Rahul`s Kalavati retreats behind wall of silence

Kalavati Bandurkar, the Vidarbha farm widow who shot to fame when Congress leader Rahul Gandhi visited her and then mentioned her plight in Parliament in 2009, is a broken woman today.

Nagpur: Kalavati Bandurkar, the Vidarbha farm widow who shot to fame when Congress leader Rahul Gandhi visited her and then mentioned her plight in Parliament in 2009, is a broken woman today. After her 28-year-old daughter committed suicide, she refuses to speak to outsiders.

She keeps to herself, mostly staying in her small hut in Jalka village of Yavatmal district in Maharashtra. When spoken to by strangers, Kalavati responds with random answers.

The woman, who has lost her husband, her daughter and a son-in-law to the unending debt cycle, either breaks down or snaps.

At one such instance, when a reporter asked her to comment on her daughter`s death, Kalavati, 55, said he should come back after a couple of her other children commit suicide.

Her daughter`s suicide a month ago came to light only Monday after an activist brought it to the fore stating that the daily tragedies of suicides among farmers in Vidarbha never seem to abate.

Kalavati`s daughter, Savita Divakar Khamankar, belonged to Ralegaon village in Chandrapur district. She killed herself because of poverty as she had no money to get treatment for her prolonged illness.

Kalavati`s farmer husband had committed suicide in 2005. She had suddenly become the face of Vidarbha`s agrarian crisis after Gandhi spoke about the condition of impoverished villagers like her in Parliament in 2009.

Now, if she comes to know of a visit from a politician or journalist, she locks her hut and goes away, returning only after she is sure there is no one waiting to sympathise with her or throw questions at her, say her neighbours and other village residents.

An activist, Nitin Khadse, who works for Sulabh International and stays in the same village as Kalavati, said she has stopped being a part of public functions or political rallies.

"She says her name is often used by politicians for vested interests. Everyone who comes campaigning to address farmers of Vidarbha region wants to make her their mascot," Khadse said.

Kalavati had, in the past, also threatened to end her own life if the state government did not intervene to resolve the agrarian crisis. She tills her three-acre plot herself and grows cotton.

She had, however, received aid after Gandhi`s visit to Vidarbha from Sulabh International, which deposited Rs 3.6 million in her name in a bank. Kalavati is currently living off the interest she receives on the amount.

"Things are better now. With the aid from Sulabh, I can feed my children and put away some amount for their future," is all she would say in Marathi after much prodding.

She refused to answer more questions or speak about the plight of her family.

She has married off six out of her seven daughters, Savita - who committed suicide last month - being one of them. Sanjay Kalaskar, the husband of her another daughter Papita, had killed himself last year due to a huge debt.

This mother of nine (seven daughters and two sons) now avoids politicians, so much so that she was not to be found when a few politicians went to seek her presence for a programme where Bharatiya Janta Party`s (BJP) senior leader LK Advani was to address a gathering.

Advani`s Jan Chetna Yatra against corruption and black money on Tuesday passed by Yavatmal town Pandharkawda, only 20 km from Kalavati`s village Jalka.

Said Kishor Tiwari, president of Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti (VJAS), an NGO that works for the rights of farmers and farm widows: "A few party workers from the BJP had gone to Kalavati`s house on Tuesday as they sought her presence in an address by Advani in Pandharkawda. But Kalavati was not to be found."


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