Too much of anything, even death, makes man immune and that is what has happened to Bundelkhand in Uttar Pradesh. Once known as the badlands of the state that bred bandits and dacoits, Bundelkhand is now known for its dying farmers and migrating youth. The parched lands of Bundelkhand have rarely seen a worse year that the one that just went by.
The rains in March and below average monsoon in the subsequent months destroyed the Rabi and then Kharif crops. “The damage was near total and most of us who depend on income from one crop, to go ahead with the next, were left penniless. Some took loans from moneylenders on high interest rates and were devastated when the poor rainfall destroyed the Kharif crop too. Suicides by farmers have become so common that even local newspapers do not find it ‘newsworthy’ anymore,” says Raghubir Singh, a young student whose uncle committed suicide in October by consuming poison.
“The police refused to register a case of suicide and told us to go ahead with the cremation. In any case, there was nothing we could do”, he says.
Government agencies report around 40-60 people have killed themselves in the past year, but local estimates say the number is at least 10 times higher. A farmer death is reported every third day from the 13 districts that comprise the region.
Congress MLA from Banda, Vivek Singh, says, “Politicians remember Bundelkhand only when it is election time. They come here, make promises and then walk away. The state government is more interested in developing parks and memorials in Lucknow than in saving dying farmers in Bundelkhand. The Centre and state governments announce packages for the region, but no one is bothered to monitor its implementation. The situation is going from bad to worse and if the people take up arms once again, you know it is the politicians who are to blame”. A Rs 7,266 crore package in 2009 promised by Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi has achieved little on the ground, nixed by burgeoning loan burdens, rampant corruption and poor project implementation.
“The Bundelkhand package is a gift for contractors and government officers,” says Bhartendu Prakash, who runs the Bundelkhand Resources Study Centre.
He says that it is not a natural drought that the Bundelkhand faces—it is manmade. “Forests and hills are being ravaged by miners and developers and very soon, Bundelkhand will turn into a desert,” he says. Actor-turned-politician Raja Bundela, who has been campaigning for statehood for Bundelkhand, since the past one and a half decade, says that this backward region has become a milch cow for political leaders during the election season.
“We have been demanding statehood because we have seen how they (politicians) use us during elections and then ignore us for the remaining four years. If they give us our state, we will chart our own destiny and will be directly accountable to our people. So many parties have been in power at the Centre and in the state, but not one of them has given an industry to this region. There is death, devastation and decay all around,” he says. As the news of Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi visiting Bundelkhand on 22 January comes in, cynicism mounts in the region. “Kya karenge aa kar? Pehle bhi aaye the—na kuchhh hua na hoga,” says Bindeshwari Dwiwedi, a retired government employee in Mahoba.