Three Kerala farmers who overcame giant odds to pursue their passion

Since late last year, farmers in various states in the country have been waging an intense protest against the provisions of a few agrarian laws enacted by the Union Government.

Even though agriculture is the mainstay of living for vast majority in our country, more and more people are shunning farming due to the exploitation of those who flex muscles of money and power. 

In Kerala too the popularity of farming has been on a steady decline, though due to various other reasons. 

The gross cropped area in the state has declined from 29,33,000 hectares in 1970-71 to 25,79,000 hectares in 2017-18, registering a drop of about 12 per cent. 

Amid such gloomy prospects, the Kerala government in 2021 introduced a special category in the Kerala State Agriculture Awards, which celebrated three persons with disabilities for their extraordinary contributions in the field of agriculture. Kumbhamma, Sreedharan and Arun Kumar share an overwhelming passion for farming and self-reliance.  

Born in the fire, can't wilt in sun

Kumbhamma,69, has converted over two acres of the sleepy foothills of Mangalassery Hill in Wayanad district's Vellamunda into a reservoir of crops including tapioca, tuber crops, millets and various vegetables. 

"I had an interest in farming since childhood. At this age, after all these years, I still feel that what I do is the best job," says Kumbhamma.

Kumbhamma ploughing her land. Photo: Sajesh Mohan

Born in the Kurichiya tribe of Wayanad, Kumbhamma's limbs gave away at an early age. But with her deformed legs and an unyielding resolve, Kumbhamma cultivates almost everything that she needs at her farm all by herself.

"My legs got paralysed at the age of three. My parents had five children but their financial situation was not sound to provide us with food all the time. My brothers used to attend school and most of the days they used to go to school after eating what was available on the field. One day while my brothers were having jackfruit, I started crying as I was also hungry. Seeing this, my father picked up a stick and whacked my brother. The stick landed on my back. I was bedridden till the age of 4 or 5," narrates Kumbhamma. 

Kumbhamma's miseries did not end there. Just as she began building a life, Kumbhamma was diagnosed with cancer. Not once, but twice. Mastectomy was the only way out and the doctors advised against engaging in arduous activities like farming. But for a free spirit like Kumbhama, this imposed rest was equal to the final one. 

"I asked my sister to bring me back here. I slowly started sitting up, gathering up stuff, even started picking up the broom and sweeping the floor. One year of practice gave me enough strength and courage to return to my farmland. And then there was no stopping," says Kumbhamma. 

Forging back life

Sreedharan, a farmer who lives in the hills of Agastyamalai in Thiruvanathapuram, lost his arms 14 years ago in an explosion that happened while making crackers to ward off wild animals.

"I could not cope with it and I was distressed for months. I was worried about supporting my family and providing for them. My wife began to take up minor works to support the family that is when I realised that sitting idle is not going to help me in any way," Sreedharan recalled. 

Circumstances forced Sreedharan to forge a piece of farming tool that compensated for his lost arms. Later, with the help of a welding shop, Sreedharan made many farming equipments to substitute for his lost arms. 

Sreedharan working in his field. Photo: Sajesh Mohan

Sreedharan is against the use of pesticides and chemical fertilisers. Dried leaves and organic matters and earthworms are his friends on the field. Sreedharan's dedication and hard work not only fetched him a livelihood but also a way to cherish his passion.

"I have a passion for farming. I am confident that if I do farming, I would not be betrayed. Water shortage, though, is a problem now. Some days, if I am not able to water my plants, I would not be able to sleep at night for fear that these would perish without water," says Sreedharan. 

Ploughing through life

Life did not mould Arun Kumar for farming, but he earned it with his enthusiasm and drive. This 52-year-old with 65 per cent disability vaulted to being a motivational figure to everyone who came across him, with sheer willpower. 

No one knows how Arun developed an interest in farming. According to Madhavikutty Amma, his mother, he was fascinated by farming since childhood. People started noticing Arun not because it was unique for a child with disabilities to engage in farming, but because his crops were high yielding. 

Arun Kumar in his field. Photo: Sajesh Mohan

"It is the general assumption and farmers from the neighbourhood used to call my son to plant the first saplings on their field," says Madhavikutty Amma. 

“He would spend hours with his plants nurturing them and talking to them. Even when he is away from them, he would be working on making the bio-fertiliser mix. He dedicates every moment to his plants like how we take care of our children."

For Arun, soil is the soul and farming is life. But even that was taken care of when Saritha, his younger brother's wife, joined their family. She understands him better than anyone else. For a person who is unable to communicate with others, Saritha became his voice. Arun, with the help of his family, has been raising long beans, ladies finger, yams, cucumber and other vegetables on the farm. Lately, he has ventured into plantain cultivation and has succeeded in it too. 

"We forget that he is disabled when we see him at work. The amount of interest and dedication that he puts into his work is something that all of us with both hands and legs should note," says Saritha. 

Sreedharan, Arun Kumar and Kumbhamma receiving the Kerala State Agricultural awards. Image: PRD Thrissur

Kumbhama, Sreedharan and Arun Kumar are the embodiments of hard work and perseverance. They are people who refused to be bogged down despite the challenges encountered. They overcame giant odds with sheer determination and intellect to pursue their passion.

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