Suicides in India

In the rich farmlands of India there is tragedy growing, and because of globalization, you and I are contributing to it. In the midst of a booming economy, in the “White Gold” regions of cotton farming, record numbers of Indian farmers are committing suicide. Here are the numbers: Since 2001, over 5,980 farmers from the southern Indian state of Karnataka, more than 2,410 in Andhra Pradesh, and 2,280 in Maharashtra have all killed themselves. That’s about three hundred of farmers a year taking their lives in the different parts of India since just 2000. And the total could be well over 15,000.

Those statistics are staggering, but the personal stories are worse. For example, after an unexpected, pounding rain washed away his already struggling cotton crop, 23-year-old Ravinder Kisan Piwar, who had just become engaged to be married, killed himself by swallowing the pesticides he had purchased to protect his field. Prahalad Kisan Rathod hung himself on a tree outside his house after he experienced four years of consistent crop failure and mounting debts for seed, fertilizer, and basic foods. Sixty-year-old Punaji Ramaji Jhade, was the first and still the oldest in his village to kill himself, and it was also because he could no longer pay anything to his creditors. He left his home for his fields one morning saying goodbye to his wife and children, and when he was out in his field alone, he quietly fell onto his pitch fork and onto the land that had stubbornly refused his efforts to grow cotton. In deeply traditional, honor and shame, cultures, when a man is no longer able to fulfill his designated role in society, then it is the just and moral thing to do to take his own life. It is grizzly, awful, and painful, but when faced with a choice between endless despair or honor, the honorable route increasingly wins.

Why should Christians in the US care about this personal tragedy unfolding thousands of miles away? Aside from the fact that people of faith should feel a kinship with the suffering of any other member of the family of God, a portion of the causes of the economic roots of the crises is our fault.

There are many causes for their struggles. There has, for example, been a steadily decreasing amount of rain in most of the agricultural regions of India. Also, many have gotten tied up with genetically modified seeds, which are more expensive, don’t regenerate, and require costly fertilizers and pesticides.

But another reason is the US government’s policy of paying enormous amounts of money to a handful of farmers (mainly wealthy, mainly corporate), encouraging them to over-produce commodities like cotton, rice, and corn, and then the US dumps the excess on the international market at prices no poor farmer in India, Africa or Latin America can match. By under-selling farmers all over the world we have become a major contributor to the impoverishment of millions of innocent people. The result is that the global price for cotton has been going steadily down for over a decade, while the amount we pay to our farmers —to keep them producing—has been going up.

The US Farm Bill that covers those subsidies is coming up for revision this year for the first time in several years. You can influence its out come and help feed hungry families in India, Africa, and Latin America. Call your congresspersons and ask them to vote to put a cap on the subsidies and spend the money helping our own small farmers, and at the same time increasing the national budget for food stamps.

You’ll feel better for having done it, it and possibly a family on the other side of the planet may eat better soon because of it.

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