Indian Farmers Fight for Justice Against the Odds

The country’s legal system is full of pitfalls for the poor and rural cases receive little media attention

Indian Farmers Fight for Justice Against the Odds

Over the past five decades, Shrikant Sangvikar’s daughters have grown up, gotten married and raised children who are old enough to graduate from college. But the 80-year-old farmer continues to fight a legal battle over his family’s ancestral land that began in 1976. Back in the day, he used to cultivate rice, pigeon peas, groundnuts and sorghum on his 27-acre farm in the village of Sangvi in Maharashtra; it was enough to live a humble life with his wife and daughters. But now he is fragile, dejected and bitter, living in abject poverty with his wife, Sundarbai, 79. His chin wobbles and his voice quivers when he speaks.

“I have a principle in life,” he says. “It is worse to tolerate injustice than to enforce it.”

However, his predicament goes beyond the land dispute that his family members have waged. Sangvikar’s story is just one from among tens of millions of farmers, who are the backbone of the country’s rural economy, and their plight goes unreported. They represent 70% of that portion of the country’s 1.4 billion people who reside outside the major metropolitan areas, and occupy the peripheries of society, without proper access to health care and education. From 1995 to 2016, over 300,000 farmers died by suicide in India, according to data from the National Crime Records Bureau. In 2021, close to 11,000 farmers ended their lives, that is, at least 30 farmers were dying by suicide every day.

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