Mallappa, a farmer in India’s southern state of Andhra Pradesh, left his home in August last year, he told his family he was going to “buy groceries”. They never dreamed he had decided to take his own life and was actually buying all the things they would need for his funeral.
Among the things Mallappa bought that day last August were a white cloth to cover his body, bangles for his wife, incense, a garland and a laminated photograph of himself to be displayed in his house after his death.
Upon returning to his village, he placed them all on top of his father’s grave, located on his farm.
Along with the items was a note explaining that he had decided to end his life because he could not afford to repay his loans – some 285,000 rupees that he had borrowed from banks and money lenders.
The note said that he had bought everything since he didn’t want to further burden his family with the cost of a funeral.
He then went to a small hut near his field, which he would use to rest during the day while tending to his crops. It was there that he took his own life.
Early the next morning, his son, Madhavayya, who was taking the cattle out to graze, saw the pile of new things on his grandfather’s grave – his father’s laminated photograph was among them.
“I sensed something wrong and I rushed towards the hut. To my shock, my father’s body was lying there,” he said weepingly.
Mallappa’s story is becoming a depressingly familiar one in India.
Indian agriculture has been by falling crop prices, a depleting water table and drought in the last few years. Farmers struggle with debt, and crop failures trigger farm suicides with alarming frequency. At least 300,000 farmers across the country have killed themselves since 1995.
Travelling to Mallappa’s farm, his peanut crop – ruined due to drought – is easily visible from the roadside.
“We have six acres of land. We drilled four tube wells to irrigate our crops, but three of them never supplied us with any water. The drought meant that even the fourth tube well did not give us enough water. We had planted tomato and peanuts, so we took a decision to divert water to the tomato crops since we felt we had a better chance of getting a good price for them,” Madhavayya said.
But the tomato harvest fetched a rock-bottom price. And Mallappa’s hopes – of repaying his debts from his earnings – were dashed.
Good harvests across the country over the last year have led to a crop glut, leading prices to nosedive.
The low price for tomato in 2018 meant that farmers lost roughly 1,000 rupees for every acre of tomato they harvested. Many of them dumped their entire crop on the roads to protest the price they were being offered for it.
Mallappa’s family says they never had the slightest indication that he was planning to end his life.
“When he left for the town that day, he told us he was going to pay off some of the interest on his loans, and would also come back with some provisions and fertiliser,” Madhavayya said.
“It seems he had planned his suicide for about a week, but none of us had the slightest idea.”