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Suicide epidemic hits bankrupt farmers of India

Published time: October 01, 2011 08:20
Edited time: October 01, 2011 12:20

A child of a salt pan worker plays on the parched dry bed in the Khadaghoda Sector in the Little Rann of Kutch (AFP Photo / Sam PANTHAKY)

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Devastated by one of the worst droughts in decades, farming does not get much tougher than in India where thousands left with poor harvests and big debts have been driven to take their own lives.

­Sadly, the government has turned a blind eye to the growing problem.

The farmlands in Telangana region in southern India are commonly known as the country’s ‘rice bowl’. They may look lush under the brightly shining sun, but the grass is far from greener in this once-fertile land where farmers are killing themselves in their thousands.

Ramalaxmi, the widow of a farmer who took his own life, reveals that “most of the farmers are committing suicide due to the influence of other farmers who committed suicide.”

Ramalaxmi’s husband was one of many who succumbed to the problems brought by drought and debt.

Some of the driest weather in decades and an increase in the use of pesticides and fertilizers have rendered their land barren.

For the grieving families left behind, the future is grim.

“How I should carry on with my life? Nothing is good for me and my children and there is no-one to help us. How do I bear this trouble? Someone needs to help us,” Ramalaxmi laments.

The government says it is attempting to deal with the high number of farmer suicides by compensating the affected families to the tune of $2,000. But many have not received the money. And those who have, say it is not enough.

Studies show that during the 1990s, farmers were able to make around $60 per acre of land every year.

Today it is barely $40 for almost four acres.

The government has pledged billions of dollars in relief packages to farmers and promised to increase the minimum rate on certain exports, yet many believe the farmers are being ignored.

“The government is neglecting agriculture. Basic information like when power will be there or not is not available for the farmers. Government is not providing sufficient loans, so farmers are being forced to knock on the doors of money lenders,” claims Indian Farmers Association member Ravinder Reddy.

Those who have tried to beat the drought themselves took out huge loans to dig wells. But for many, it has been in vain.

“We are losing money by making these wells, but we are surviving because we are determined not to commit suicide. We farmers are leading a very sad life,” confessed Gattanna Swami.

Sinking water tables mean these wells are useless, but have left a deep hole in farmers’ pockets.

The state banks turned their backs on those who could not repay their debts.

Loan sharks are now demanding exorbitant interest rates and will not take no for an answer.

The father of a farmer who committed suicide told RT that “The money lenders and financiers are frequently visiting our home and torturing us – they want us to repay a huge sum.”

Widows like Ramalaxmi are now the breadwinners, tending to two acres of desolate farmland and rolling cigarettes to earn money to feed her children. Like her late husband, she has no-one to turn to and no way out: a lonely life, even though there are thousands just like her.

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