Ajitson Justus of World Vision recently submitted this blog from the Vidarbha Farmer’s Livelihood Project in central India, an initiative VHF has supported since 2007. Entitled “A Farmer is Alone – Why We Need to Form Close Connections,” this story explores deeply held mindsets of farmers in the difficult cotton-growing region of Yavatmal and why an Empowered Worldview approach is so promising for nurturing deeper healing and transformation.
The Reality of Suicide in Ghodkinde village: In one of the streets of the Ghodkinde village in Yavatmal, you will find a concrete house with the porch covered by some uneven tarps. Inside is a carom board with four chairs and a light bulb hanging by a wire. Four people are playing the game as others watch – the group is mostly farmers. Out of this home walks Nandakumar. After a brief discussion, he walks to his father’s portrait, “4th February 2011,” he says. That was the date his father committed suicide. The date was written below the portrait. As we continue the interview, we hear the sounds made by the carom coins striking one another. The discussion then shifts to the mindset behind suicides. Nandakumar asked me if I was a farmer. I was taken aback. “No,” I said. He replies, “I am a farmer.” His hand was on his chest as he continues, “I have to take care of everything by myself. I am always thinking about debt and obsessing about it.” Nandakumar then talks about how a farmer feels alone. Nandakumar’s neighbor is Santhosh, who lost his father to suicide in 2007. “What was going on in his mind, I do not know,” says Santhosh. “Farming, this is all that he knew.” What were the circumstances at that time? “There was no water,” says Santhosh. Besides no water, there was debt. “That was the situation,” he continues. His father had a 250,000Rs (~ $4000) debt from a bank and an additional 60,000Rs (~ $900) loan from a farmer’s society. Drought and debt contribute to the loneliness and hopelessness that these farmers experience.
He was ‘normal’: If you venture further into the same village you will find Shankar, a father of four children. His youngest child, Anchal, is 12, while his oldest child, Sandeep, was 25 years. Sandeep committed suicide by consuming poison in 2011. “I did not know about it. He was normal. He never talked with anyone,” says Shankar. The ‘normal’ was that he never spoke to anyone about his discouragement. The farmer feels very much alone. Shankar then goes on to make a guess about what might be the reason. “The bank came to acquire his property,” he says. “That could have been the trigger.” His son had a loan of 200,000Rs (~ $3000) from a private bank. The mindset that a farmer is alone is further compounded by a lack of knowledge about how to deal with setbacks and depression. Many farmers use the word ‘tension’ to describe the cause of these suicides, but the tension is really depression. “You have to handle it,” says Shankar. “What tension? When you work, you forget about it [tension]. It takes a minute to hang yourself or to drink poison. If he was working in the field, he would have forgotten it.”
Akpuri is not the Same – Close Connections Weave a Community Together: The ‘farmer is alone’ mindset of Ghodkinde village is not evident in the village of Akpuri Chowki, which has not seen a single suicide since 2004. In Akpuri, the villagers like to build close relationships with one another. Any small meeting finds people joining in who feel free to give their opinions. The villagers are warm and willing to share their stories without any expectations of immediate reward. Ganga, the village head, tells us that Ganesh Madavi was the last to die in 2004. The word ‘tension’ is used to describe the cause for his suicide as well. Ganga tells us how she would counsel young people in her village about suicide. “We are alive. We must try to live. We should not accept defeat,” she says, poignantly. Ironically, we see the closeness of the people in Akpuri in death. Megraj’s grandfather, Thanba, passed away from an illness related to his old age in March 2018. The last rites were performed by Megraj’s father Dyaneshwar. They washed the body, which was placed on a new bamboo ladder. Nobody in the gathering knew the significance of the ladder till Ganga’s mother, Panchafula (pictured below), the oldest member in the gathering says, “It’s a tradition. It is a way of honoring the dead.” In their ‘Raj Gond’ tribal context, they bury the body with the ladder. A small pot of water was carried by Dyaneshwar as he led the procession to the funeral grounds. Before the pit was closed, Dyaneshwar walked around the pit and broke the clay pot with the water. This is a strange mix of customs from various traditions. Because even though the breaking of a pot is a Hindu tradition, burying the dead is known to be specific to tribal culture. On the way back, some of the people close to family chew on a neem leaf, which is very bitter. This is their way of showing sadness. This is their way of saying “you are not alone in your sadness.”
World Vision Models Relationship Building: As part of World Vision India’s work in these areas, they focus on building relationships with people in community. Manohar, World Vision Program Manager, will be rolling out various modules for the Empowered Worldview approach this year. He says, “These modules cannot be treated as training manuals. We have to build relationships and get very intimate with the farmers.” World Vision has also been identifying faith leader partners for the roll out of the contextualized Empowered Worldview. These faith leaders will further talk about the topics enshrined in the Empowered Worldview, starting with identities. The feeling that farmers feel alone will surely be dealt with.
Going Back to Ghodkinde: It is not all doom and gloom in Ghodkinde though. There is the carom board and the leisure it provides to the young farmers who gather around it. Our World Vision staff use these social occasions to build rapport and form these ‘intimate’ connections. Manohar adds, “We are going to work with people who live in a very challenging environment. We need to pray to God. We will not see a value transformation, unless God touches their heart.”