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What drove a 26-year-old farmer to suicide?

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by March 29, 2016 General

Farming and debt go together in Tamil Nadu’s Ariyalur district.
There are those who have learnt to live with it and others like Alagar who could not cope with the loss.
A Ganesh Nadar/Rediff.com reports.

IMAGE: Alagar’s parents, left, with a photograph of their deceased son. All photographs: A Ganesh Nadar/Rediff.com

In the wee hours of March 11, Alagar, a 26-year-old farmer, passed away in a hospital in Keezhapavur in Tamil Nadu’s Ariyalur district. The previous evening, he had consumed cotton pesticide mixed with alcohol.

Alagar committed suicide after he failed to pay his dues to a finance company following which the firm seized his tractor.

A native of Orathur village near Veenakaikatti town in Ariyalur district, he lived with his wife, two brothers and parents.

Alagar had taken a loan of Rs 7 lakh (Rs 700,000) to buy the tractor from the Cholamandalam Finance Company.

He had paid back Rs 5 lakh (Rs 500,000) in instalments and was meant to pay back the balance amount of Rs 2 lakh (Rs 200,000).

On March 10, the finance company’s representatives arrived at his home. They told Alagar they had come to seize the tractor because he had not paid his dues. He told them that he had paid back most of the loan amount and would soon pay back the balance.

But they insisted on taking the tractor.

Alagar, his brother Silambarasan alleges, was manhandled by the finance company’s representatives. There was a scuffle and Alagar left his home on his motorcycle.

Silambarasan and his father Arumugam later met the finance company representatives.

“We told them we would pay the balance in two months. We told them we would sell a plot of land and pay them,” Silambarasan told Rediff.com

According to Arumugam, the finance company’s representatives told them, ‘Let us go to your home and we will talk there.’ Silambarasan took the tractor home.

“Once we reached home, they changed their stance. They took the tractor and drove it away. We said we would pay, but they refused. We could not do anything. They had come in two cars. They told us to ‘come to the company, pay and take the tractor.’ They left with the tractor,” says Silambarasan.

“They did not even give us notice that they would seize the tractor,” adds Arumugam.

Alagar farmland

IMAGE: Alagar’s family plot in the foreground. In the background is one of the cement plants that farmers blame for the depleting water table in the area.

Alagar returned home and wept. ‘They insulted me, they manhandled me,’ he told his father.

Alagar told his wife that he would ask an aunt if she could lend him the money.

But Alagar did not visit his aunt. Instead, he traveled to the district headquarters Ariyalur, which is some 15 kms away. There, he bought cotton pesticide from a fertiliser shop and a bottle of liquor.

He mixed the pesticide with the liquor and drank it. He then called a neighbour Muruganandam and told him, ‘I have drunk poison. No one can save me.’

“We were searching for him and found him there,” says Silambarasan, remembering how the family frantically looked for Alagar following his phone call.

The family took him to the Arunachalam Hospital in Keezhapavur. They showed the doctor the pesticide that he had consumed. When his family admitted him to the hospital around 5 pm, he was conscious. At 3.30 am, he began bleeding from the mouth. Some minutes later, he was dead.

Acquaintances advised the family to go to the police.

“We did not want him to be cut up for an autopsy. People would say we allowed our brother to be cut up for money,” says Silambarasan, highlighting the sentiments that prevail in a village.

The next morning, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam member Sivasankar arrived at the family home with a Kalaignar TV crew. Kalaignar TV is aligned with the DMK party.

Following media reports, leaders from the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, the Pattali Makkal Katchi, the Congress party, the Vasan Congress, the Trinamool Congress and the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam all visited the family.

Alagar, says Silambarasan, educated his siblings. One brother Pakyaraj has a BTech degree. Silambarasan has a diploma in mechanical engineering. Their sister Satya has done her teacher’s training.

Alagar could pay their fees because as a 20 year old he traveled to Singapore to work as a painter; he worked there for 3 years. After he returned he wed and settled down in his native village.

Alagar's tractor-trailer is all that is left

IMAGE: Alagar’s tractor-trailer.

The family took a loan to buy the tractor in 2013. Silambarasan says they did not approach a nationalised bank since that would need land documents. The family only owns 1 ½ acres of land.

The police have registered a case against the finance company.

Police officiers told Rediff.com that they had visited the company office in Perambulur, where the loan was taken, and another office in Tiruchi.

Both the offices were closed, a police officer said, adding that the finance company had informed the police that the tractor had been seized.

The company’s offices were shut when Rediff.com visited to speak to managers about the incident.

The area is dependent on rain water for farming as there is no river nearby, says Armugam. There is a lake in the village which fills up only if it rains normally. Water is currently available at a depth of 500 to 600 feet in the village.

The villagers complain that the water table is very low as cement plants in the area draw ground water for their use.

R Renganathan has 3 acres of land on which he grows cotton. He harvests the cotton crop once a year. “Monkeys and peacocks are our biggest problems here, they destroy the crop,” he complains. He expects an income of Rs 20,000 per acre and depends entirely on rain water for his farming.

P Chakravarthy owns 6 acres of land on which he grows sugarcane, paddy and groundnut. He has a borewell in his fields. For the four acres on which he grows sugarcane, he expect Rs 50,000 as profit per acre.

The water in his borewell is available at a depth of 450 feet. As there are frequent power cuts during the day, he comes to the field after 11 pm to water his crops.

He took a loan for Rs 425,000 from the State Bank of India in 2005 to buy a tractor. Eleven years later, he is still paying off the loan. He intends to pay off the balance of Rs 120,000 over the next two years.

Twice the bank issued notices to seize the tractor. Both times he paid the penalty interest imposed by the bank which allowed him to keep the tractor. His ownership documents for the land are with the bank.

“If power (electricity) is regular, then it will be easier for farmers,” says Chakravarthy. If the farmers are late in paying the interest on their loans, he says, the banks publish their names in the newspapers. “They do it to shame us,” he laments.

Farming and debt go together in Ariyalur. There are those who have learnt to live with it and others like Alagar who could not cope with the loss.

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