The Marathwada and Vidharbha regions have been facing recurring droughts, which have been causing irreparable financial losses in the agricultural sector for the past five years or so. It has eventually even led to young farmers taking the drastic step of committing suicide.
But even though droughts have been a recurring problem for years, they have been viewed in an insensitive way by people particularly in the urban areas and, of course, by policy makers — and as a result, the families of the farmers have been left to suffer on their own.
However, the NAAM initiative, propelled by actors Makarand Anaspur and Nana Patekar, worked as a catalyst to draw the attention of the public towards the problems of farmers. Besides acting as a catalyst, the actors have also been roaming around personally in the affected parts and have been giving financial aid to affected families.
Even common people have shown definite interest and have come forward to contribute towards the assistance of farmers. Even Mumbai’s dabbawala union, whose members live hand-to-mouth, has started making contributions towards this end.
Here is a tete-a-tete between Makarand Anaspure and Vishnudas Sheshrao about the inception of NAAM and its progress.
Q: What made you to go back to Marathawada to help farmers?
A: It was a desperate restlessness in my heart that drove me. I felt that I am hardly doing anything for my fellow people. Young farmers have been committing suicide and we as a society have failed to stop it. It caused me sleeplessness for nights. Then I decided to help them just for my satisfaction.
Q: How did this movement start?
A: One day, I got a call from Nana (actor Nana Patekar) asking me to lend a hand in giving some money to the families of farmers who have committed suicide in Marathawada. I refused to let him do it alone. I requested him that we go together and hand over the money. So we went together and did our job.
We have been helping since 2012 but we did not tell anyone. We performed our good deeds in secret. But this time, we realised that as individuals we have limitations and decided to request our friends to help us in helping poor and affected farmers. One by one, the number of members increased and it turned into a movement.
Q: What is the nature of your help?
A: Initially, our target was to help 60 affected families in Beed and another 60 families in Nagpur. In Beed, there were 112-odd affected families. We thought helping only 60 families would amount to injustice for the rest of the 52 families. So Nana stretched our budget, but we were still behind our target and so we put out a request to some friends.
Eventually, the number of friends increased, as did the amount of help for affected families. At present, considering our resources, we are giving Rs 12,000 plus a travelling allowance to affected families.
Q: Rs 12,000 will last for a year, so what next? Are you thinking of any long-term plan for their sustainable development?
A: These widows are as young as 27 or 28 years old. They have children who need education. Nana had put forward the thought that we give employment to these young women. Our plan is to train or give some kind of vocational training to them so that they would become employable.
Q: There is an allegation that the lure of government funds and private donations are compelling farmers to commit suicides.
A: I, at least, don’t buy this thought. It has no rational logic. Whoever buys this thought, ask him, if he commits suicide, and we pay the same amount of funds to his family, would he kill himself?
Believe me, someone who gets two square meals at the end of the day will never think of committing suicide. Those who have committed suicide are very young men. Well, at this point, I think that rather than being paralysed through an analysis of issues, we should come up with concrete plans to help them.
Q: The Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) has threatened to boycott the movies of actors who will not help distressed farmers’ families in the state.
A: Everyone has liberty to speak and behave as they wish. We don’t want to criticise anyone.
Q: As a sensitive actor, what is your stand on their threat?
A: Honestly, I don’t have any stand on it. But as a sensitive actor, I believe that it is society that makes us great. And in return, it is an artist’s duty to help society in a situation of distress.
It was alleged that Nana professes regionalism, but the truth is that he was the first to respond during the Bihar floods. He had donated Rs 25 lakh to the state of Bihar. Whether you belong to Uttar Pradesh, Bihar or Maharashtra, you should help society when people are in need.
Q: Over the years, the amount of rainfall has been decreasing dramatically, and the problems of farmers in the state have been increasing. For how long are you going to help?
A: The same question was asked by one of our colleagues. His point was, farmers’ suicides are becoming a recurring problem and how long will our help last? Our unanimous resolution was not to be pessimistic and continue the help till we can!
Through the NAAM foundation, we are creating a network of experts in various fields, such as water experts, geologists, lawyers and professors. The aim is to make water management possible in severe drought-affected areas. Our request is that you donate your time and effort for water conservation projects in these areas. Such help will be lasting and it will resolve the issue.
Q: At every point, you have been talking about Nana. What is your relationship with him and when did you meet him for the first time?
A: He (Nana) is my teacher, my friend and many more things for me. I met him at a felicitation programme for a drama competition in which I stood first. While giving me the prize, he advised me to come to Mumbai, where the film industry is hunting for good actors.
I packed my bag and came to Mumbai. Initially, he helped me with all his means. I used to call him even when I got directions wrong in the city. He was kind enough to help me. He also helped professionally. He offered me a role in ‘Yashwant’ and ‘Wajud’. This gave me a platform to make my place in the industry.