In Maharashtra’s Mansawali village the story of farmer suicides persists as they continue to get entangled in the debt cycle of Bt cotton cultivation

The former Sarpanch of Mansawali village, Ashok Khadase, does not stop counting the honours his village received during his tenure as the village head. Mansawali is located in Hinganghat tehsil of Wardha district, around 60 km away from Wardha city.

“My village has been honoured with many State prizes. Mansawali was declared Tanta Mukti Gaon (dispute free village) three years ago. We also received Nirmal Gram Puraskar two years ago.”

But Ashok falls silent when it comes to farmers from his village who have committed suicide in the past few years. According to him, 15 farmers have committed suicide in the last 15 years and three in the last eight months.

Mansawali falls in the cotton belt of Yavatmal and Wardha district. Almost all the farmers in this village grow Bt cotton.

The latest case of farmer suicide here was on September 28 last year when 40-year-old Chakradhar Choudhary hanged himself in his house. Chakradhar owned three acres of land and cultivated Bt cotton.

“He never told me what he was going through but his frustration with farming was visible on his face,” says Jyoti, Chakradhar’s widow.

Jyoti is now left with a three-year-old son, a seven-year-old daughter and three acres of cotton field to look after which she does not want to visit. “Since our marriage, I worked in our field with my husband. Now without him, I don’t want to go there,” she says with tearful eyes.

“Depression due to debt was the main reason behind my husband’s suicide,” says Kavita Maroti Lohghare, whose husband Maroti committed suicide by consuming pesticide in 2008. “Every year, he hoped for profit but we could hardly recover the input cost of the BT cotton. He had taken a loan of Rs. 50, 000 from a bank and that year our bull also died,” adds Kavita.

Kavita received no help from the government and according to her the police did not count her husband’s suicide as a farmer suicide for “lack of documents”.

When asked about the reason behind the suicides, Mahesh Ingole, a farmer from the village who owns 30 acres, says: “Fluctuation in the prices of cotton seeds and fertilisers is the main reason for these suicides, because it increases the production cost of cotton.”

According to Mahesh, on a half-an-acre cotton field, a farmer has to spend Rs. 930 for a 450 gm seed bag of Bt cotton, Rs. 3,500 on DAV (fertilisers), urea and pesticide of around Rs. 2,500. “Including the labour cost, a farmer spends around Rs. 13,000 to Rs. 15,000 on half-acre from which he gets four quintals of cotton if the weather is conducive; otherwise it is 2.5 quintals. The market price of per quintal of cotton is Rs. 3,900 this year. So you can see the farmer is not getting even the production cost. A farmer gets into a debt trap due to this and ultimately decides to take an extreme step.”

Apart from Chakradhar and Maroti, 13 more farmers have killed themselves in Mansawali in the past few years. Chakradhar’s uncle Padmakar Chaudhary committed suicide in 2001. Padmakar’s 25-year-old son Vaibhav killed himself in early 2012.

Suresh Sabale (2004), Tukaram Balaji Bawane (2005), Vinod Kamble (2007), Gangubai Bhoir (2009) and seven other farmers have committed suicide in the last 15 years whose names Ashok Khadase do not remember.

According to some elderly villagers, Vinod Dadaji Khaire, Ganesh Gangadhar Bawane, Kawadu Pandurang Bonde, Chandu Tukaram Bawane, Sharad Janardan Kamble and Nitin Bawane are the other farmers who decided to end their lives.

Chandu Bawane’s wife Nirmala also killed herself three years ago.

There was a suicide of Ritesh Khateshwar Jawade, but the reason could not be confirmed.

According to Ashok, Bt cotton crop requires large quantities of water but irrigation facilities in the village is very limited. Though the seeds companies promised that there won’t be any need to use pesticide, farmers have to spend more on pesticide. Padmakar Choudhary’s elder brother Vaikunth Choudhary, who has seen three suicides in his family, says, “None of the three had any addiction or any dispute with other villagers. The mains reason is the inability to even take out the production cost which drives a farmer into debt trap.”

Vijay Jhawandia, a farmer and a social activist, says “You can see farmers killing themselves. But one should also look into the conditions of farmers who are continuing with the farming. Their condition is no better.”