45 year old Mariamma has been the sole breadwinner of her family for a long time now. She lives near the industrial area in Ramnagara district, with her asthmatic husband of 70 years and their 21 year old handicapped son. Seven years ago, her son’s leg was amputated after an injury. The artificial leg provided by a charitable organization gives him some mobility, though he couldn’t continue studies or pursue a job in the factories nearby. He manages to put in some work in cultivating their inherited land of 1.5 acres.
Mariamma used to work as a house-keeping staff in a factory, earning Rs.7,000 a month, in addition to earning another Rs.8,000 as house-maid in the evenings and weekends. Last year, while going to the factory one day, she fell down from the bus and was severely injured. Her treatment took away all that she had till then and also made them avail about Rs.300,000 from a bank and their neighbors. Two more grafting surgeries are needed, but expenses are formidable in private hospitals. Between her accident, husband’s asthma, son’s handicap and daughter’s marriage, the family accumulated huge debts despite Mariamma’s toil in multiple manual jobs for years.
On the 1.5 acres of unirrigated land still in the name of Mariamma’s deceased father-in-law (which means they can’t avail loans and subsidies for cultivating this land), they grow finger millet and horse gram for home use. They also rear silkworms, cultivating mulberry on half an acre of land leased for an annual payment of Rs.10,000. Selling cocoons last year earned them a little more than Rs.8,300. Mariamma’s accident happened when there was a boom in cocoon price and hence couldn’t reap the rare windfall. They also keep two native cows that give milk for the family and earn Rs.6,000 annually from cow dung. Land and animals together earn a little more than half a lakh every year and around Rs 9,000 worth farm produce for family use. Their expenses on food, festivals and medical treatment far exceed earnings, especially after Mariamma’s accident. To add to the anguish, there are occasional conflicts with her son-in-law who demands money – a common occurrence in patriarchal communities here.
Despite possessing two acres and two cows, this family of just three adults is at loss on how to pull on. Such precarious lives are not too rare among farming communities. Their plight tells us how the inadequacy of public health care along with expensive customs add to farmers’ misery.