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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‘Happy Fridge’: The Key To Bridge Food Wastage And Hunger Problem In India

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Rahul Khera and Gautam Jindal, volunteers (aka hunger heroes) at Feeding India, were among the many Delhi NCR residents accustomed to seeing hungry children pick up half-eaten burgers or stale sandwiches from the dustbin and savour those with the brightest smiles. Like many others, they also had the will to promote equitable food distribution but was perplexed about the approach, until they learnt about the community fridge initiative which has gained unprecedented success in Saudi Arabia and few other European countries. Meanwhile, community fridges were already being installed outside restaurants or in public places in a handful of cities like Mumbai, Bengaluru, Kolkata, Coimbatore and Kochi.

Say Goodbye To Throwing Away Excess Food Because Now You Can Donate The Food To The Needy – Happy Fridge

Thank you for overwhelming response for the Happy Fridge concept. We need more funds from you to install more fridges like this across India. With the limited funds avaialble Feeding India was able to install three fridges only. Kindly donate here http://bit.ly/happyfridge

Posted by The Logical Indian on Saturday, October 27, 2018

Needless to mention, with a shocking 103rd rank in the Global Hunger Index and a food wastage estimate of around Rs 58,000 crore – India was perhaps the best country to implement such an initiative. With Gautam’s help, an enthusiastic Rahul invested his own savings to install a ‘Happy Fridge’ outside his residence at Sun City, Sector 54 in Gurgaon. Set up in 2017 by these Feeding India volunteers, the fridge in Gurgaon has inspired the NGO to scale up the project across India.

No one has ever become poor by giving
– Anne Frank

‘Happy Fridge’ fostered many smiles

It didn’t take long for the local residents to learn about this laudable endeavour. They welcomed it, as wastage of excess food was a recurring problem in almost every household. “Intimating the localities was no mammoth task, thanks to social media. However, it was difficult to spread the word among those who actually needed the food,” shares Rahul, who went from auto stands to slums, inviting rickshaw pullers, ragpickers or roadside vendors to avail the community fridge any time they feel hungry. “The security guards of our residential complex played a huge role in explaining how the fridge works to the beneficiaries,” he adds.

The operational and maintenance costs of the ‘ happy fridge ‘ are being maintained diligently by the community members.

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Making memories, sprouting awareness

“I remember one young man who had arrived from a village looking for some menial day job. Somehow he had run out of his paltry savings and had no money to buy one decent meal a day. For about a month, our happy fridge was his solace, till he earned his first salary from a housekeeping job,” shares a jubilant Rahul.

In another incident, a truck driver returning in the wee hours of midnight was starving after a whole day’s hard work. He had run out of cooking fuel at his home, so our fridge was at his rescue.

“The residents keep all sorts of palatable dishes in the happy fridge, ranging from dry snacks, fruits to cooked meals. Sometimes, they even keep raw vegetables, to ensure not a single bit of good food ends up in their trash while other people go hungry to bed,” reveals Rahul.

On an average, each happy fridge supplies around 10-15 meals in a day. The gratitude and pure smiles of the hungry souls after a fulfilling meal are more than enough to continue to motivate Rahul and his neighbours. In fact, inspired by him, many other communities in the Delhi-NCR region set up community fridges in their areas.

Feeding India will set up 500 Happy Fridges

Since the past few years, Feeding India has been a prominent organisation working in the forefront to solve the hunger problem in India. Primarily, they were involved in redistributing leftover food from weddings and parties among the underprivileged people in different cities of India. Their volunteers, better known as “Hunger Heroes of India”, worked actively to bridge the gap between food wastage and food crisis.

“We used to get a lot of calls from individual households to collect their excess food. However, unfortunately, we lacked the manpower and planning to launch our programme on a door to door basis. We were desperately looking for an alternative when we learnt about the community fridges,” shares Srishti Jain, co-founder of Feeding India.

After interacting with Rahul Khera and other campaigners of community fridges, Feeding India decided to amplify this extraordinary project throughout the length and breadth of India. Presently, they have launched the #FightFoodWaste campaign to install 500 community fridges – nicknamed ‘ Happy Fridge ’. So any passer-by – be it a kid going to school without a lunchbox, or a labourer returning home late at night with no promise of a dinner – can now grab a pack of biscuits or a bowl of ‘dal-chawal’ (rice & lentil soup) to satiate their hunger. Click here to contribute for ‘ Happy Fridge ‘ and ensure India never sleeps hungry again.

Feeding India also urges everyone to make a promise to stop wasting food and instead consider donating it to those in need.

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It's not how much we give
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