Farmer suicides in India, especially in certain districts of Maharashtra have seen a steep rise in the last decade.’ Shoes of the Dead’ by Kota Neelima is a tribute to all those dead farmers and the people fighting for their families to receive compensation. Non-fiction works related to farmer suicides abound, however a fictional work talking about the plight of the Indian farmers, due to varied reasons, was missing from the scenario. It was really great to finally find a political novel based on farmer suicides, set up in contemporary India.
This political book intertwines several aspects of socio-economic India through the eyes of an idealistic journalist, an ambitious young politician and an educated yet poverty- ridden farmer seeking justice for his brother’s suicide. In the midst of the tug-of-war between Keyur Kashinath, the young and rich politician and Gangiri Bhadra, the crusader of the farmers, there are characters like a greedy moneylender, a seemingly good district collector, unscrupulous middle men, a good and a bad maha sarpanch who plays important roles in Gangiri’s fight for justice.
Kota Neelima is a senior journalist with years of experience in reporting farmer suicide cases. In the author’s note she has specifically mentioned that farmer suicides in the Vidarbha region of Maharashtra are the soul of the book. While reading the book you can feel that it has incorporated a plethora of incidents which are rampant in India. The writer has only given fictional names and characters to portray what is actually happening to the debt ridden farmers of Central and South-West India and put forth the gravity of the situation in front of us.
The strength of the book lies in the way Kota Neelima has penned the story in a simple yet matter-of-fact way. Throughout the book she has created short sentences with simple words making this political fiction easy to comprehend. The characterizations of the dead farmers’ brother, the politician, the journalist are just apt. The book also touches the subject of how industrialization and its corresponding setting up of factories on the river banks, is ruining the land and the already depleted water needed for irrigation. It will be actually great if Kota Neelima manages to come up with another story wherein the backdrop could be this issue.
The using of political clout for vested interests, the struggle for justice and ethics in journalism forms integral parts of the book. The issue of farmers committing suicide due to increased debt, lack of financial help from the government and tricks played by the moneylenders, is serious and Kota Neelima has ensured that the stark realities are dealt with utmost seriousness and conviction. Throughout the book, right from the cover page till the end, she has been successful in finely drawing the grim scenario, albeit with a ray of hope lingering fervently at the end. Kudos to her for dealing with the issue with loyalty and a big thumbs-up to the novel. If you are looking for a thought-provoking and captivating journey through contemporary Indian politics and economy, I would definitely suggest you to grab a copy of ‘Shoes of the Dead’.