Revolutionizing Awareness

helping humanity, make choices, more so through awareness, than ignorance

Posts Tagged ‘Maharashtra’

This is India – by Niyati Upadhya

Posted by Admin on November 9, 2011

http://in.news.yahoo.com/comics/this-is-india-by-niyati-upadhya-1319188441-slideshow/

From her travels around India, sculptor and aspiring photographer Niyati Upadhya shares her favourite images of Mumbai gleaming through the monsoons – the faces and occupations of India’s oldest port city, of Goa‘s winding roads and dreamy train-scapes, and the many scenes that keep India close to our hearts.

  1. Fri, Oct 21, 2011
Telephone wire, trees and trains.

  • Fri, Oct 21, 2011

 

A professional ear cleaner‘s equipment, seen in Mumbai.
  • Fri, Oct 21, 2011
  • Fri, Oct 21, 2011

    A man gets his ears cleaned in Mumbai.
  • Fri, Oct 21, 2011

    Colourful umbrellas brighten up an otherwise grey monsoon.
  • Fri, Oct 21, 2011

    Fishing villages along the coast of Goa.
  • Fri, Oct 21, 2011

    An elderly man braves the gloom, barefoot.
  • Fri, Oct 21, 2011

    A schoolboy shares an umbrella with his mother.
  • Fri, Oct 21, 2011

    Green fields by a park bench, and a single umbrella to cosy under.
  • Fri, Oct 21, 2011

    View from a train, Mumbai to Goa.
  • Fri, Oct 21, 2011

    A vendor balances his fruit on a wheelbarrow.
  • Fri, Oct 21, 2011

    Getting the job done – a man cycles along a wet road to deliver LPG cylinders..
  • Fri, Oct 21, 2011

    History’s relics.
  • Fri, Oct 21, 2011

    Women on the ferry.
  • Fri, Oct 21, 2011

    The long road ahead, Mumbai and Goa.
  • Fri, Oct 21, 2011

    Blue.
  • Fri, Oct 21, 2011

    More from Niyati Upadhya – http://niyatiupadhya.wordpress.com/
Advertisements

Posted in India Forgotten | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on This is India – by Niyati Upadhya

The GM genocide: Thousands of Indian farmers are committing suicide after using genetically modified crops

Posted by Admin on January 17, 2011

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/worldnews/article-1082559/The-GM-genocide-Thousands-Indian-farmers-committing-suicide-using-genetically-modified-crops.html

By Andrew Malone
Last updated at 12:48 AM on 3rd November 2008

When Prince Charles claimed thousands of Indian farmers were killing themselves after using GM crops, he was branded a scaremonger. In fact, as this chilling dispatch reveals, it’s even WORSE than he feared.

The children were inconsolable. Mute with shock and fighting back tears, they huddled beside their mother as friends and neighbours prepared their father’s body for cremation on a blazing bonfire built on the cracked, barren fields near their home.

As flames consumed the corpse, Ganjanan, 12, and Kalpana, 14, faced a grim future. While Shankara Mandaukar had hoped his son and daughter would have a better life under India‘s economic boom, they now face working as slave labour for a few pence a day. Landless and homeless, they will be the lowest of the low.

Indian farmer

Human tragedy: A farmer and child in India’s ‘suicide belt’

Shankara, respected farmer, loving husband and father, had taken his own life. Less than 24 hours earlier, facing the loss of his land due to debt, he drank a cupful of chemical insecticide.

Unable to pay back the equivalent of two years’ earnings, he was in despair. He could see no way out.

There were still marks in the dust where he had writhed in agony. Other villagers looked on – they knew from experience that any intervention was pointless – as he lay doubled up on the ground, crying out in pain and vomiting.

Moaning, he crawled on to a bench outside his simple home 100 miles from Nagpur in central India. An hour later, he stopped making any noise. Then he stopped breathing. At 5pm on Sunday, the life of Shankara Mandaukar came to an end.

As neighbours gathered to pray outside the family home, Nirmala Mandaukar, 50, told how she rushed back from the fields to find her husband dead. ‘He was a loving and caring man,’ she said, weeping quietly.

‘But he couldn’t take any more. The mental anguish was too much. We have lost everything.’

Shankara’s crop had failed – twice. Of course, famine and pestilence are part of India’s ancient story.

But the death of this respected farmer has been blamed on something far more modern and sinister: genetically modified crops.

Shankara, like millions of other Indian farmers, had been promised previously unheard of harvests and income if he switched from farming with traditional seeds to planting GM seeds instead.

Prince Charles 

Distressed: Prince Charles has set up charity Bhumi Vardaan Foundation to address the plight of suicide farmers

Beguiled by the promise of future riches, he borrowed money in order to buy the GM seeds. But when the harvests failed, he was left with spiralling debts – and no income.

So Shankara became one of an estimated 125,000 farmers to take their own life as a result of the ruthless drive to use India as a testing ground for genetically modified crops.

The crisis, branded the ‘GM Genocide’ by campaigners, was highlighted recently when Prince Charles claimed that the issue of GM had become a ‘global moral question’ – and the time had come to end its unstoppable march.

Speaking by video link to a conference in the Indian capital, Delhi, he infuriated bio-tech leaders and some politicians by condemning ‘the truly appalling and tragic rate of small farmer suicides in India, stemming… from the failure of many GM crop varieties’.

Ranged against the Prince are powerful GM lobbyists and prominent politicians, who claim that genetically modified crops have transformed Indian agriculture, providing greater yields than ever before.

The rest of the world, they insist, should embrace ‘the future’ and follow suit.

So who is telling the truth? To find out, I travelled to the ‘suicide belt’ in Maharashtra state.

What I found was deeply disturbing – and has profound implications for countries, including Britain, debating whether to allow the planting of seeds manipulated by scientists to circumvent the laws of nature.

For official figures from the Indian Ministry of Agriculture do indeed confirm that in a huge humanitarian crisis, more than 1,000 farmers kill themselves here each month.

Simple, rural people, they are dying slow, agonising deaths. Most swallow insecticide – a pricey substance they were promised they would not need when they were coerced into growing expensive GM crops.

It seems that many are massively in debt to local money-lenders, having over-borrowed to purchase GM seed.

Pro-GM experts claim that it is rural poverty, alcoholism, drought and ‘agrarian distress’ that is the real reason for the horrific toll.

But, as I discovered during a four-day journey through the epicentre of the disaster, that is not the full story.

Monsanto

Death seeds: A Greenpeace protester sprays milk-based paint on a Monsanto research soybean field near Atlantic, Iowa

In one small village I visited, 18 farmers had committed suicide after being sucked into GM debts. In some cases, women have taken over farms from their dead husbands – only to kill themselves as well.

Latta Ramesh, 38, drank insecticide after her crops failed – two years after her husband disappeared when the GM debts became too much.

She left her ten-year-old son, Rashan, in the care of relatives. ‘He cries when he thinks of his mother,’ said the dead woman’s aunt, sitting listlessly in shade near the fields.

Village after village, families told how they had fallen into debt after being persuaded to buy GM seeds instead of traditional cotton seeds.

The price difference is staggering: £10 for 100 grams of GM seed, compared with less than £10 for 1,000 times more traditional seeds.

But GM salesmen and government officials had promised farmers that these were ‘magic seeds’ – with better crops that would be free from parasites and insects.

Indeed, in a bid to promote the uptake of GM seeds, traditional varieties were banned from many government seed banks.

The authorities had a vested interest in promoting this new biotechnology. Desperate to escape the grinding poverty of the post-independence years, the Indian government had agreed to allow new bio-tech giants, such as the U.S. market-leader Monsanto, to sell their new seed creations.

In return for allowing western companies access to the second most populated country in the world, with more than one billion people, India was granted International Monetary Fund loans in the Eighties and Nineties, helping to launch an economic revolution.

But while cities such as Mumbai and Delhi have boomed, the farmers’ lives have slid back into the dark ages.

Though areas of India planted with GM seeds have doubled in two years – up to 17 million acres – many famers have found there is a terrible price to be paid.

Far from being ‘magic seeds’, GM pest-proof ‘breeds’ of cotton have been devastated by bollworms, a voracious parasite.

Nor were the farmers told that these seeds require double the amount of water. This has proved a matter of life and death.

With rains failing for the past two years, many GM crops have simply withered and died, leaving the farmers with crippling debts and no means of paying them off.

Having taken loans from traditional money lenders at extortionate rates, hundreds of thousands of small farmers have faced losing their land as the expensive seeds fail, while those who could struggle on faced a fresh crisis.

When crops failed in the past, farmers could still save seeds and replant them the following year.

But with GM seeds they cannot do this. That’s because GM seeds contain so- called ‘terminator technology’, meaning that they have been genetically modified so that the resulting crops do not produce viable seeds of their own.

As a result, farmers have to buy new seeds each year at the same punitive prices. For some, that means the difference between life and death.

Take the case of Suresh Bhalasa, another farmer who was cremated this week, leaving a wife and two children.

As night fell after the ceremony, and neighbours squatted outside while sacred cows were brought in from the fields, his family had no doubt that their troubles stemmed from the moment they were encouraged to buy BT Cotton, a geneticallymodified plant created by Monsanto.

‘We are ruined now,’ said the dead man’s 38-year-old wife. ‘We bought 100 grams of BT Cotton. Our crop failed twice. My husband had become depressed. He went out to his field, lay down in the cotton and swallowed insecticide.’

Villagers bundled him into a rickshaw and headed to hospital along rutted farm roads. ‘He cried out that he had taken the insecticide and he was sorry,’ she said, as her family and neighbours crowded into her home to pay their respects. ‘He was dead by the time they got to hospital.’

Asked if the dead man was a ‘drunkard’ or suffered from other ‘social problems’, as alleged by pro-GM officials, the quiet, dignified gathering erupted in anger. ‘No! No!’ one of the dead man’s brothers exclaimed. ‘Suresh was a good man. He sent his children to school and paid his taxes.

‘He was strangled by these magic seeds. They sell us the seeds, saying they will not need expensive pesticides but they do. We have to buy the same seeds from the same company every year. It is killing us. Please tell the world what is happening here.’

Monsanto has admitted that soaring debt was a ‘factor in this tragedy’. But pointing out that cotton production had doubled in the past seven years, a spokesman added that there are other reasons for the recent crisis, such as ‘untimely rain’ or drought, and pointed out that suicides have always been part of rural Indian life.

Officials also point to surveys saying the majority of Indian farmers want GM seeds  –  no doubt encouraged to do so by aggressive marketing tactics.

During the course of my inquiries in Maharastra, I encountered three ‘independent’ surveyors scouring villages for information about suicides. They insisted that GM seeds were only 50 per cent more expensive – and then later admitted the difference was 1,000 per cent.

(A Monsanto spokesman later insisted their seed is ‘only double’ the price of ‘official’ non-GM seed – but admitted that the difference can be vast if cheaper traditional seeds are sold by ‘unscrupulous’ merchants, who often also sell ‘fake’ GM seeds which are prone to disease.)

With rumours of imminent government compensation to stem the wave of deaths, many farmers said they were desperate for any form of assistance. ‘We just want to escape from our problems,’ one said. ‘We just want help to stop any more of us dying.’

Prince Charles is so distressed by the plight of the suicide farmers that he is setting up a charity, the Bhumi Vardaan Foundation, to help those affected and promote organic Indian crops instead of GM.

India’s farmers are also starting to fight back. As well as taking GM seed distributors hostage and staging mass protests, one state government is taking legal action against Monsanto for the exorbitant costs of GM seeds.

This came too late for Shankara Mandauker, who was 80,000 rupees (about £1,000) in debt when he took his own life. ‘I told him that we can survive,’ his widow said, her children still by her side as darkness fell. ‘I told him we could find a way out. He just said it was better to die.’

But the debt does not die with her husband: unless she can find a way of paying it off, she will not be able to afford the children’s schooling. They will lose their land, joining the hordes seen begging in their thousands by the roadside throughout this vast, chaotic country.

Cruelly, it’s the young who are suffering most from the ‘GM Genocide’  –  the very generation supposed to be lifted out of a life of hardship and misery by these ‘magic seeds’.

Here in the suicide belt of India, the cost of the genetically modified future is murderously high.

Posted in India Forgotten | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on The GM genocide: Thousands of Indian farmers are committing suicide after using genetically modified crops

Of luxury cars and lowly tractors

Posted by Admin on December 31, 2010

http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/columns/sainath/article995828.ece

P. SAINATH

Even as the media celebrate the Mercedes Benz deal in the Marathwada region as a sign of “rural resurgence,” the latest data show that 17,368 farmers killed themselves in the year of the “resurgence.”

Even as the media celebrate the Mercedes Benz deal in the Marathwada region as a sign of “rural resurgence,” the latest data show that 17,368 farmers killed themselves in the year of the “resurgence.”

 

When businessmen from Aurangabad in the backward Marathwada region bought 150 Mercedes Benz luxury cars worth Rs. 65 crore at one go in October, it grabbed media attention. The top public sector bank, State Bank of India, offered the buyers loans of over Rs. 40 crore. “This,” says Devidas Tulzapurkar, president of the Aurangabad district bank employees association, “at an interest rate of 7 per cent.” A top SBI official said the bank was “proud to be part of this deal,” and would “continue to scout for similar deals in the future.”

The value of the Mercedes deal equals the annual income of tens of thousands of rural Marathwada households. And countless farmers in Maharashtra struggle to get any loans from formal sources of credit. It took roughly a decade and tens of thousands of suicides before Indian farmers got loans at 7 per cent interest — many, in theory only. Prior to 2005, those who got any bank loans at all shelled out between 9 and 12 per cent. Several were forced to take non-agricultural loans at even higher rates of interest. Buy a Mercedes, pay 7 per cent interest. Buy a tractor, pay 12 per cent. The hallowed micro-finance institutions (MFIs) do worse. There, it’s smaller sums at interest rates of between 24 and 36 per cent or higher.

Starved of credit, peasants turned to moneylenders and other informal sources. Within 10 years from 1991, the number of Indian farm households in debt almost doubled from 26 per cent to 48.6 per cent. A crazy underestimate but an official number. Many policy-driven disasters hit farmers at the same time. Exploding input costs in the name of ‘market-based prices.’ Crashing prices for their commercial crops, often rigged by powerful traders and corporations. Slashing of investment in agriculture. A credit squeeze as banks moved away from farm loans to fuelling upper middle class lifestyles. Within the many factors driving over two lakh farmers to suicide in 13 years, indebtedness and the credit squeeze rank high. (And MFIs are now among the squeezers).

What remained of farm credit was hijacked. A devastating piece in The Hindu(Aug. 13) showed us how. Almost half the total “agricultural credit” in the State of Maharashtra in 2008 was disbursed not by rural banks but by urban and metro branches. Over 42 per cent of it in just Mumbai — stomping ground of large corporations rather than of small farmers.

Even as the media celebrate our greatest car deal ever as a sign of “rural resurgence,” the subject of many media stories, comes the latest data of the National Crime Records Bureau. These show a sharp increase in farm suicides in 2009 with at least 17,368 farmers killing themselves in the year of “rural resurgence.” That’s over 7 per cent higher than in 2008 and the worst numbers since 2004. This brings the total farm suicides since 1997 to 216,500. While all suicides have multiple causes, their strong concentration within regions and among cash crop farmers is an alarming and dismal trend.

The NCRB, a wing of the Union Home Ministry, has been tracking farm suicide data since 1995. However, researchers mostly use their data from 1997 onwards. This is because the 1995 and 1996 data are incomplete. The system was new in 1995 and some big States such as Tamil Nadu and Rajasthan sent in no numbers at all that year. (In 2009, the two together saw over 1,900 farm suicides). By 1997, all States were reporting and the data are more complete.

The NCRB data end at 2009 for now. But we can assume that 2010 has seen at least 16,000 farmers’ suicides. (After all, the yearly average for the last six years is 17,104). Add this 16,000 to the total 2,16,500. Also add the incomplete 1995 and 1996 numbers — that is 24,449 suicides. This brings the 1995-2010 total to 2,56,949. Reflect on this figure a moment.

It means over a quarter of a million Indian farmers have committed suicide since 1995. It means the largest wave of recorded suicides in human history has occurred in this country in the past 16 years. It means one-and-a-half million human beings, family members of those killing themselves, have been tormented by the tragedy. While millions more face the very problems that drove so many to suicide. It means farmers in thousands of villages have seen their neighbours take this incredibly sad way out. A way out that more and more will consider as despair grows and policies don’t change. It means the heartlessness of the Indian elite is impossible to imagine, leave alone measure.

Note that these numbers are gross underestimates to begin with. Several large groups of farmers are mostly excluded from local counts. Women, for instance. Social and other prejudice means that, most times, a woman farmer killing herself is counted as suicide — not as a farmer’s suicide. Because the land is rarely in a woman’s name.

Then there is the plain fraud that some governments resort to. Maharashtra being the classic example. The government here has lied so many times that it contradicts itself thrice within a week. In May this year, for instance, three ‘official’ estimates of farm suicides in the worst-hit Vidarbha region varied by 5,500 per cent. The lowest count being just six in four months (See “How to be an eligible suicide,” The Hindu, May 13, 2010).

The NCRB figure for Maharashtra as a whole in 2009 is 2,872 farmers’ suicides. So it remains the worst State for farm suicides for the tenth year running. The ‘decline’ of 930 that this figure represents would be joyous if true. But no State has worked harder to falsify reality. For 13 years, the State has seen a nearly unrelenting rise. Suddenly, there’s a drop of 436 and 930 in 2008 and 2009. How? For almost four years now, committees have functioned in Vidarbha’s crisis districts to dismiss most suicides as ‘non-genuine.’ What is truly frightening is the Maharashtra government’s notion that fixing the numbers fixes the problem.

Yet that problem is mounting. Perhaps the State most comparable to Maharashtra in terms of population is West Bengal. Though its population is less by a few million, it has more farmers. Both States have data for 15 years since 1995. Their farm suicide annual averages in three-five year periods starting then are revealing. Maharashtra’s annual average goes up in each period. From 1,963 in the five years ending with 1999 to 3,647 by 2004. And scaling 3,858 by 2009. West Bengal’s yearly average registers a gradual drop in each five-year period. From 1,454 in 1999 to 1,200 in 2004 to 1,014 by 2009. While it has more farmers, its farm suicide average for the past five years is less than a third of Maharashtra’s. The latter’s yearly average has almost doubled since 1999.

The share of the Big 5 ‘suicide belt’ States — Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh — remains close to two-thirds of all farm suicides. Sadly 18 of 28 States reported higher farm suicide numbers in 2009. In some the rise was negligible. In others, not. Tamil Nadu showed the biggest increase of all States, going from 512 in 2008 to 1060 in 2009. Karnataka clocked in second with a rise of 545. And Andhra Pradesh saw the third biggest rise — 309 more than in 2008. A few though did see a decline of some consequence in their farm suicide annual average figures for the last six years. Three — Karnataka, Kerala and West Bengal — saw their yearly average fall by over 350 in 2004-09 compared to the earlier seven years.

Things will get worse if existing policies on agriculture don’t change. Even States that have managed some decline across 13 years will be battered. Kerala, for instance, saw an annual average of 1,371 farm suicides between 1997 and 2003. From 2004-09, its annual average was 1016 — a drop of 355. Yet Kerala will suffer greatly in the near future. Its economy is the most globalised of any State. Most crops are cash crops. Any volatility in the global prices of coffee, pepper, tea, vanilla, cardamom or rubber will affect the State. Those prices are also hugely controlled at the global level by a few corporations.

Already bludgeoned by the South Asian Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA), Kerala now has to contend with the one we’ve gotten into with ASEAN. And an FTA with the European Union is also in the offing. Kerala will pay the price. Even prior to 2004, the dumping of the so-called “Sri Lankan pepper” (mostly pepper from other countries brought in through Sri Lanka) ravaged the State. Now, we’ve created institutional frameworks for such dumping. Economist Professor K. Nagaraj, author of the biggest study of farm suicides in India, says: “The latest data show us that the agrarian crisis has not relented, not gone away.” The policies driving it have also not gone away.

 

Posted in India Forgotten | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Of luxury cars and lowly tractors