Bengali month of Pous is considered as the month of rich harvest as the Bengali proverb says: ‘Karur Pous Mas, karur sarbanash’. On the last day of the month Paus, West Bengal celebrates Nabanna Utsab (New grain festival) while Assam celebrated Bihu and Pongal in Southern India.
But the festive season is turned out be a ill-fated ocassion. Reports of two more cases of farmers’ suicides on that particualr day pushed the number of farmers’ suicides death to 20 since October 12, 2011. Interestingly, out of the 20 ill-fated farmers, 13 belong to Burdwan, the Rice Bowl of Bengal. Reports of deaths due to starvation, are also pouring in from tea district of Dooars in North Bengal. A few back Varnabari Tea Estate was termed as Valley of Death. This time, it is Dheklapara of Dooars in Jalpaiguri, where at least 9 cases of starvation death have happened just within a month.
On the eve of the day of Nabanna, sharecropper Tapas Majhi of Purbastali of Burdwan hung in a mango orchard nearby being unable to pay back farm loans due to distress selling. He is the 20th farmer committing suicide within a month. On the same day, Haridas Ratna (55) of Habibpur, Malda hung himself from a tree. Mr Ratna was not a poor farmer and posses 26 bigha farm land, but was unable to pay back loans taken for better farming. Mr Ratna bought a tractor few months back with loan taken from Kalla Cooperative. He also bought a trolley for which he woes Rs 25000 to the seller. Apart from that, he has taken loan of Rs 60,000 from the money-lenders and 30,000 from co-operative bank. He was optimistic of paying back the loan from the sale proceed of harvested rice. His optimism grounded after the procurement of rice on Minimum Support Price by the government nominated rice mills and agencies discontinued. According to Mrs. Sabina Yasmin, a minister from this district, “He is victim of government apathy to procure rice. The agencies stopped buying within 4 days and farmers lost their hopes.”
The Rice Bowl Burdwan turned suicide land since October 12 and Dhana Tudu of Bagmara village and Sushil Ghosh of Beldanga of Bhatar block were the first two in the list. Budhi Tudu of Nabab Nagar, Bhatar, committed suicide after four days. A middle class farmer Madhai Ghosh of Dakta, Raina ends his life being unable to pay back money-lenders. On 15th November Bhabani Porel of Chandul, Burdwan followed Madahi Ghosh due to unbearable psychological pressure from the money-lenders. And the trend since then taken lives of Safar Mollah (Kaltikuri, Bhatar) on November 18, Sulen Kumar Ghosh of Mahinderpur, Jamalpur on November 22 and Tarun Sar (Khandaghosh) on November 24. After about a month, farm labour Utpal Bagdi of Bijoypur, Ausgram and farmer Barun Pal of Belenda, Bhatar ended their lives on December 22. The New Year Sun in Burdwan saw Amiya Saha of Rajpur, Memari from the same district hanging from a tree. Next day, it was Bodhan Hazra at Dignagar, Ausgram taking the toll to 12 in three months on an average of four per month. And the latest case is of Tapas Majhi of Purbastali.
Apart from Burdwan, Nayanmani Pal of Indus, Bankura (on December 7), Rabin Burman of east magurmari in Dhupguri of Jalpaiguri (on Dec 20), Gurupada Bag of Chandri in West Medinipur (on January 3), Kenaram of Tiakati-Baniyapukur of Maldah (on January 6), Achintya Mal of Marhgram, Birbhum (on January 7) and Gopinath Bauri of Gangajalghati in Bankura truncated their journey of lives. In each case, the reasons are distress sale and money-lenders’ net.
While rice growers of South Bengal are facing severe crisis, the tea growers in North Bengal are not far behind. Mangal Tanti (40) was the first tea garden worker at Dheklapara who fell pray of starvation death on December 9, 2011. “Now, it seems, an unending march for death of tea garden workers,” said Ashok Ghosh, General Secretary of UTUC. According to him, Sushil Tanti (53) died of the same cause on next day, December 10, the Day celebrated as human Rights Day. Next case was reported on December 22, when Vijay Tanti died. Parimal tanti was the fourth person to leave this world while Santa Claus was supposed to reaching to the children of this world. “Since then, more 5 tea garden workers succumb to starvation. They are: Balo Oraon (45), Jhalo Oraon (55), Rangi Khadia (50), Ramdas Munda (55) and Pradhan Tanti (50),” Ashok Ghosh added. District health officer is aware of the fact and reportedly asked the Superintendent of Birpara State General Hospital to submit a detailed enquiry report.