Source: Wide Angle: "The Dying Fields"
The rural region of Vidarbha in central India has been hit hard by draughts, sinking cotton prices spurred by India’s entry into the World Trade Organization and increasing debt. These circumstances have led to a startling increase of suicide among the region’s farmers. In this video from Wide Angle, watch Urkuda Attaram as she works the nine acre farm her husband left her when he committed suicide due to oppressive debt.
Asia Map (Image)
India Map (Image)
For better or worse, the 21st century has given rise to an international form of trade known as globalization. Globalization can be defined as the worldwide integration of economic, cultural, political, religious, and social systems. The term, associated with free trade practices believed by many to benefit large multinational corporations at the expense of small farmers in developing nations, ignites controversy at its very mention. Its impact can be felt far beyond the economic sector and cannot be easily assessed.
Proponents of globalization believe it expands economic freedom and encourages competition. They believe that globalization raises the productivity and living standards of people in countries that open themselves to the global marketplace. Among those living in less developed countries, globalization offers access to foreign money, an opportunity to trade in global markets, and access to the benefits of modern technology. Globalization's strongest supporters suggest that a globalized world will result in the reduction of poverty, higher standards of living and greater democracy.
Opponents of globalization dispute these claims, aruging that the disparity between haves and have-nots has become more acute and that the environmental damage being caused by many corporations is irreparable. These critics feel that citizens of the developing world have suffered at the hands of globalization, that they have been seduced by Western consumerism, and exploited by international institutions intent on increasing profits at the expense of the domestic laborer.
Nowhere can this conflict be seen more clearly than among the cotton farmers of Vidarbha, India. As recently as July 2007, Reuters reported that farmers from the wealthy state of Maharashtra have been committing suicide at an alarming rate. Tempted by the promise of prosperity, farmers borrow money to purchase a controversial, genetically modified cotton seed.
The expensive seed requires ample water sources that are unavailable to most Indian farmers. The rising cost of chemical fertilizers and the plummeting price of cotton contribute to the economic plight of the farmers in this region. Distraught and desperate, indebted farmers have taken their lives rather than face the consequences of financial ruin.
"The Dying Fields" provides a glimpse into the shattered lives of families who have endured these suicides, and encourages its audience to examine the impact of globalization on the region. Critics of free trade policies, lack of government subsidies, and failed government relief efforts share their concern for the fate of Vidarbha's farmers.
NARRATOR Vidarbha is a region of hilly forests in the middle of India, a land that is rocky but when the monsoon behaves, it is generous. About 3.2. million farmers here depend on cotton for a living. It's become a high-risk occupation.
Urkuda Attaram shares a grinding routine tending her family's nine-acre farm with two sons and their recent brides. Like most of the 700 million people in India who live off the land, this family survives on less than two dollars a day.
URKUDA ATTARAM VO After doing work on our farm, I work on other farms. Only then can we afford food. We couldn't survive otherwise.
NARRATOR For days, this family will clear the field as they prepare a bed for the cotton seeds.
URKUDA ATTARAM VO My legs hurt. My body aches. I just feel like going home and throwing myself on the bed.
NARRATOR She runs the family farm as well as the household, a juggling act she never anticipated.
URKUDA ATTARAM VO I used to only look after the home. He used to look after the fields.
NARRATOR About a year ago, her husband, Dassaru, killed himself.
URKUDA ATTARAM VO I can't imagine why he did it. He ate well and went to bed. We don't know when he went to the farm. There was a small wooden canopy. He hanged himself there.
URKUDA ATTARAM VO He was very gentle and kind. We never used to fight.
URKUDA ATTARAM VO It's difficult to talk about him. I miss him a lot.
NARRATOR At the time of his death, her husband owed money to the bank. Most farmers must borrow money to pay for seeds, fertilizer and pesticide. In India, that means bureaucracy. Urkuda Attaram can neither read nor write, yet she competes in a global cotton market, a world that drove her husband into despair over debt. Now it's her turn to take out a loan, and she sets out on a two-hour walk to the bank.
URKUDA ATTARAM VO I think of him all the time. I think that if he were here he would be working with our sons in the fields. Now I have to do it all.
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