The number of suicides in India continues to increase throughout the country, but one region in particular is now becoming known as India's 'suicide capital.' Just overnight there were reports of 20 suicides in Vidarbha region.
The mainly rural Vidarbha region in the center of the country has a resource-based economy. The region, known for its cotton is plagued with poverty. Farmers are receiving less for their crops as prices have dropped. These problems have been exacerbated by poor growing conditions and rising levels of debt for farmers. The result? Over 2,000 farmers in the region have killed themselves so far this year. That is almost double last year's numbers of just over 1,000 suicides. Overall, India will normally experience about 16,000 farmer suicides a year.
The rash of suicides drew the attention of the government of India in 2007, prompting the payment of compensation to the survivors of the suicide victims. However, not all the families will receive compensation, causing people to allege corruption. The Toronto Star reports that widows are unable to sell their land because of the troubled growing conditions affecting all of India, but also because the government is focused on increasing India's manufacturing and industrial sectors and IT capacity. Genetically modified cotton has become a main source of seed in the region since 2006, and while there is no proof that the GE cotton has contributed to environmental degradation and increased poverty, some people have been pointing their fingers to the reliance upon the seed as a factor in the regions continuing problems. Cotton has been a mainstay crop for India.
The government is making some financing available to farmers across India to help take some of the pressure off the growing debt problems farmers are experiencing. Critics, however, say that very little of the loan waivers will go to farmers in the Vidarbha region. There is also an organic movement in the region and India. India's share of the organic market is $20 million, the overall market is worth some $26 billion worldwide.
Residents of Dorli, a small village consisting of 48 households in the Vidarbha region, were at one point so overwhelmed by their economic plight, the entire village was up for sale five years ago. Today the farmers of Dorli village have started to change the way they are farming. Instead of focusing on "... high-input cash crops" according to one villager, the farmers are turning to some traditional crops, such as millet, to help feed the village and their livestock. The experiment is in its first year, but already the villagers are optimistic about the future. A 2006 study on the suicide problem, Farmers Suicide, suggests that solutions already exist and what is required is a responsive government.
The suicides are drawing attention to the fact that pesticides, such as endosulfan, not permitted for use in some western countries, restricted in others, are widely available and used in India. Drinking pesticides is a common suicide method for farmers.
Pesticide use in India has increased as a consequence of the Green Revolution, and cotton is typically a crop that has been heavily treated with pesticides and herbicides. Studies have shown that people living in the Punjab region of India all have pesticides in their blood streams.