New Delhi/Bhopal/Indore (Madhya Pradesh): On March 19, 1986, Sahebrao Karpe, a graduate, killed his wife and four minor children - the youngest 8-months-old - before ending his own life at their home in the Chilgavhan village of Wardha district in eastern Maharashtra. It was the first officially-recorded suicide by a farmer in India.
The National Crime Records Bureau of India has reported that a staggering 2,96,438 Indian farmers had committed suicide since 1995, the year from which records are being maintained. Of these, 60,750 suicides were in Maharashtra and the remaining in Odisha, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Chhattisgarh.
And now, as tens of thousands of farmers have laid siege at the various entry points to the national capital since December 2020 to demand the repeal of three farm laws, comes a poignant new book, "The Sickle" (Juggernaut).
The author, Anita Agnihotri, through the lives of farmers, migrant labourers and activists in Marathwada and western Maharashtra, illuminates, with shocking clarity, a series of intersecting and overlapping events that have led to the crisis: female foeticide, sexual assault, the violence of caste, feudal labour relations, farmers' suicides and climate change in all its manifestations.
Written originally in Bengali and translated by Arunava Sinha, Agnihotri infuses a gripping fictional narrative with anthropology, geography and political economy, remaking the form of the novel as a way to bear witness to the farmers' crisis. Anita Agnihotri, a 35-year veteran of the IAS, who retired as Secretary to the Government of India, told IANS in an interview.
What's her next project?
“I will shortly commence my work on a novel on the Narmada dam movement along the course of Narmada in Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Gujarat,” she said.
"This will involve a lot of travel and interactions with the people and organisations and may take 2-3 years to complete. It's the longest people's movement in post independence India and should form part of the literature in Bengali. I have worked in the area of displacement caused by large dams and the rehabilitation issues. My understanding and empathy will surely help," Agnihotri concluded.
Born in Kolkata, Agnihotri studied economics at the Universities of Calcutta and East Anglia. Her literary oeuvre spans poetry, novels, short stories, writing for children and critiques of development. She has won numerous literary awards in Bengal, including the Sarat Puraskar, the Pratibha Basu Sahitya Puraskar and the Bhuban Mohini Dasi Gold Medal from the University of Kolkata.