape and murder of a young woman had affected the metropolitan psyche of Delhi and brought the phrase “women’s empowerment” into the vocabulary of several politicians. Even as women from marginalised communities in the hinterland were no strangers to sexual violence, the idea entered the urban consciousness only after a particularly gruesome instance happened within the boundaries of the national capital.

In 2015, it seems the unfortunate death of Gajendra Singh has finally brought the phrase ‘farmer suicide’ into the political lexicon of the capital city.

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