Through crowd funding, village visits and donations in kind, here's how seven students from KC College are championing an agrarian cause
Two months ago, a question about farmer suicides in the Sociology exam for SYJC Arts prompted Ezekiel Baskar, a student of Churchgate's KC College, to dig deeper into the issue.
The team members with CM Devendra Fadnavis
"According to reports on the web, 3228 farmers committed suicide in Maharashtra in 2015. I felt the need to do something about it because agriculture is the backbone of our country and it's our duty to respect and support the farmers. I suggested an idea of a campaign to my friends and they came on board," says the 17-year-old, who launched the Farmers Empowerment
campaign on April 6, through the college's Rotaract Club, where Baskar is the community service coordinator. Touted as the first state-level initiative by students, the core team comprises seven students from different subject streams in the college. A couple of weeks back, the team met CM Devendra Fadnavis at Vidhan Bhavan. "He was happy to see that students had taken the initiative," says Baskar, son of priest and social activist Pastor Baskar Nallathambi, who is also the founder-director of Vasai-based Faith Miracle Educational and Charitable Trust, that's supporting the campaign. It is currently being crowdfunded on Ketto.org.
Stories from the heartland
Through the initiative, the team plans to visit different parts of Maharashtra and donate books, clothes, seeds, fertilisers, water cans and tankers. During the visits, they also plan to work in the fields with the farmers to learn about their hardships first-hand. "Based on messages circulated on social media, we have collected 100 clothes from students so far and the NGO will help us with notebooks. The money that we raise will go into helping farmers with donations in kind," he informs.
(From left) Ritika Zaveri, Gunjan Punwani, Nirav Wadhwa, Ezekiel Baskar, Sahil Hathiramani, Samruddhi Purav along with supporter Rutuja Dalvi
While the team has toured Sawantwadi and Wada in the Konkan; next week, they head to Amravati and Akola and later, to Wardha and Vidarbha too. "Many people think that Konkan division doesn't have problems but that's untrue. When three of us went to Sawantwadi and interviewed 30 farmers, we got to know that the Gram Panchayat is apathetic to their problems. The village has two wells but both have dried up. Last year, two farmers committed suicide here," informs Baskar, who has planned to donate five sacks of seeds to the village, next month.
Meanwhile, sponsored by Baskar's parents, the group visited Wada in Palghar, last Friday. "We provided villagers with oil, sugar packets, biscuits and other food. We heard some heart-rending stories. The government had told one of the farmers to build a well and he was assured of getting paid for it later. The farmer arranged R60,000 from various sources and built a well. It's been three years but the government has not funded it. They have water and electricity problems too," he shares.
Ritika Zaveri, a 17-year-old FYJC Arts student and secretary for the campaign, who met the women in Wada, adds, "Most women work in the fields. They were keen to talk to us. One of the problems they shared was that the government wants to shut down a nearby school, since it's a private institution. They are worried it will affect their children's education."
Through Apulkee, a Pune-based NGO, Baskar connected with farmers in Amravati and learnt about their water woes. "One said that the government plans to supply water to them but it would be 30 kms away from the village. Apulkee is trying their best to help, and we, too, will donate four tankers," says Baskar. The team will also carry 1,000 water bottles when they visit Amravati next week. This Sunday, they've organised a fundraising rally from Marine Drive to Nariman Point that will see participation from students of different colleges.
Offering donations in kind to farmers during a village visit
"We will highlight the issue through slogans. Theatre artiste Nikhil Modak will perform a street play," says Baskar, adding that they're also making a short fiction film on the issue that will be put up on the YouTube channel, RCKCtv.
Join the rally, ON May 1, 4.30 pm to 6.30 pm
From Marine Drive to Nariman Point.
To contribute, log on to www.ketto.org