By Asrarul Haque Jeelani
On March 10th, 2017 two farmers ended their life at the Tekkalakota police station of Sirguppa taluk in Karnataka and the extreme step was taken after their crop failed due to shortage of water. On the previous day i.e March 9th in Tamil Nadu another farmer committed suicide. A part of suicide note reads “I requested the bank six months’ time to pay back both my pending loans. But the managers ordered me to get out, gave me some receipt and said things that deeply hurt me.” Are we able to see the agony he felt, the dignity that he lost?
The data on farmer suicide would show the severity of problem and reasons from different cases but would it capture the agony, misery, deprivation, powerlessness, and invisible scars of the farmers and for that matter any deprived section of the society. The lived and subjective experience of pain, damage, deprivation, injury and loss is conceptualized as social suffering. The embodiments of pain which does not kill people but creates inner void and trap them into invisible fringes leads them in social suffering. Noted medical anthropologist Arthur Kleinman has defined social suffering as the result of “the devastating injuries that social force can inflict on human experience”.
Paul Farmer has mentioned hunger, torture, rape are extreme forms of social suffering beside this he also says illness and premature death are leading cause of extreme suffering in many part of the world. Disability, injury and premature death are high due to road accidents. Figure suggests that 54.1% of all persons killed in road accident are in the age group of 15 to 34 years in 2015 according to the data released by Transport Research Wing of Ministry of Road Transport and Highways, India. This report says that the total number of road accidents and person killed in road accident increased by 2.5% and 4.6% from 2014 to 2015 respectively. The report also found Telagana under top thirty states where high number of road accident, road fatality and road injury happened.
Recently I visited Nandikandi village as part of my field work of M.Phil course. This village falls under the administration of Medak district in Telangana state and National Highway No. 65 (Previously NH 9) which connects Hydrabad and Pune, dissect the village into two parts. The social composition of the village is diverse on the ground of caste, class, religion and other identity but with the presence of all these differentiation and stratifications people are living in cohesive and peaceful social and religious fabric though the village is not immune from social issues and sufferings. The problems which exist are all related to road accident, alcoholism, factory affluent, water related health problems, agrarian crisis and young death which have increased young widow in the village. These social issues are interconnected. Once the factory and national high has given them the base of economic mobility but today the road and factory are on the radar of questions of creating the situation worst.
We interviewed six widows in the village of around 2500 populations; among them five were young in the age group of 23 to 30 and the increasing numbers of young widows in the village are itself a suffering for the villagers collectively. The alarming increase in the number of widows in the village can be linked to the issues of sudden deaths which have been narrated by many respondents. The other reasons are road accidents, domestic violence, extramarital affairs and alcoholism. The sudden death was mysterious to us but further interviews and responses from the villagers had raised the curtains from its real causes.
The alcoholism is socially accepted in the region, people use to drink sindhi/tadi (local alcohol/toddy) which is adulterated with diazepam, a medication typically uses for treating anxiety, insomnia, panic attack and symptoms of acute alcohol withdrawal and this drug has many side effects, one among them is dependency. Factory workers rush to the toddy bar (alcohol shop) and can easily purchase one bottle of toddy in just 10 rupees. In this way the whole system of manufacturing, selling, adulterating and consumption of the alcohol and the administration as well as the peoples behind this process is making people dependent on the alcohol which leads further to road accident, domestic violence and other health issues. This is usual phenomenon near the industrial area or factories where with the support of factory owner and corporate, small toddy shop established to restore the labour in the body of labourers. Few days before our visit to village, one of the contractors of toddy died in road accident which tore the family economically.
A father, who has lost his two sons, one in road accident and second committed suicide, left two young widow and three children behind. The pain, misery, suffering of the father, wife and mother can’t be captured in words. The age of two young widows is 24 and 26 who has no hope in life expect two children to raise them up by work hard in the fields. Family has spent 4 lakh on treatment which is still debt on the whole family. The social and economic cost rang from direct expenditure to the indirect damage in the form of inner void, pain, invisible emotional distance from a son or husband. To be a widow is itself a curse for them, as society makes them to live into the cage of customs and tradition and social constraints. In public spaces the male gazes make them scares and they constantly live in fear, as one of the respondents narrated.
Few months ago, five people died in an accident from a single family but fortunately a child is taking breath in the lap of her relatives. The relative is herself in a trap of his husband extra marital affairs which scratches her heart many times and she uses to cry infront of other women. “Kitna bhi kuch karo nahi hota khushi” (whatever you do, happiness doesn’t happen), one respondent had framed her sadness by this sentence but the life under the suffering frame would not be able to understand by others. Sometime, they don’t even eat food, don’t sleep properly, work hard but nothing to entertain their life.
The event of losing someone looks like just a death of someone but scars behind this lose and damage is something much beyond the conceptualization. There are thousands of scars on the family members which can’t be analyzed through data and numbers but need to consider the experiences as part of evidence of human suffering to intervene in the situation.