This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Youth Ki Awaaz. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

A Day in the Land of Farmer’s Suicides, Vidarbha: Photostory

More from Youth Ki Awaaz

By Avnish Gaurav: 

It was around 2000-2001, almost every newspaper was inundated with  the news of an alarming increase in the number of suicides in Vidarbha. Statistics showed that every 2 hours 15 minutes, one farmer was taking his life. It was then that the very first thought of visiting this region came to my mind.

21st March 2012, just another Wednesday, I was at a Rajasthani restaurant with my friends, munching the delicacies from the Land of Forts, when the idea of visiting Vidarbha the coming weekend struck. I could not muster the courage to share the idea with any of my friends not even my parents, I still don’t know why. Thursday night, I did some research over internet, jotted down a few pieces of information and finally booked the ticket at 4 am (the train was at 10 am the same day). Slept for a couple of hours (almost missed the train) and embarked on a trip to a completely unknown place without knowing where to stay, how to meet the villagers and whom to ask for help (which I obviously needed). The stars were probably aligned in the right places, and things fell in the right places, and within time and my decade-long dream finally came true.

The trip in short:

  • How I reached:

Hyderabad; Sevagram; Yavatmal; Pandharkawada (my destination). There is a shorter route, Hyderabad; Adilabad; Pandharkawada (came to know later).

  • Minimum temperature experienced: 15 deg celsius at 5 in the morning.
  • Maximum temperature experienced: 44 deg celsius around 3 in the afternoon (it’s only March).
  • Number of villages covered: 6; All in Yavatmal district.
  • Number of suicides reported in Vidarbha: 16,700 (According to local people).
  • Latest incident reported: 22nd March 2012 (Amravati)
  • Latest incident reported in Yavatmal: 8 days back according to locals (I visited on 24th March 2012)

The lady above is the widow of Ramdas Ambarwar, the first farmer to commit suicide in Vidarbha way back in 1998. Her youngest daughter Manju is pursuing her Bachelor’s in Journalism. She has featured in a number of international documentaries, and had also accompanied Aparna Malikar to KBC (she was in the audience section). Manju can write in English, but is not comfortable in speaking. She has promised that she will talk to me in English within 3 months. Finally, villagers will have someone who can communicate their grievances to international agencies without any interpreter.

The cute boy on the left is Parth. He studies in class 4 and wants to become a doctor. He did not reply, though, when I asked “Why Doctor?” He was leaving for a medical check-up when I arrived. Parth was 4 months old when his father (top left corner) consumed pesticide and by the time he was taken to hospital, it was too late. I probably got the answer to my question ‘Why Doctor?’

Thinking about the TV and Sewing machine? They have been gifted by aid agencies. The old lady on the left is mother-in-law of Bharti Pradeep Sia Pawar (Bhartiji). She (the mother in law) will retire on the 31st of March 2012. Even after 28 years of service, she is not entitled to pension or even a gratuity amount. She is still fighting. She proudly tells me that she has strong eyesight and can read and write without glasses even at this age. Bhartiji’s husband was being troubled by local moneylenders, and finally consumed 500 ml of pesticide. It was very late by the time Bhartiji found him lying near the Neem tree just next to her house. She ekes out a living by sewing clothes. Her son lives with his maternal grandparents, as she herself cannot afford his upbringing.

The conditions of roads and the dried vegetation speak a lot for themselves. The BT Cotton is said to consume a lot of water. After a decade of growing this genetically-modified variant of cotton, the farms have almost become devoid of moisture, and there is no alternate method of irrigation in the area. This results in crop failure almost every year and hence, suicides. Most of the people, being illiterate, borrow money from local moneylenders (Mahajans, as they are called), so even the relief packages announced by government fail to have any tangible affect.

This how this family prepares food every day. The sole bread earner of this family was already in agricultural debt and he had to marry his daughter off. He had been trying to sell his ox for quite some time to get some money for the marriage, failing which he decided to end his life. The villagers finally married his daughter off (why the hell did they not do it before?). His mother was lying on the ground nearby, probably counting her days. I could not take her picture (please do not ask me why).

These kids still have a smile on their face. They are probably too young to know what difference it makes to have a father in life. Call it a trend or anything, but the first thing that comes to a man’s mind in this area after being tortured mentally by moneylenders is the idea of ending one’s life. Their father committed suicide just 4 months ago. Her kaka (uncle) gifted her a frock. He loves her a lot. I still remember the smile on her face when she was saying this. The ill-fated lady (the kids’ mother) is still in a state of shock, and could hardly say anything.

You probably did not get it right. The one who looks younger is actually the elder brother. This is how the story goes. The elder brother fell sick about 6 years ago. The younger brother, who was already in debt, took another Rs. 30,000 for the medication but could not save his beloved brother’s life. Crops were failing almost every successive year and debt kept on mounting. One fine day, the younger brother decided to join his elder brother leaving the family to the mercy of the moneylender and fate’s cruel ways. The only male members left are their father, who can hardly move, and the younger brother’s son, who is too small to support the family. They are trying to apply for Old Age Pension Scheme, but are caught in red tapism. Will never forget the cool sherbet I was offered here.

The story is endless, literally endless. There were days when people used to return from a funeral, only to know that they have to go for yet another one. And this used to be an everyday story. There are many intriguing facts. There are places on earth more impoverished than Vidarbha, but why is suicide committed on such a large scale only in Vidarbha? Almost all the widows are in the age group 25-35. I came across an incident where the wife killed herself after her husband committed suicide. Many of my questions still remain unanswered. I cannot mention all of them here.


The above post was also published in the author’s personal blog,

You must be to comment.

More from Youth Ki Awaaz

Similar Posts


By sharmaniti437


Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below