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A High Farmer Suicide Rate And A Pro-Farmer Budget: Where Is The Government Going Wrong?

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Amidst restrained economic growth, precarious socio-political conditions and huge farm distress, the NDA government presented its last full length budget prior to 2019 elections with a firm and strong vision. The budget is not even one month old and still the atmosphere all around is echoing with the extravagant plan and proposals of Jaitley’s fiscal estimate.

The ruling government left no stone unturned to make its last budget farmer-friendly. The word ‘agriculture’ was the base on which the entire financial plan was constructed. It was entirely a pro-farmer budget aimed  at strengthening the agricultural sector.

Though the 2018-19 budget was primarily concerned with satisfying farmers, but the considerable increase in the number of farmer suicides either due to irregular weather conditions and family issues, or due to the inability to pay huge debt is a matter of concern for an agricultural economy like India. The unfortunate incident of farmers’ suicide is challenging government’s incessant efforts to revive the conditions of farmers and is standing as a major hindrance in the path of its far-reaching goal which the Modi government is trying to accomplish.

As per the records issued by the National Crime Records Bureau of India, the cases of farmers’ suicides in the country are very high. Suicide cases are relatively high in Maharashtra, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. Shantivan in Beed district of Maharashtra lament the ‘series of unfortunate events’ and is home to almost 120 children who have lost either one or both of their parents to farm loan-related suicide.

“Every time I open the door, I see my father’s body,” says 14-year-old Nikita Surwase, pointing at the iron shaft on the ceiling. As per the a report by The Hindu, Nikita’s father, Ashok, hanged himself as he was unable to repay his loan that he had taken to grow cotton on his 1.5 acre land in Talegaon village, Beed district, Maharashtra.

One other resident, 14-year-old Mayur Rasal, lost his father in 2009, a year that saw a large number of farmers ending their lives to escape debt. In Wardha district, which falls in the drought-prone Vidharbha region of Maharashtra, a village named Kurzhadi has reported eight farmer suicides over the past decade. In 2016, Ganesh Thackeray swallowed a bottle of pesticide that he had kept for his three acre cotton farm. He fought his extreme battle for life, but his organs collapsed one after the other, and he eventually succumbed.

Maharashtra continued to record a higher number (2,917) of farmer suicides in 2017. With the inception of 2018, the sufferings of farmers continued, an 84-year-old farmer from Maharashtra, named Dharma Patil, consumed poison at Maharashtra secretariat in Mumbai, seeking adequate compensation for his acquired land.

The pain and grief of the family of farmers is really pitiful. ‘Only the wearer knows where the shoe pinches’. It is impossible for one residing in a metropolitan, to even imagine the misery and the traumatic condition of these ‘silent sufferers’. “When a child loses a parent, there is a growing sense of abandonment and separation anxiety,” says Vijayakumar, who has worked in the farmer suicide-affected district in Tamil Nadu. They become sad and silent, and it is really tough for them to overcome their physical and psychological disorder.

But at times, such cases instill a sense of responsibility and duty in these kids. Pawan Parve , from Aurangabad’s Bodhwal village, suddenly turned out to be the ‘man of the house’, after his father drank pesticide, and died in the year, 2011. At an age of 14, when children usually either study or engage themselves in all sorts of recreational activities, Pawan had a responsibility of an unmarried sister and two younger brothers on his tender shoulders. According to Pawan, he became just another farmer who had to pay off the debt. “No one cared for me,” says Pawan.

It is very necessary to evaluate and counsel these children so that they recover and move ahead in there lives.

The ceaseless cases of farmer suicides is an ignominious fact. It has become more of a factor to lash the ruling party by the opposition than a warning sign to actually do something. The root cause of farmers taking their lives is the increase in the debt burden. It is the need of the hour to establish special agricultural zones, modernize agricultural methods, educate the farmers and above all it is a major duty of the government to take strict measures against greedy money lenders.

In the words of  John F. Kennedy, “The farmers is the only man in our economy who buys everything at retail, sells everything at wholesale, and pays the freight both ways.” And hence, there is no doubt in saying that, farmers are indispensable, and thus for a nation to flourish, it is very necessary to keep them happy and content.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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