Diwakar Tapase, a father of two, drank a pesticide on his farm. He survived because another farmer found him and delivered him to the emergency room of the Government Medical College in Yavatmal in time. On his four acres, Mr. Tapase grows mainly cotton and dhal (lentils). Like most farmers in the Vidharbha region he depends on monsoon rains. With input cost steadily rising, he decided to build an irrigation well to reduce his weather dependency and mitigate farming risks. Soon after, he started panicking about the combined debts of earlier crop loans and the new loan for his well. Although about four farmers kill themselves in Vidarbha every day, 80-90 percent of the attempted suicides fail, according to Dr. Warade of the Government Medical College in Yavatmal. On average about 100 people who attempted suicides were delivered to his emergency ward per month. About 70 percent of people try to kill themselves with pesticides; the rest are by self-immolation, hanging or jumping into wells.
Women workers carry charcoaled cotton to the machine that separates still-useable cotton from ashes. This factory specializes in cleaning cotton that was burned during the regular fires in the bigger factories. The fires often occur when the cotton price is falling and the factories insured their cotton at a higher price.
A group of adivasis, tribal people of India, camp out on a cotton farm near Pandharkawada. The group moves from farm to farm as daily workers, picking cotton or chilis or taking on any other work. They do not own any land, and in their native area, they don’t have any employment opportunity.
Kishore Tiwari has made a full-time job of raising awareness of the cotton farmers’ plight and the agrarian distress in Vidarbha through his organization Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti (VJAS). In 2015 the Maharashtra government appointed Kishore Tiwari to head the Farmers Distress Management Task Force to address farm distress in 14 cotton-growing districts of Maharashtra and recommend agro-reforms.
The man I met at a secret location in Pandharkawada had every reason to be suspicious and to demand anonymity. He had been a moneylender for 35 years and inherited the business from his father and grandfather. With farmer suicides peaking in the region of the small village of Sahukar, local moneylenders were blamed for the crisis. A few had been charged in court, and a crackdown on the old credit system of the villages was under way. They were an easy target, as many charge usurious interest rates, take the farmers’ land titles as a collateral, have their strong men threaten the farmer if he delays payments and at times even take the farmer’s daughters home and rape them. But as bad as many moneylenders are, they only part of the problem. Anoop Sadanadan, a political economist at Syracuse University, argues in a study that “the increase in suicides among Indian farmers is an unanticipated consequence of the bank reforms the country undertook since the early-1990s. In particular, the entry of foreign and new generation private banks has made banking in India competitive and led to fewer loans to agriculture and farmers. With increased competition, banks saw lending to the farm sector as unprofitable and unreliable.” As thousands of bank branches shut down in rural India and institutional credit dried up, farmers turned to moneylenders, often getting private loans to pay off the bank and vice versa, until the scheme collapses. With the crackdown on small private moneylenders — some of whom went bankrupt and committed suicide themselves when farmers defaulted on paying – another more-potent predator entered the scene that by now rules the rural economy: Input traders, who sell seed, fertilizer and pesticides, became the new creditors. They sell the farmer inputs that will generate the highest profit, dictate the prices for these inputs and finally force him to sell his crop at the lowest rate to pay the loan. When a lot of disillusioned farmers in Vidarbha tried to shift away from cotton and towards soybeans in 2008, some input dealers responded by holding back on fertilizer. They wanted to sell Bt cotton seed, which generates a higher profit for the dealer.
One year after the suicide of her husband, who poisoned himself with pesticides, Bhim Bai Dauwlat Tekam hosts her family for a traditional ritual, called Shraddha. It‘s believed that after the soul leaves the body, it stays around for a while. The Shraddha ritual helps the soul to break the bonds with its old life and guide it on its journey.
Bhim Bai Dauwlat Tekam lives with her 9-year-old daughter in a small village near Pandarkawadha. Her husband Dauwlat Tekam poisoned himself with pesticides a year before. Now Bhim Bai worries how to raise her daughter since she doesn’t know how to farm by herself. When farmers commit suicide, their children are often forced to take on adult responsibilities and drop out of school, and for girls, marry early so the family has one less mouth to feed.
The farmer suicides in India are probably the largest sustained wave of suicides ever recorded in human history. The number of farmers killing themselves over the years varies, though. According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), a total of 296,438 farmers killed themselves between 1995 and 2013. Some studies argue that the share of farmers killing themselves is not higher than suicides of other occupational fields — and even low compared to farmer suicides in other countries, such as France. More than 600 million Indians are dependent on agriculture for a living — about 50 percent of the total population. But this includes all people working in farming-related activities. According to the 2011 census, India has about 95.8 million people for whom farming is their main occupation. That’s less than 8 percent of the population. While the federal census considers someone a farmer if he or she farms a piece of land, independent of ownership, police stations that record suicides across the country – and send their data to the NCRB – count only those with a title to land as a farmer. So excluded from the official farmers suicide statistic are: tenant farmers, who don’t own the land they are farming; Dalits and adivasis, who rarely have a land title; women farmers, who are mostly not recognized as farmers but defined as farmer’s wives; and many others. But it doesn’t stop there. As farmer suicides have become a politically damaging issue, officials have good reason to massage the numbers downward even more. So when assessing whether a suicide is a genuine farmer suicide, meaning a result of agrarian distress and indebtedness, farmers who were drunk at the time of death are considered ineligible. So are farmers who have been fighting with their wives or who had medical issues. They are listed under different categories — especially the notorious “others” category, where one third of all suicides in India were recorded in 2014. So, the 300,000 recorded farmer suicides since 1995 might be the tip of the iceberg. For further reading on the massaging of suicide data, see this excellent article by P. Sainath: http://wp.me/p4xFjk-n6
If I were given a choice, I would like to be born as a European cow, but certainly not as an Indian farmer, in my next birth. In Europe a cow is getting $2 subsidies for her maintenance from the European parliament, and a human being in the developing countries is just living on $1 per day. So if you can give good treatment to your cows, why can‘t you give good treatment to the human beings in the rest of the world?“ Farmers' leader Vijay Jawandhia told me in 2008.
Workers prepare ginned cotton with chemicals to protect it from rotting at a cotton gin in Wardha, India. . . . . #WhiteGoldProject #cotton #agriculture #India #bombayfc #photostory #documentaryphotography #everydayasia #everydayeverywhere copyediting: @jennfields_co
During the high cotton season, from November through February, workers at a Yavatmal ginning work all day and night in two shifts. At the end of a two-year training period, a worker earns between 3,000 and 3,500 rupees per month. Incentives such as paid vacation, medical leave and a pension system make this one of the best jobs in the region. . . #WhiteGoldProject #cotton #agriculture #India #bombayfc #photojournalism #slowjournalism #Storytelling copyediting: @jennfields_co
A ginning worker protects himself from the fine cotton fibers flying around in the factory, where cotton is delinted from the seeds and the lint is pressed into 160 kg bales. . Follow me on the cotton journey on https://www.instagram.com/uwehmartin/ . . . . #WhiteGoldProject #cotton #agriculture #India #bombayfc #visualstorytelling #storytelling copyediting: @jennfields_co
Farmers weigh their cotton — in filled and empty bullock carts — at a ginning in Pandharkawada, India. When India joined the WTO, the government was forced to abandon buying cotton at a guaranteed price. The country was flooded with heavily subsidized U.S. cotton, which spiraled prices down. In the U.S., harvesting government subsidies is nearly as lucrative as growing cotton, and without subsidies most cotton production would neither be economical nor competitive on the world market. So local farmers in India compete not only with fully mechanized and industrialized high-tech agriculture, but also with the US. taxpayer subsidizing their farmers. . . #WhiteGoldProject #cotton #agriculture #farmersuicides #India #bombayfc #colonialism #globalization #visualstorytelling #Storytelling #subsidies copyediting: @jennfields_co
Hundreds of farmers bring their yield to the cotton market in Pandharkawada. Often they have to camp for days before the cotton is priced by the merchants. This is part of the attrition strategy by the small group of buyers to force the prices down. Under high pressure from the moneylenders – who are often the same people that sell the seeds and pesticides and eventually buy the cotton – the farmers have no choice but to accept the price offered to them. It is no wonder that the time of the harvest is also a peak season for suicides — when the desperate farmer realizes that he will not get the price that will enable him to repay his debt. . . #WhiteGoldProject #cotton #agriculture #farmersuicides #India #bombayfc #colonialism #globalization #visualstorytelling #moneylender copyediting: @jennfields_co
The wives of cotton farmers in Vidarbha live in constant fear for their husbands’ life. In 2007, a farmer committed suicide every six hours. Farmers have been killing themselves both in years when the crop has been excellent and in the years it has failed. They kill themselves when it rains and in times of drought. There are many reasons for the dire situations farmers find themselves in: A shift from food crops to cash crops has taken away their self-sufficiency and left them highly susceptible to global price fluctuations. Rising production costs, declining prices and crop failure due to pest attacks and disease increased the financial risks in farming. The inaccessibility of institutional credit forces them into the hands of predatory moneylenders. Ever-smaller landholdings — the average size of farmers’ land has halved since 1971 from 2.28 to 1.16 hectares in 2011 — makes farming economically unsustainable. Declining soil health, serious water crises, droughts and floods and various other factors, including an explosion of costs for health expenditures and children dropping out of education are all pushing farmers to edge. But when farming does badly, all related sectors do badly. No farmer orders a new bullock cart or builds a new house, and so the local economy suffers as well, and jobs dry up in the villages. As a result, an average of about 2,000 farmers have been quitting farming every day since the census of 1991, moving to small towns and swelling the slums in the cities. . . #WhiteGoldProject #cotton #agriculture #farmersuicides #India #bombayfc #colonialism #globalization #visualstorytelling copyediting: @jennfields_co
The farmers’ suicides are considered a national shame by many, as the farmer is still widely seen as the backbone of the Indian society. Cotton is a crop that symbolizes the struggle for independence. Gandhi made it the patriotic duty of every Indian to spin his own cotton and weave his own cloth in a rejection of machinery that, for Gandhi, symbolized the British rule. This history one is a reason why Vidarbha, more than any other place, has became a symbol of the ongoing farm crisis. Here, cotton, once called “white gold,” is the main cash crop available in this dry country, where the crisis is most acute. According to a 2006 study by the Government of Maharashtra, out of the 2 million farmers there, about 430,000 are in extreme distress. On average these families’ food stocks last for just two days, and often the adults alternate on one or two days a week with fasting – a life on the verge of starvation. . Follow me on the cotton journey on https://www.instagram.com/uwehmartin/ . . #WhiteGoldProject #cotton #agriculture #farmersuicides #India #bombayfc #colonialism #globalization #visualstorytelling copyediting: @jennfields_co