Theme by Kota Neelima

The Nature of Things


Spirituality, the State and the Seven Invisibilities of widows of farmer suicides in Beed district of Maharashtra.

There have been over 3.2 lakh farmer suicides between 1995-2016 in India, and Maharashtra state leads in the maximum number of deaths in the country. Of the total toll since 1997, 69,642 farmer suicides have taken place in Maharashtra alone. (Source: National Crime Records Bureau). Within the state, the regions of Marathwada and Vidarbha have witnessed the highest number of suicides.

The reasons for farmer suicides are several: inadequate loans and crop prices, unsuitable seeds and agri-practices, low public investment in irrigation and other infrastructure, policy shortfalls of agricultural planning and financial management, land fragmentation and poverty, climate change and drought, incompatible agri-market structures, increase in crop input costs, health and education expenses, etc. Further, the author’s research in both Marathwada and Vidarbha shows severe impact on households of farmer suicides through a negative convergence of various distress parameters. Besides this, the widows of farmer suicides face seven invisibilities imposed by a patriarchal state and society, which are manifest as tradition, status, procedure, opportunity, value, ownership, and vote, as elaborated next:

One, Tradition: Widowhood does not return to the farmer’s wife the control over her life, but merely transfers it to the family and community. Two, Status: Only when the widow conforms to rules of patriarchy is she rewarded with security and respect. Three, Procedure: The state does not facilitate her empowerment beyond the stereotypes that keep her dependent, and fails to represent her rights and interests. Four, Opportunity: From an early age, a woman is denied education and employment, which limits the access of the widow to the outside world. Five, Value: Her work is not recognised, and the widow does not derive any financial freedom because of her labour. Six, Ownership: Despite laws, the widow has no claim on land and residences, which entrenches and maintains her dependence on the male, land-owning members of the family. Seven, Vote: The widow is unrepresented and remains outside the promised rights of property, financial independence, and livelihood.

Also, there are several consequences of farmer suicides on the children of the households. Education is a critical casualty of rural distress, which ironically, only further adds to it. The drop-out rate of students between 5-15 years is 60 percent in rural India. (Source: GoI, 2017). First, the education of school-going children, even if free as in case of Below Poverty Line families, becomes less important than survival. Second, this is especially so for girls, whose education is at best, indifferently supported and subject to their reaching marriageable age. The farmer suicide households cannot afford the investment of time and money in the continued education of girls. Third, the eldest children, whether boys or girls, help their mothers with earning a livelihood and supporting the family. The children, therefore, turn overnight from school-going students to daily wage labour after the farmer suicide. Fourth, there is little or no chance of the children continuing with education beyond Class X, or acquiring any income-generating skill. The study of such widows and households will be part of the State of Working India, Report-2020 by the Azim Premji University, Bangalore, where a more elaborate description and analysis will be available for certain districts, including Beed in Maharashtra.

In just the last three years, Beed has faced 651 farmer suicides, highest for any one district in the country; that is, 18 suicides per month in the 11 talukas of the district (Source: SCRB). Beed is 80 percent rural, where about 50 percent of women are cultivators, more than men at over 46 percent, and more women work as farm labour at 37 percent than men at 24 percent (Source: Census, 2011). The per capita income of the district is much lower than the state average, and it is also low on human development indicators. Bajra, cotton and wheat, and in some parts, sugarcane, are the main agricultural crops, but drought has been a constant feature of the district since 2012, affecting all the talukas.

The life and death in the villages of Beed are represented through the stories of survival of the widows of farmer suicides. The painting and photo exhibition, The Nature of Things, by author, researcher and artist Kota Neelima, engages with the state of the farmer suicide households through a visual narrative, which contains over 48 photographs, all taken during conversations with the women survivors of rural distress. The widows not only represent struggles of their own lives, but must be seen as symbols of the deep crisis across the villages of India.

The paintings by the artist are inspired by rural life in the worst-affected parts of the country, including Maharashtra. The paintings are the last memory of rural landscapes, and how the villagers remembered their world. The works draw from the rural Indian’s several imaginations of the Presence, and who must now reconcile with the Absence of everything. This duality is necessary for survival in the twilight between the present and the absent. A reconciliation with unmitigated poverty and desperation is unavoidable, as one prepares to fight battles that are destined to be lost. No arguments of the higher Truth or the scientific Fact can reproduce a semblance of the Presence, whether of God or of the Government. Only nature is the witness of such long journeys, and the paintings (oil on canvas) borrow from the trees and skies of a vanishing rural India. The works are vibrant, energetic and optimistic; the way ‘hope’ is imagined. The theme of the show draws from the Upanishads on the nature of the Self and the world in all its incompleteness and the unreconciled. The exhibition transposes this duality on the ground realities in Indian villages, and engages with the absolutes of distress and dualism through photographs and paintings.

As part of an effort for distress alleviation, the exhibition will endeavor to assist the families of farmer suicides through the sale of the artist’s work. Part of the proceeds will go to the children of farmer suicide households to ensure they continued with their education or returned to school in cases where they have dropped out. The exhibition is being conducted through StudioAdda, which is an outreach initiative of the artist, as well as her studio in New Delhi.

Death and Dualism in Indian Villages

An exhibition of photographs and paintings By Kota Neelima

Venue: Visual Arts Gallery, India Habitat Centre, Lodhi Road, New Delhi
23 – 29 August 2019