This Psychologist & Her All-Women Counsellors Team Are Preventing Farmer Suicides In Telangana

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As we near the International Women’s Day 2019, we gear up to celebrate women in all walks of life. At such a juncture, Efforts For Good aims to highlight some incredible women achievers, who are uplifting marginalised communities and the lesser privileged gender, away from all the limelight.

In our third article of the series, we bring your attention to a harsh, undeniable reality of India – farmer suicides. The urban privileged section of the population might not feel any direct implication of the same, but the truth is that it wreaks havoc in the lives of our cultivators and their families.

Amid the prevailing anguish, depression and helplessness, a Telangana psychologist and her team are instilling hope in these distressed souls and saving their precious lives. In a conversation with Efforts For Good, psychology expert Shruti Naik shares her experience of working with the Kisan Mitra rural distress helpline, which aims to prevent farmer suicides. Presently active in Vikarabad, Adilabad and Mancherial districts of Telangana, the organisation has saved many lives with their active intervention and consistent support system.

No mental health issues, but high rate of suicides – why?

Shruti shares that the iron-willed and resilient farmers resort to suicide when they find themselves overwhelmed with the economic or social crises in their lives. “For most of them, the financial crisis at times becomes too much to handle. Neck-deep in debts or battling a crop failure, they choose to end their lives as they see no way out. We have seen so many people reaching for a bottle of pesticide to commit suicide,” she shares.

For most farmers, the financial problems arise because of moneylenders, who give them loans at interests as high as 25% or 30%, sometimes even 50%. Many small-scale farmers are unable to avail farm loans offered by banks and cooperatives due to smaller landholdings, so they approach these unscrupulous moneylenders who pressurise them for repayment, driving them to take their own lives.

For some, the finances plummet due to extravagance at daughters’ weddings, well beyond their affordable limits. At times, crop failure due to drought or the changing climate takes a heavy toll on them.

As an experienced psychologist, Shruti feels that the distress pattern differs a lot between the urban people in white collar jobs and the grassroots level farmers. “Most of the farmers do not have any persistent mental health issues or depression which evokes suicidal tendency in them. They are circumstantial sufferers. Life struggles corner them into a helpless situation. The thought of making his family and children suffer is too difficult for him at times,” reveals Shruti.

How Kisan Mitra helps farmers in distress

This is where the success of Kisan Mitra lies. There are probably countless helplines and services available for farmers in India, as long as farming technicalities are concerned. But, there was no help for them when it came to emotional support in times of extreme distress. That is why Kisan Mitra Helpline was set up.

The helpline was launched on the occasion of Dr.B.R. Ambedkar Jayanti, on April 14, 2017, by Centre for Sustainable Agriculture with the support from the district administration.

Centre for Sustainable Agriculture and Kisan Mitra’s team launched an awareness campaign which included flyers, posters, events such as suicide prevention week etc., while the agriculture department took up the initiative of wall writings in every mandal office to create and raise awareness among farmers and their family members. In addition to this, the field coordinators also visited many villages personally to interact with the community and distribute pamphlets and flyers about Kisan Mitra.

Shruti Naik leads a team of women counsellors who attend the distress calls. They have a network of field coordinators which includes a significant number of village women. Some of them come from low-income farmer families, so as first responders to a crisis, they are able to relate better to the farmer seeking help. “We are also empowering women farmers and reach out to them on a wide range of issues,” she informs.

Saving lives and dissolving woes

The team visits farmers in hospitals who attempted suicide and collates their personal details to follow up on his condition later. Thanks to their intervention, not only have several suicides been prevented, many issues of the farmers have been solved immediately with help from the government authorities. Shruti and her team also respond instantly in case they get the news of a farmer who is showing signs of severe distress.

“We once received a call from an Adilabad farmer who was devastated to see his field completely inundated due to sudden floods. A few of his neighbours confirmed that he was very upset and was sitting in the field with a bottle of herbicide. Upon their insistence, he called us and broke down while talking. We kept him engaged in the call while our field coordinator Rani rushed to the spot and the man could be saved,” she shares. They also helped him meet the collector, who settled a land dispute issue that was bothering him as well.

Shruti shares the incident of Mallappa, who was on the verge of suicide after the expense for his younger daughter’s treatment left him almost bankrupt, while a huge amount of loan had to be paid off. He was also not getting the official proprietary rights of a plot that rightfully belonged to him. Thanks to Kisan Mitra’s assistance, Mallappa is happier now, with his problems also been promptly resolved.

About Kisan Mitra Helpline

Mr Harsha, the state coordinator from Kisan Mitra’s core team says “Understanding rural distress and issues and attempting to solve them one issue at a time, as well as making wider policy corrections has shaped what Kisan Mitra is today.”

“Govt Order 194 of the State Government in 2004 stipulated that there should be a farmer distress helpline in every collectorate. We simply took the mandatory requirement of the helpline and tried to make it more comprehensive,” explains Divya Devarajan, former district collector of Vikarabad.

Later when Divya was transferred to Adilabad, she advocated for the launch of the service there as well. The service was launched in Adilabad in February 2018 and sometime later in Mancherial.

Recently, Kisan Mitra has also started advocating the importance of organic farming methods among conventional farmers and many are adopting the practice with success.

Efforts For Good take

Though the government keeps churning out hordes of beneficial schemes for the farmers, most of those are failing to abate the menace of farmer suicides throughout India. At such trying times, an emergency response helpline like Kisan Mitra is the need of the hour. Individuals like Shruti, who give up the allure of a profitable career in the city just to stand beside the people of the soil, are true heroes.

“It is not me alone. Our whole counselling team consists of women and we also have a dynamic field staff of which a few are women. Most of our counsellors and the field staff come from humble rural backgrounds who work with an extreme amount of dedication and empathy towards farmers’ issues,” shares Shruti.

Efforts For Good hopes the work of Kisan Mitra is replicated pan India and save thousands of our farmers every year.

Also Read: She Builds Biogas Plants In Bihar Villages To Provide Electricity, Fuel And Better Crop To Marginalised Farmers

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A Group Of Karnataka Women Pushes Alcoholic, Abusive Husbands & Social Stigma Aside, Earns Through Recycling Workshop

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At thirteen, Neela was married off to a husband much older than her. At sixteen, she became a mother, and at nineteen, she was a widow. Despite having no regular income, she was faced with the daunting task of taking care of her in-laws, her own parents and of course, her little daughter. For young Neela, life has never known a trajectory where her voice is heard and her destiny is not blamed. That was until she came under the ambit of Hosa Belaku Artisan’s Foundation and discovered a new identity for herself. The taste of financial independence was indeed delightful for her, but her zeal to work hard for a newer, better life stood at the helm of it all.

No one has ever become poor by giving – Anne Frank

Founded by Kameshwari from Bengaluru, the foundation works with distressed women in three Karnataka villages, helping them to earn their livelihood by handcrafting a wide range of decorative or daily-use household items. Like Neela, nineteen women with struggles similar or worse, have found a new lease of life at Hosa Belaku Artisan’s Foundation. Every piece of item created at Hosa Belaku is recycled from leftover fabrics, paper, dry waste or scrap metals.

Hosa Belaku – a new dawn

“I have been working in the social sector for the past two decades. Since 2013, I got associated with Belaku Trust, who was working with rural women in Karnataka,” shares Kameshwari, a former legal executive. 

“Most of these women were victims of alcohol abuse and harassment on the domestic front. Some were widowed, single mothers or differently-abled – making life all the more hard for them in a patriarchal society. Unfortunately, circumstances led Belaku Trust to close their operations in 2015. The women were left in a lurch,” she narrates.

Some of these women desperately pleaded with Kameshwari to let them sustain their only source of income and independence. Moved by their plight, Kameshwari resolved to do her best to help as many women as possible. Investing a sizeable proportion of her own savings, she launched the Hosa Belaku Artisan’s Foundation in 2017.

At present, the foundation has active workshops in three villages in the suburbs of Bengaluru, namely, Halasuru, Achalu and Kadahalli. 

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The gritty women of Hosa Belaku

At the prime of her life, Pavithra’s husband left her for another woman. Heartbroken and devastated, she was clueless about how to earn her living. The story is similar for many other women in these villagers, with careless, abusive or estranged husbands, most being alcohol addicts. The pangs of poverty would sometimes become more unbearable than the constant physical abuse by their husbands. Yet, they had no way to have some respite from the ordeal. Few women did work seasonally as agricultural labourers. The backbreaking toil in the sun would take a toll on their health, while the deplorable situation at their homes would haunt them for the rest of the year.

Empower Poor Women To Rise Out Of Poverty

Kameshwari mortgaged her jewelery for Rs 6 lakh to start Hosa Belaku Artisian's Foundation. Most of the women employed in this foundation face domestic violence in their homes. Kindly donate here : bit.ly/hosabelaku

Posted by Efforts For Good on Sunday, July 21, 2019

Society, with its primitive doctrines, only made it worse for these women. For instance, nobody was willing to marry Shivlingi because she had a facial deformity. After a point, her own brothers abandoned her as if she had become a liability.

If one visits these women now, they would be found basking in their newfound success with Hosa Belaku. But, not only the women, Hosa Belaku’s workforce comprises a 19-year-old young man as well. All his life, Yogi, who is affected by Polio, had accompanied his mother everywhere. She used to work with the foundation until she recently passed away in an accident. Yogi’s father is visually-challenged, so the entire family received a major emotional and financial setback after his mother’s sudden demise. A helpless Yogi would painstakingly drag himself from door to door in search of work. “We took him in and trained him in toy-making. Now you would find him in a corner, making beautiful toys for children,” shares a proud Kameshwari.

Sunshine, Lamp and Dawn – Illuminating lives

The women groups at the three villages are designated with three unique names and assigned with a unique task each. Kirana (Sunshine), the group at Kadahalli is involved with paper products, making notepads, bags and jewellery.

The Halsuru group Deepa (Lamp) has adopted the art of block printing. Vibrant, stylish and beautiful handbags, cushion covers, stoles and notebooks are curated with the utmost care and precision by the women.

At Ushe (Dawn), needle and thread rules. Women who were already skilled in sewing and embroidery now earn by making stuffed toys, patchwork products and embroidered fabrics.

True to their names, the groups have indeed brought new light into the lives of their employees.

Suma and Jayamma are both senior workers at Kirana who have succeeded in constructing small concrete houses for themselves, a huge step up from the dilapidated huts they spent their youth in. Another aged lady in the same group has another compelling achievement to be proud of. Bearing the taunts and trauma from her drunkard husband all her life, she has single-handedly raised a son and a daughter with proper education. Her son, who is currently an aspiring engineer, was supported with a laptop from Hosa Belaku. Honamma, a young widow from the group Deepa is treading a similar path, raising her son all on her own.

The only solace

How much gratitude these women have towards Hosa Belaku is perhaps evident from Shri’s unwavering dedication. Diabetes is taking a toll on her eyesight yet she refuses to give up and continues etching her grit on the ornate block-printed fabrics.

The reason for such gratitude is manifold. For the conscious urban consumers, Hosa Belaku is striving to save the environment with their 100%-recycled policy. But, for the workers, it is the lifeline which not only offers them economic security but also allows them a place to voice, share and resolve the problems plaguing their lives.

“They come here and find a peaceful break from their household obligations. Some still face domestic violence regularly, the workshop is an escape for them. They discuss their issues and try to find feasible solutions. It takes the load off their tired minds. The work here is a breath of fresh air for them,” Kameshwari asserts.

“We have been assisted time and again by established non-profits and retail chains across Bengaluru, who have graciously showcased and marketed products made by our artisans. We would like more people to know about Hosa Belaku and its incredible women, and respect their brilliant spirit by purchasing their crafts,” Kameshwari expresses her wish.

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Quote
It's not how much we give
but how much love we put into giving.
- Mother Theresa Quote
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