Today was a day for spiritual rejuvenation and refocusing. As part of the review on day 7, Rajagopal P.V spoke about the spiritual aspects of the Yatra and explained that “this is a Yatra for understanding peoples’ suffering. When this suffering is carried on for long enough, two outcomes are usually seen: People either get frustrated and reject the entire constructive exercise or become violent. Inner growth is needed to contain this anger, process it to channelize it in a constructive way. If you do not carry out inner exploration then your work will remain a superficial exercise.”
On its way to Dharma Bharathi Mission’s ashram 20 km from Ernakulam, the Yatra met with a small group of farmers protesting against the Sarfasi act. This act allows banks to evict farmers from their lands and houses to recover outstanding loans. The law does not allow the eviction of farmers engaged in agriculture but the term is narrowly defined to include only the cultivation of paddy, wheat and food grains. Cashew, cardamom, pepper, etc, which are commonly grown by the farmers of Kerala are seen as cash crops and are not considered in the definition of the agricultural production to be protected. Banks are abusing this act to evict farmers from their lands and houses.
Mr. Philip, a farmer from of Vazhathope Gram Panchayat has been carrying out an agitation for 557 days against the act. He explained that he had taken a loan of 1.5 lakhs which in a year and a half became 3 lakhs due to the multiple interests. Because the act limits the maximum outstanding amount to two times the original loan amount, the bank offered to close this loan by issuing a fresh loan in the name of his wife for the amount of 3 lakhs. There were cases where in a few years, farmers had outstanding loans of 10 lakhs and most of them started with a small loan of 1-2 lakhs.
The farmers also stated that their interest rate is 12-18%. The government, through NABARD, offers loans to farmers at a rate of 5% but because of several intermediary financial institutions between NABARD and the final banking institution serving the farmers, the interest rate that the farmers pay, is as high as 18%. These farmers are borrowing from a State Co-operative bank, but it is astonishing to learn about the practices of these banks in Kerala. Co-operative Banks came into existence to break the informal loan network of loan sharks, who forced poor people into bonded labor. Now they are extorting money in much the same way. Several farmers have committed suicide because they were evicted from their lands through the provisions of the Sarfarsi Act. P.T John, an M.P from Idukki led a non-violent action in New Delhi in the recent past with 400 widows of farmers who committed suicide. This is a serious issue affecting farmers, that needs to be taken seriously.
George Palakeyl, a freedom fighter who walked with Vinoba Bhave for four years during the Bhoodhan Movement, is extending his support and guidance to the local protesting farmers.
In the late afternoon, the Yatra reached Dharma Bharathi Mission’s ashram in Ernakulam. In the evening, there was a presentation by Shri. Rajesh Bharath an activist involved in the India Against Corruption’s campaign in Kerala. We also had a prayer session led by Shri Vinay Sagar for about an hour which was followed by bhajan singing.