IN JUNE 2004, 100 farmers took their lives in Andhra Pradesh. It shocked the nation. The first UPA government had just come to power, riding on a strong pro-poor, pro-farmer electoral wave, and on 1 July Prime Minister Manmohan Singh flew to Andhra Pradesh to visit the suicide-hit villages. A five-year drought, coupled with the collapse of government credit and the resulting indebtedness to private moneylenders had wreaked havoc. Nearly 3,000 farmers in the state had committed suicide since 1998. Seventy percent of the state’s 78 million people were dependent on agriculture in 2004, 90 percent of them small farmers.
On his tour, the prime minister visited, among other districts, the severely drought-stricken Mahabubnagar. In Dharmapur village 13 farmers had committed suicide in the previous six weeks. In neighbouring Pamulapadu, Singh met Sivamma, whose husband, Anjaneyulu, had killed himself in 1998. After the state government acquired their 2.2-hectare plot for the digging of the Telugu Ganga Canal, the family had collected their compensation and moved to the village. They put the money into farming, but before the harvest, a hailstorm ravaged the crop, and Anjaneyulu was forced to take loans from the village moneylenders. After the debt had swollen to 100,000 rupees, and distressed by pressure from the lenders, one November day he consumed a lethal dose of pesticide.