‘If he stops, my life will also stop’

PARI volunteer Sanket Jain aims to traverse 300 villages across India and, among other stories, produce this feature: a photograph of a rural scene or event and a sketch of that photograph. This is the sixth in the series on PARI. Draw the slider either way to see the photo or sketch in full

“This bullock is my life,” says Mahadev Khot, a farmer since age 15. Mahadev, whose left leg you see sticking out stiffly in the photo, is from Laxmiwadi village in Maharashtra’s Kolhapur district. That leg was amputated nine years ago after being infected by a poisonous thorn in the field. Today, he supervises agricultural activities with an artificial leg, and a stick in his hand.

He grows groundnut and some jowar on two acres owned by his brother. One plot is 1.5 kilometres away and the other about 3 km from this village in Hatkanangle taluka .

“Our produce has declined this past decade due to water shortage and my injured leg. Also, this farm is on barren, hilly terrain,” he points out. Mahadev (now in his early 60s) daily covers around 6 kilometres in his bullock cart, visiting the farm and bringing fodder for his animal. “He is the one who has been taking me places, and if he stops, my life will also stop.”

“In the 1980s, I used to get Rs. 10 for 12 hours of work – cutting  one ton of sugarcane on the fields of others,” he recalls. Today it would earn him over Rs. 200. But all that ended with his injury. Nor could he gain much from his brother’s farm last year.  Animals destroyed most of the crop. “In the end, I had only  two sacks of groundnut each of 35 kilograms. I didn’t sell that as I had to keep it for the next season and also give some of it to my relatives.”

“My wife Shalabai works in this farm, and then as an agricultural labourer in others’ fields and also sells fruit,” says Mahadev. Shalabai’s gruelling day starts at  5 a.m. in the morning, and includes foraging across the hillside to collect fruit. Mahadev’s work in the farm – at Allama Prabhu dongar (hill) near Laxmiwadi – starts only around 10 a.m. Shalabai’s labour and his disability pension of Rs. 600 is what keeps them going.

Shalabai Khot, who believes she is in her late 50s, says, “Before his operation I worked four hours a day. Now I work more than 10 hours daily to make ends meet.” She sells fruit for around 45 days in a year (beginning in October). “To do that, I have to walk all the way to Narande village [3 km away] and leave for work at six in the morning.” She toils as an agricultural labourer in the nearby villages of Savarde, Alte and Narande. “For seven hours, I get between Rs. 100 and Rs. 150, while men get Rs. 200. Women work more in the fields, but men are always paid higher,” she adds.

Both their sons have left Laxmiwadi. One is a casual labourer. The other, a tenant farmer in a different village. “I had to take a loan of Rs. 12,000 for my operation which cost Rs. 27,000. My sons repaid that loan in a few years. They still help us financially sometimes,” says Mahadev.

Sanket Jain

Sanket Jain is a journalist based in Kolhapur, Maharashtra. He is a 2022 PARI Senior Fellow and a 2019 PARI Fellow.

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