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Farmers’ counselling after 3 suicides: ‘Away from kin, stir taking a toll’

Followed by three suicides and an attempted suicide by farmers protesting at Delhi’s borders, counseling services are now being provided in Singhu and will begin in Ghazipur in the next few days. On Thursday, the counselors came to the aid of a person from Kurukshetra who had slit his wrist, escaped with superficial injuries, who was now employed in ‘seva (voluntary service)’ to keep him occupied.
While the doctors were present at the protest sites, the NGO United Sikhs decided to offer counseling services alarmed by suicide cases and worried that there might be a spurt as long stays in the open and in the cold, with no quick resolution in sight, are playing into the minds of farmers.
Jasmeet Singh (45), who is part of the United Sikhs Camp in Ghazipur, said he had written pamphlets and posters in Singhu a few days ago in Gurmukhi, encouraging farmers to come forward if they had any mental health problems.
The resident of Kurukshetra, who tried to kill himself, said he had come to the protest site on January 2. “I rushed into running traffic earlier, and I suffered injuries. I’ve been feeling very low, and talking to someone makes me feel a little better,” he said.
“The pamphlets and posters we put up read — ‘How are you feeling? Is there any depression, irritability, agitation or anxiety? Come to us and we will help you’. We felt that with the recent suicide cases and farmers being away from home and their families for so long, there was a need for counseling,” Singh said, adding that pamphlets to be put up at Ghazipur were also ready.
At Singhu, among those holding counseling sessions are Sanya Kataria (26), who is doing PhD at Amity University, Noida, and is a Resident Clinical Psychologist at the university, and Manmeet Kaur (26), who has a private practice.
Kataria said the number of farmers coming to them has been rising every day. “We have seen around 50-60 people till now, and have taken proper therapy sessions with around 15-20 of them. The main issues we are seeing are depression, anxiety, aggression and agitation. There is also the issue of grief; of losing your fellow farmers,” Kataria said.
“It has been 40 days since they have been here, so there is burnout. There is also a major problem with sleep; many are not able to sleep and are going through mood swings. For some, effective listening is enough because they don’t have any outlet for their thoughts and emotions. It is cathartic,” she said, adding that those in need of medication are advised accordingly.
Farmers come to them with family issues, too. A driver from the farming family in Haryana kept breaking down, telling the counselors, “At least someone is listening to us. It makes a big difference.”
Doctors say that exposure to the cold also leads to physical illness.
Dr. Harwinder Passi (26) of the Khalsa Sewa Society, Canada, has just set up a camp in Ghazipur with leg massage and other physiotherapy equipment. “We did a recce and found that because of the cold, a lot of old people were facing bone and muscle problems,” he said.
The three cases of suicide included Sant Baba Ram Singh (65), a religious leader from Haryana’s Karnal district who shot himself near Kundli; Amarjit Singh Rai (63) from Punjab’s Fazilka district, who used pesticides at the Tikri protest site; and Kashmir Singh Dass, a septuagenarian who hanged himself in the Ghazipur protest. Niranjan Singh from Punjab’s Tarn Taran district attempted suicide at the Singhu border by consuming pest control tablets.
The United Sikhs, meanwhile, are providing another relief. There are now four washing machines and dryers running at the Ghazipur protest site, so that farmers do not have to wash their clothes by hand in the cold. They run on generators acquired by a group of farmers from Shahjahanpur in Uttar Pradesh.
“We keep a register of names and contact numbers,” said Surinder Singh. Farmers give us their clothes, and we call and tell them when they’re loaded. We’ve received at least 100 requests a day since we started.”

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