She is a political journalist and an accomplished writer whose latest book highlights the plight of the widows of Vidarbha. Neelima Kota is someone who bats for the poor and the underprivileged in society and is on a constant quest to change the political narrative. In this exclusive chat with Latha Srinivasan, she talks about her work, issues faced by farmers’ in India and more.
Tell us what inspired your latest book, ’Widows of Vidarbha, Making of Shadows’?
Kota Neelima: After a decade of researching farmer suicides in Vidarbha, I had earlier written three books that fictionalised the narratives of distress of the farmers and their families. Then in 2013, I began my fourth book that articulated the agricultural crisis from the perspective of the women of Vidarbha. The four-year exploration of the invisible world in which the widows lived culminated in my new book, ‘Widows of Vidarbha, Making of Shadows’.
NewsX: Why did you become interested in writing about social issues?
KN: Growing up in the nineties in India helped me understand the country’s flashpoints; Babri Masjid demolition, Mandal Commission, Sri Lankan conflict, economic liberalisation, Ayodhya rath yatra, to name a few. It had been my endeavour in life to write about the impact of such events on the lives of common people. What difference did it make to the poor whether there was a temple or a mosque at Ayodhya? What impact did reservations for lower castes have on the opportunities of the poor among the upper castes? It took years to write the narratives in the voice of the people, without the mediation of ideology, and politics. It is the deliberately lop-sided research and reportage that does maximum damage to the ordinary people of India. I wanted to change that.
NewsX: Do you think farmers in India are neglected by the government despite the agricultural policies?
KN: The poor of India prove that democracy has failed. The policy serves the rich and provides the necessary funding to the state and political parties for making the democratic process work. Why should profit be made from the poor farmers through seeds, pesticides, fertilizers, middlemen, etc.? Where will the poor get the money to invest when banks refuse to lend to them? What will stop the poor from getting poorer? The smart slogans have failed.
NewsX: Do farm loan waivers actually help them?
KN: If the government and political parties were committed to poor farmers, loan waivers should be detached from the politics behind it. Any farmer, who defaults once or twice on a loan, should be considered for a loan waiver as part of a procedure. Poor farmers are deeply hurt when they are unable to repay loans; they even kill themselves due to loan burden, as evident from the number of farmer suicides. The Indian state must trust its poor; they will repay every rupee they borrowed if they can. If they cannot, then the government must help the poor. After all, what is the difference between Nirav Modi and a poor farmer of Vidarbha? Every poor man and woman in this country want to know the government’s answer.
NewsX: Your book ’Shoes of the Dead’ is being turned into a film by National Award-winning director Vetrimaaran. What’s the status?
KN: Vetrimaaran would be the right person to answer this question. My book, ‘Shoes of the Dead’, is about privileges of political dynasties and the desperation of poverty in Indian villages. I compare the life of a young, ambitious politician with that of a son of a farmer. I look forward to the movie.
NewsX: You are also a painter. Do you enjoy writing or painting more?
KN: This is a difficult question. Art and literature are both forms of communication, only the mode is different. What I cannot write, I paint; and, what I cannot paint, I write.
NewsX: What’s next for you?
KN: I continue my work to communicate the voices of Vidarbha farmer suicides, especially from the gender point of view. These are the times when established norms must be redefined in every walk of life. This is the time to ask ourselves what do we believe in because the answer will decide who we are as individuals and also as a nation.