NILESH DHANPAL’S CROPS failed with depressing regularity for three years. Across his eight acres of land in the village of Belimandali in Amravati district, cotton, tur—pigeon pea—and oranges, three popular crops that farmers in Maharashtra’s Vidarbha region depend on for their income, either rotted or yielded harvests of poor quality. One evening in December 2017, Dhanpal told his wife, Shubhangi, to save dinner for him, as he had to go out to check on some equipment. Shortly afterwards, an acquaintance of the family found him unconscious in a nearby toolshed, having swallowed a bottle of pesticide.
Despite efforts to make him vomit the poison and rush him to the closest hospital, Dhanpal, then 49 years old, passed away that night. His death was one among the 3,701 suicides of farmers and agricultural labourers in Maharashtra that year. He had a loan of Rs 7.5 lakh from two government banks, that his brothers had to subsequently pay off.
In the days leading up to his death, there were signs his family only knows how to read in hindsight. “He had started staying away from people, stopped talking much,” his elder brother, Narendra, told me. “He was extremely worried about his children’s future.” Narendra, a 58-year-old agricultural officer, lives with his wife, Meena, in the district headquarters of Amravati, 53 kilometers away from the village.