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Chattrapati Gyanoba

Gyanoba Kisambhau I am an aangotha chaap (illiterate). Thirty years ago, my father Gyanoba Kisambhau gave his land to our local zamindar for a loan of Rs 6,000. He was compelled to do so because he needed the money for my sister's wedding. Little did my father realise that he would never be able to repay the amount and that he would have to work as a landless labourer for the rest of his life.

I come from a village in Nanded, Maharashtra. The place where I live is called Markand. Since I belonged to a poor family. I never went to school.

My father toiled all his life for the zamindar in order to liberate the 2.5 acres of his land, but did not succeed. He died ten years ago without repaying his loan. Though he did collect some money before he died, unfortunately he had to spend that amount for my second sister's marriage.

My father's only regret was that he could not repay his debt and free his land. Now I toil on my own land for the zamindar so that I can repay my father's debt. And I too have not been successful in repaying that debt.

The zamindar pays for the seeds before the rains. I sprinkle them all over the field. After the monsoons, I plough the fields, cut the harvest only to return the crops to the zamindar. The zamindar in turn gives me half of the share produced and sells the other half in the market and makes money.

I donít know whether I will ever be able to repay my father's debt in my lifetime. Sometimes I think even if I do free my land, where will I get money for buying seeds and fertilisers? In my village there are many small farmers like me, who have their own land but do not have the money to buy seeds and fertiliser.

No, I did not take dowry for my marriage. My wife Sundarabai is also from a poor family like me. She also works in the fields throughout the day. Sometimes during the rainy season we help the government babus to build roads. This brings some additional income to our household.

Luckily, I have never seen a poor monsoon in my life. I donít know what Iíll do if it does not rain. Apart from working in the fields and digging roads, I can't do any other work. I have never worked in any factory or operated any machine in my life.

I have two daughters and one son. They go to school. I want them to grow up and work in offices rather than work in fields like us. I donít know whether this dream will ever come true.

Gyanoba Kisambhau I donít know any politician except Balasaheb Thackeray. I vote for the Shiv Sena. I have never heard the names of any other politician. I know something about Gandhiji, but I donít know what he did for our country. I donít know what Independence is. For me, freedom will only make sense when I will get my land back and earn more money.

I have never travelled outside Nanded. I have heard of big cities like Bombay, Aurangabad, Delhi... but I donít know what these cities look like. I did not go to these places because I have never got a chance to travel.

I donít worry about my the wedding of my daughters. I have accepted the fact that if I donít have the money they will be married to some poor men. I know the poor always marry among the poor.

As told to Syed Firdaus Ashraf. Photographs: Jewella C Miranda