Sarika Zute was on the cusp of adulthood. Children of her age group are generally nonchalant and perky. But Sarika had forgotten all the perks associated with being a child. Low in spirits and high in anxiety, she committed suicide on August 8.
Sarika was like millions of other children in India. What distinguished her and others like her from the rest was that she was born to a farmer.
Hailing from Pathri Taluka of Parbhani district in Marathwada, Sarika was about to complete her senior high school level studies (class 12). Her education was meant to bring about a better future, for her as well as her parents. However, she thought it better to end her life and free her father from one of his ‘burdens’.
In her suicide note, she wrote, “Dear dad, uncle committed suicide five to six days ago due to the burden of loans that he had taken for his farm. I know that you have taken loans for cultivation on our farm and also for sister’s marriage. However, the seeds sowed stand burnt due to the lack of rain. You have no means by which you can earn and return those loans. And now you have the added responsibility of marrying me off as well. How will you be able to earn any money in such a tense situation? I don’t want you to follow the footsteps of uncle and commit suicide under pressure. Therefore, I am ending my life.”
For the past two years, the media has been rightfully paying attention to the plight of farmers grappling drought. But along with the farmer, his family equally faces the unfortunate effects of drought. In the water crisis faced by millions of farmers across India, their wives and children also undergo a copious amount of mental and physical trauma.
A family is a closely knit group of people inter-dependent upon each other. So, stress faced by one member of the family is also bound to affect the other members.
Millions of farmers in Maharashtra are reeling under huge debts they incurred to cultivate crops in accursed lands. Successive droughts, coupled with depleting groundwater level, has made it difficult for them to feed their family and tend to their cattle. In such situations, many of them are unable to repay the loans taken from the banks and money-lenders.
Farmers are under tremendous pressure, especially if they have a young daughter of marriageable age as marriage is a costly affair. What makes it taxing for the bride’s father is the factor of dowry. Dowry is still an indispensable part of a marriage in India, and very often it becomes a matter of prestige for the father of the bride in society.
Like Sarika, Mohini Bhise, an 18-year-old girl from Latur, reportedly committed suicide to save her father from having to pay the dowry for her marriage. In her suicide note she wrote, “When a prospective groom comes to see me, the first question that they ask is – how much dowry will you give? Why does everyone ask for dowry? This practice must stop. Why should a girl’s father always bend? Hence I am ending my life. After I am gone, do not observe any religious ritual in my honour (shraddha). Also, no one should cry. Then only my soul will rest peacefully.”
A drought does not affect just one individual; it affects the person’s whole family. To escape their anomic situation, people find succour in death. But there are many Sarikas and Mohinis who still live trying to find succour. But alas, the living have no tomb.