New Delhi: Around a dozen human skulls are on display at Jantar Mantar -- the protest zone in Connaught Place, the heart of New Delhi. The 150-odd men who have been camping with the bizarre relics since March 14, say they are the remains of Tamil farmers who have committed suicide. If the Centre only gave them a loan waiver and a drought relief package, these lives could have been saved, the protesters say. The skulls, they add, have been exhumed with the permission of the families to seek support for the living.
The drought in Tamil Nadu has been on since year after the winter rains played truant. The Cauvery water from Karnataka, which the farmers were counting on, also did not reach the tail end of the fields. Around 12 lakh acres of farmland in the delta area of Tamil Nadu depend on Cauvery waters for irrigation. Reports say the Tamil Nadu Farmers' Association has claimed that on an average, two farmers have been committing suicide a day since October.
"We want the Centre to announce a drought relief package of Rs 40,000 crore, a loan waiver for farmers and assure us of better support price for our produce," Ayyannakannu, who is leading the group, was quoted as saying by news agency Press Trust of India.
Ayyannakannu said in 1990, his income from his 20-acre land was 15 lakh. Now, with the dry spell, he runs a loss of 2 lakhs. "When bank officials come to our house, they ask us questions like 'If you can afford clothes, how can you not have money to pay loans?'" he said.
61-year-old Nachumma shows the red thread around her neck that represents her mangalsutra. "I had taken a loan of 3 lakh. Now, with interest, it has compounded to 7 lakh. I have had no choice but to sell off my mangalsutra," she said.
The protesting farmers from Tanjavur and Tiruchirapalli have warned that they will continue with their stir until the government gives them a hearing. Lawmaker Virendra Singh who came to meet them today, said, "I've come to meet and understand them. Tomorrow try and arrange their meeting with Modiji and Finance minister."
On February 22, Chief Minister E Palaniswami sanctioned a sum of Rs 2,247 crore as drought relief to more than 3.2 million farmers.
The issue of farmers' suicide has also reached the Madras high court, which has issued notice to the Central and the state governments, asking for response on a petition that has sought a relief to the tune of Rs 20,000 crore.