Talk by author and painter, Kota Neelima at SLS

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Kota Neelima, a novelist, painter and most recently, the author of Widows of Vidarbha will be doing a couple of talks at the School of Liberal Studies. I am copying the abstract for her two talks at the Humanities Seminar and Sonali’s Critical Reading class. She will also be here at lunchtime on October 11th and so anybody who wishes to chat with her then can do so.

Abstract for the Joint Humanities/Economics Seminar (title: Widows of farmer suicides in Vidarbha: A study of the invisible women of rural India) October 11, 1.15 pm, School of Liberal Studies, exact venue to be advertised soon

Vidarbha, the parched heartland of central India, has become the foremost site of farmer suicides in the country. These suicides are the most striking indictment of the neglect of agriculture by the state. But the story of the farmers’ distress does not end with their death; it lives on in the experience of their widows who struggle to survive in the shadows.

Neelima’s latest book, Widows of Vidarbha, Making of Shadows tells the story of 16 such widows who have been invisible to the state, the community, and even their families, and talks of their lost dreams, their diminished worldviews, and their helpless surrender to the conveniences of patriarchy. Between the ages of 26 and 63, the lives of these widows were followed for several years to record how they survived without hope, and what impact it had on their children. Their stories reflect the Indian reality beyond the glitter of the cities and reveal life in the dark corners of this country.

The author will present the findings of her research and discuss the six invisibilities that have an irreversible impact on every stage of life and agency of rural women. These invisibilities are imposed and maintained by the state that acts as an extension of male decision-making, which addresses the woman as a ‘difference’ that needs to be incorporated as an exception and not as a rule. The study of documents that the farmer’s widow must address establishes how the state relegates the woman as a ‘difference’ that requires separation. The standardisation of this discrimination is evident in the investigation process that the widow must undergo before being awarded state compensation for a farmer suicide. These and other findings are part of the research that was conducted in the two districts of Yavatmal and Amravati of Vidarbha region of Maharashtra between 2013-17.

Abstract for Sonali’s Critical Reading or CRE class (October 12th, Friday, Room No. 15, School of Liberal Studies)

Narrative fiction may represent the research on field when a multiplicity of methods is required for approaching the truth. Fiction based in reality provides alternative vantage points that make possible a more comprehensive understanding of the complex and layered experience of the field. It assists in mainstreaming issues like poverty, rural distress and political corruption that may be excluded from popular discourse under the control of particular interests. Fictionalisation also allows inclusion of information that may not be supported by data, but is nevertheless an expression of reality. The study of farmer suicides in Vidarbha includes narratives of the farm widows, the farm labour, the children of farmers, as well as those of the moneylenders and the state administration. The reconstruction of farmer suicides through fiction based on such narratives reveals the fault lines that may elude fact-based investigations. In this, fiction elevates the individual to represent the human condition, sometimes defying the hierarchies of structured research.

The author has written three books of fiction on farmers’ suicides and rural distress, based on her experience as a journalist and researcher. Her first novel, Riverstones (2007/Reprint, 2016 Penguin), explores the deliberate policies of the government that neglect farm crisis and deny farmer suicides. Her second book, Death of a Moneylender (2009/Reprint 2016 Penguin), reveals the hopeless poverty in villages and how it is dismissed by mainstream journalism.

Her third book, Shoes of the Dead (2013, Rupa), is the story of two young men, one from Delhi and another from a remote village, and contrasts the inheritance of power of a political heir with the inheritance of despair of a poor farmer. Her fourth novel, The Honest Season (2016, Penguin) is about six conversations that take place in a mythical parliament, and seeks to explain how the Indian democracy survives despite ignoring the needs of a vast majority of the country

About the author

Kota Neelima is an author and researcher, who writes on farmer suicides, gender and rural poor. She has a Doctorate in Political Science from the University of Delhi and a Master’s degree in International Relations from the Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi. Neelima was Senior Research Fellow, South Asia Studies at The Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), Johns Hopkins University, Washington, DC. She has been also a journalist for over 23 years, and was Political Editor for The Sunday Guardian newspaper.

Neelima’s new book, Widows of Vidarbha, Making of Shadows, (2018, Oxford University Press) presents the life of the widows of farmer suicides due to agricultural distress. Her earlier books fictionalised the narratives of rural poor and discussed facets of the crisis in Indian villages. Her earlier books fictionalised the narratives of rural poor and discussed facets of the crisis in Indian villages. Riverstones (2007/Reprint 2016, Penguin) explored the deliberate denial of farmer suicides by elected representatives, while Death of Moneylender (2009/Reprint 2016, Penguin) debated the role moneylenders played in a farmer’s life. Shoes of the Dead (2013, Rupa) was a chronicle of rural anger against urban India and The Honest Season (2016, Penguin) questioned the conduct of elected representatives within the elected Houses.

Neelima is also an artist and her works are part of collections in India and aboard, including the Museum of Sacred Art, Belgium.

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