The village of Kolezari in Vidarbha’s Yavatmal district is a sample of government’s short-sightedness and administrative apathy.
The board at the entrance of village Kolezari declares that the village is free from open defecation. Yet this small but significant achievement could not lure Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to Kolezari when he came to visit Vidarbha in July this year. “Five helipads had been constructed at various points in the village to facilitate the PM’s visit, but the state government conspired to cancel his visit to our village,” says a villager. This is the village which is at the epicenter of protests against the state government.
It was at the entrance of Kolezari on May 8 that Gosawi Pawar, a 52-year-old farmer committed suicide by consuming pesticide. A day later, on May 9, his son and daughter were to get married. His relatives say that he was under extreme pressure to buy presents for the marriage ceremonies. He owed an amount of 36,000 rupees to the bank and 90,000 rupees to the money-lender. “He was very restless for fifteen days. And then he just left, only to be brought back by the villagers as a corpse,” says his son. The villagers then pooled in money to get his children married the next day.
The villagers had prepared a complete file of grievances, which they hoped to hand over to the Prime Minister for redressal. Villagers allege that a few days before the Prime Minister’s proposed visit to the village, a few men from the state intelligence came to the village with a hidden camera to guage the people’s mood. When they reported the villagers’ anger, the state government decided to bypass the village. On the day of Singh’s visit, a widow, whose husband had died in a road accident, was presented in front of the PM at the Yavatmal town, as Gosawi’s widow, allege the villagers.
One of the letters, addressed to the Prime Minister that never reached him, reads: It is said that a Tehsildar and Talathi are friends of an agriculturist; however this is not true. These individuals have become corrupt and hardly visit the village. Whenever a farmer requests the Talathi for 7/12 extraction (revenue record) of his land, which is made freely available to farmer, he demands money. Such is the sorry state of the affairs at the village level. “Who will complain?,” says an old farmer, “for that, one has to go to the Agricultural officer, who sits in Kalam, 50 kilometers away. That means one has to have 100 rupees in his pocket. And who knows if even that will solve the problem.”
Arvind Lal Singare, one of the educated men of the village, points to a board near a handpump, that was put a few days before the PM’s visit. It informed the villagers that the water from the handpump was not fit for drinking as it was contaminated with fluoride.
“The handpump came into existence three years ago. Imagine we were drinking water contaminated with excessive fluoride and nobody bothered to tell us,” says Singare. Now there is one handpump at the extreme end of the village. “There is always a line in front of the handpump. I have to wake up at 3.30 am to collect two pitchers of water,” says a woman.
Almost every villager (around 350) has got Chikungunya this year. The nearest Health centre is nine kilometers away. “When I went there a month ago, the doctor gave me four tablets and asked me to get lost,” says a farmer. No wonder, most of the villagers went to a private doctor, who is six kilometers away. “He has become very rich,” a farmer refers to the private doctor, “there are times when he puts a patient on two bottles of saline water at the same time.”
“No one comes here. No rain, no Collector, no Prime Minister,” says a farmer, laughingly, “ I will tell you why. Because we are scarecrows. Scarecrows of Kolezari.” Some of the young men laugh with him. In times like these, laughter is a rare commodity. For who knows, when will the next suicide take place. And more importantly, who will commit the next suicide?
Also see: Interview with activist Kishore Tiwari and this.