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The Osmanabad District Cooperative Bank Ltd, has started sending notices to farmers with outstanding loans asking them to repay the loans or the bank would take socially humiliating measures against them. So far over 30 farmers in Nagur alone have received these notices; in the Lohara taluka, over 1000 farmers. The notices are dated 14th October 2016, however the farmers claim that they received them on the 23rd November 2016 (the notices are likely backdated, essentially rendering the one month notice meaningless). The farmers have been informed that unless the loans are repaid, they will begin to face recovery process in December.

Osmanabad district in the Marathwada region of Maharashtra has been experiencing drought for several successive years leading to crop failures and increasing problems with bad loans and farmer suicides. As per government records, over a thousand farmers from here have committed suicide. The actual numbers are bound to be higher, as the government records often don't record those who either took loans from unregistered money-lenders, do not have their own land, or did not leave behind a suicide note (many are illiterate). The problem of farmer suicides had reached such horrifying extents that banks had been urged caution in the recovery of loans that were not paid.

This year some late seasonal rain had brought hope. After many years, it seemed like the cycle of despair was about to break and farmers were looking forward to sowing winter crops, when a new crisis hit. Demonetisation. Banks in rural Maharashtra have seen very little by way of new notes coming in to replace the Rs. 500 and Rs. 1000 notes that have been withdrawn as legal tender. As a consequence, there is a severe cash crunch in most villages. Indeed in most of rural India. With Rabi crops due to be sowed and no money in hand to buy seed, things looked hopeless. The government allowed the purchase of seeds with old Rs. 500 notes, allowing a tentative hope to seed, when a further crisis hit several homes in Nagur village.

The Osmanabad District Cooperative Bank Ltd, has started sending notices to farmers with outstanding loans asking them to repay the loans or the bank would take socially humiliating measures against them. So far over 30 farmers in Nagur alone have received these notices; in the Lohara taluka, over 1000 farmers. The notices are dated 14th October 2016, however the farmers claim that they received them on the 23rd November 2016 (the notices are likely backdated, essentially rendering the one month notice meaningless). The farmers have been informed that unless the loans are repaid, they will begin to face recovery process in December.

osmanabad-district-cooperative-bank

This is a translation of the letter (written in Marathi):

Osmanabad District Cooperative Bank Ltd., Head Office, Osmanabad

Agriculture Credit /   / 2016-17.     NOTICE.  Date: 14/10/2016

Shri. Yadav Lukshiram Patil ,  Place:  Nagur

Greetings.

You must be aware of the economic situation of the Osmanabad District Bank. Since the bank is in a financial difficulties, the bank depositors have their full focus on the bank. Due to the increase in overdue unpaid loans there is the fear of  loss of liquidity for the bank which is now caught in this quagmire. At least at this time, the only option the bank has to improve its situation is to recover the overdue loans. Naturally, due to the pending loans with you, the bank is unable to pay its depositors the amounts they want to withdraw whenever they want to withdraw. As a result, the depositors are very disappointed with the bank operations. Similarly, many depositors, when they are faced with the prospect of being unable to withdraw their own money from their accounts are sending us statements that if they cannot withdraw their money, they will be forced to commit suicide and you should be aware that if any depositors commit suicide for such reasons, you will he held responsible and you should understand this.

You are a respectable member of the society and you have an overdue loan since 25/1/2000 with the Y. V. K. Seva Society which is a  partner of 'Bhorala' (not sure of this name). Because of your overdue loan, the bank is facing a cash crunch and the bank cannot conduct its operations effectively.

The bank's management committee, senior officers and employee association have decided to use Gandhigiri to try and recover the loans. For this, the bank has decided to do one of the following: 1) Put up a tent opposite your house to protest 2) Make use of a band  3) Ring bells

Due to these actions, your standing and image in society is likely to be in danger. Therefore, to avoid such a situation, you should immediately repay your overdue loans with interest in the concerned bank within 30 days and take a receipt for such payment. Else, the recovery team will take action as explained above.

We are deliberately writing this to you so that you are aware of the situation.

We are in no doubt that you will repay your loan and avoid any unpleasant events from happening.

Expecting your cooperation,

Details of Overdue Loans:

Type of loan,  Principal: 136300  Interest: 348930 . Total : 485230

Yours faithfully,

Sd-

Vijay S. Ghonse

Executive Director

Suresh Ediga, an NRI who had done volunteer work related with organic farming in the region over the last few years was informed about these notices when Dnyaneshwar, who runs an NGO to improve farmers' financial literacy, told him about the plight of the farmers receiving the notices. The farmers are understandably anxious. Cash strapped, demonetisation trapped, and due to sow their rabbi crops, they are in no condition to repay the loans, which have piled up over years of severe drought, with dues that have doubled or tripled in the interim in many cases. One season of rain is nowhere close to adequate to clear loans. The bank is pressuring them because the bank itself is short of cash and this year, due to the rain, the restrictions on loan recovery have been relaxed. Earlier when the bank had threatened farmers about loan recovery during drought, the district collector had intervened. It is unclear what will happen now. Suresh has contacted the district collector again, who has assured him that he will intervene to ensure no harassment happens, but it appears to be a far-from-resolved situation.

The bank itself is close to bankruptcy. Dnyaneshwar contends that far larger loans taken by politicians, sugar factories and other local bigwigs were written off routinely, while farmers are pressurized to repay their own loans. An interesting practice is that moneylenders take loans from the banks and loan this money to farmers. These loan defaulters are politically powerful and well connected and the farmers are not able to confront these practices for fear of backlash. The bank is aware of these practices and yet easily extends loans to them, but the loans to ordinary farmers are very difficult to get and the interest is calculated in a manner that the farmers cannot understand, departing from RBI guidelines where the amount of interest should not exceed the capital. Farmers have often been advised to restructure but they have not been provided adequate information and bank officials, from time to time have taken their signatures on various papers, but no restructuring appears to have taken place. In several cases, the interest is several times the capital. With demonetisation no one has any money at all, and the bank seems to have seen this as an opportunity to extort whatever cash they can get their hands on, from farmers.

All the farmers receiving these notices are planning to meet collectively to decide a course of action. With their backs to the wall and at risk of suicide, they are being threatened that they will be held responsible for potential suicides of those who will not be able to withdraw money from the bank due to their non-repayment of dues. They fear harassment from the recovery agents of banks. Being financially vulnerable themselves in a region where there are several suicides of farmers per week, the threat of being held legally, socially or morally responsible for the suicide of any another person, even in an illogical manner, is a particularly traumatizing threat. The idea that they could publicly be accused of causing suicides and humiliated has them all in a terrible state and Dnyaneshwar fears that this kind of extortion can lead to increased suicides this year. It is a Mexican standoff made worse by the cash crunch stemming from demonetisation. The farmers inform Suresh that they have been warned of actions taken to socially humiliate them beginning in December unless they pay off their dues.

Unless something is done to defuse the situation, the farmers could be faced with harassment over loans they don't have the money to pay off in addition to the stress of not having legal tender for expenses related to winter sowing (they can only buy seeds with the old notes). Banks need to find cash to satisfy increasingly irate customers bombarded with information about the withdrawals they are entitled to make, yet almost never see in rural India. People need money to survive, and banks are where they have been told they can get the money. It is a tinderbox of desperation waiting for a spark.

What happens next is anyone's guess.

Update: This story has been taken action on. It is now getting the attention of various people from banking to government and media. More information will definitely follow. There are actions being taken to protect the farmers from further threat.

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This post began life as an attempt to boost the response to the latest wave of targeted violence and/or State-sponsored suppression of civil liberties in Chhattisgarh. Even as I typed away, trying to summarize the ever-mounting brutality in that state, the news breaking from the University of Hyderabad took centre-stage. Every day this past week I have been reflecting on the horrors unfolding in India. Whether Chhattisgarh, or Jharkhand, UP or Hyderabad there is only the sense that the various agencies of the central and state governments are brazen in their attempts in maintaining control of their narrative, either through commission or omission.

The War against Scholarship

The Central Government's Ministry of Human Resources &amp; Development seems to be waging its own war against universities across the country. The earlier controversy at FTII was just the curtain raiser - the Ministry recanted on its decision to stop Non-NET Fellowships last year after massive protests from students across the country. But now it seems to be opening that can of worms all over again - with the current fire directed at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences. However, over and beyond the critical question of supporting research is the amount of control being handed to the Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), the student arm of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).

The massive blow-up of sloganeering at a student event at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (even if it was about the controversial hanging of Afzal Guru), now appears to have been kicked off by the ABVP inviting media teams to campus, possibly without permission from the necessary authorities. Even as student leaders from other campus bodies were arrested (and subsequently released on bail), no questions were asked of the ABVP's leadership, with them seeming to get implicit support even from the Central Cabinet. This has emboldened them to become the government's henchmen on various campuses.

Which brings us to the grim episode as yet unfolding at the Hyderabad Central University. This too, started last year, with the shocking apathy of university officials towards Dalit research scholars leading to the suicide of #RohithVemula. The central player in that episode, the Vice-Chancellor Appa Rao Podile, was suspended pending investigation into his abetment of Rohith's suicide. Strangely, he made an unannounced return to campus, in what appears to be a carefully orchestrated move. Again, it is important to note that on his return, Podile had the ABVP's support, as noted by many of the student protestors.

The other thread throughout this narrative is the inordinate, disproportionate amount of violence by the State. If Delhi witnessed scenes of lathicharge, water-cannoning, etc. during the UGC protests, the violence against the #HCU students seems to on a different scale altogether. It is almost shocking to think that this latter bout of violence has, up to the time of writing this, not received even one statement of censure from any state or central government official. Add to this the fact that the police detained and questioned protestors in Chennai (for attempting a hunger strike) and Mumbai as well.

As I write this, Pune's Fergusson College is becoming the latest theatre in ABVP's war for control of campuses India-wide. In this, the ABVP is only following the #BJP, whose gameplan to be India's politics new singular force was signaled by Amit Shah when he first took over as the BJP President. To be fair, there were some ABVP members who found the whole JNU fiasco, particularly the assault by the lawyers at Patiala House, revolting enough to step down.

Highlighting the Real Issues

The issue of student scholarship must be seen in the light of whom it affects most. The most-telling characteristic of the student politics at JNU and HCU is that they empower students from the most marginalized sections of society who would otherwise hardly get such an opportunity.  Their battle must therefore be seen against the backdrop of the various conflicts being fought in the remotest parts of India. As the journalist P Sainath said when speaking at JNU after the arrest of Kanhaiya Kumar, JNU was now fighting the criminalization of dissent that had long been fought by India's poorest and most disempowered.

In Chhattisgarh, the State has continuously waged war against the tribals in the quest to make mineral resources available to corporates - this war is older than the state of #Chhattisgarh itself. Much of the most critical reportage on the circumstances in the state are already beginning to look dated, although their relevance is as yet intact, with on-ground situation mostly remaining intact, until now. Commentators now see a "Mission 2016", particularly in #Bastar, wherein any and every agency that attempts to speak for the tribals is flushed out of the State - the Jagdalpur Legal Aid Group has been forced out, likewise doctors and journalists. Those two bravest of local voices - Soni Sori and her nephew Lingaram Kodopi are being attacked more insidiously now, but continue to speak. As do other local activists and lawyers like Bela Bhatia and Shalini Gera continue to hold their ground, even as they too are targeted by the government.

In Maharashtra, the impact of the irrigation crisis has now been compounded by the crippling drought that affects a large swathe of the state. The famed Section 144 of the Criminal Penal Code, is now imposed in places like Latur prevent riots over water. Latur's MLA, meanwhile, has disappeared leaving even his party whip in the legislature clueless. On the other hand, the state's Attorney-General, Shreehari Aney, has resigned his office after the legislature found controversial his support for separate statehood for Vidarbha and Marathwada (Latur falls in Marathwada, btw). Mr. Aney is now planning to take his protest to Jantar Mantar. It is useful to remember that Devendra Fadnavis sought his mandate in Maharashtra on this very promise.

The list goes on - the state of Orissa now fights the very people it is supposed to represent to get mining rights for POSCO in Niyamgiri, while Jharkhand's cow vigilantism seems to find support at the highest echelons of government. There are famine-related horror stories coming in from Bundelkhand,

Response

The purpose of this article is to not to recount a litany of horrors,  but to highlight the urgent need for responses. The resignation of Mr. Aney, the Orissa government's lawsuit, the ABVP members' resignations can all be seen as alarm bells of one kind or another. The journalist Prem Shankhar Jha also highlighted the worsening situation of India's Muslims vis-a-vis education and unemployment.

The students of various institutions have also shown the way, by becoming a credible opposition to the whip being wielded by government.

It is now essential that empathetic citizens also raise their voices. In Bastar, when journalists found no one to carry their stories, they went online, posting stories on Facebook. Suresh Ediga and Bhavana Nissima are now using social media to leverage public support for the initiatives of Soni Sori, through their  #OneMillionPostCardCampaign for #Bastar. Similarly, most of the news from Hyderabad has come out through Facebook, with the Joint Action Committee for Social Justice -UoH carrying content on its page.

The violence highlighted here runs across caste, class and (religious) community lines, especially in the run-up to elections. There is a visible attempt to communalize violence that isn't communal to begin with. Ultimately, these issues, along with those of land and water, will affect each and every one of us. I ask, beg, request, that readers at least broadcast any and every effort at combating these issues, if not supporting them in every way possible. Good night and good luck!