Are You Listening?
By Jessica Long
13 August, 2007
of us remember the crucial failure of the WTO's Fifth Ministerial Conference
in Cancun, Mexico in 2003. It was on this day that Lee Kyung Hae, leader
of the Korean Federation of Advanced Farmers, discovered that his loudest
voice was in death.
Wearing a sandwich board
that read, "The WTO kills farmers!"- Lee took a knife and
stabbed himself in the chest. His death was ignored by the WTO and the
mainstream media. Given the lack of attention, many argue that his violent
end was in vain. Sadly, his dishonored death is one of thousands being
ignored by corporate mainstream media.
In 2003, 17,107 farmers committed
suicide. In the last few years, the number of documented suicides in
India's rural areas has skyrocketed. These suicides have become so commonplace
that they are mystifying a nation and polarizing the debate over biotechnology.
On the surface, the massive
numbers of farmer suicides lack the social unity and revolutionary opposition
other revolutions employ. In fact, the local Indian government refuses
to address the correlation between agrarian suicides and economic exploitation,
making it difficult for the international public to apply real social
forces to these farmers’ actions.
However, research shows the
massive numbers of farmer suicides are linked not only with economic
disparity, but with corporate exploitation by multinational agribusinesses.
Whether addressed as "agrarian
martyrs" or merely desperate peasantry, exploited Indian farmers,
like Lee Kyung Hae, have found that their loudest voice is in death.
In a religiously and ethnically
segmented nation, their actions have founded a cultural unity that confronts
the evils of globalization. Thus, the insanely high volume of farmer
suicides serves as a shockingly unique medium of proletarian outcry.
The Republic of India is
one of the top twelve nations in the world in terms of biodiversity.
Featuring nearly 8% of all recorded species on Earth, this subcontinent
is home to 47,000 plant species and 81,000 animal species. Simultaneously,
India is home to the largest network of indigenous farmers in the world.
Yet biotechnology has led to extreme environmental degradation in the
region, threatening to replace its diverse ecology with corporate hybrid
monoculture. The original Green Revolution was supposed to save 58 million
Indian hectares. Today, 120 million of the 142 million cultivable hectares
is degraded- over twice the magnitude that the Green Revolution attempted
to save! In the Indian state of Punjab, 84 of the 138 developmental
blocks are recorded as having 98% ground water exploitation. The critical
limit is 80%. The result has had devastating impacts on the agricultural
community, leaving exploited farmers with little choice of action. In
the past six years, more than three thousand farmers have committed
suicide in Andrha Pradesh, that is six to ten farmers everyday! When
did this start? Why is this occurring?
And why have such little
media attention been given to this crisis?
There are three potential
causes for the onset of these self-inflicted massacres:
1) exploitation by multinational
2) severe economic disparity
3) a means of resistance
by exposing the abuse of the agrarian sphere.
In 1998, around the inception
of mass farmer suicides, the World Bank imposed regulations that opened
up India’s seed market to corporate multinationals like Monsanto.
Non-renewable GM crops now replaced a self-sustainable farming system
that had been perfected over thousands of years.
While corporate agribusinesses
impose their hybrid monoculture on peasant farmers, they refuse to consider
the biodiversity that is desired to maintain traditional practices.
For example, 75% of cultivable
Indian land exists in dry zones. Non GM rice utilizes 3,000 liters of
water in order to produce one kilo, while non-renewable hybrid rice
requires 5,000 liters per kilo! Cotton, largely considered the “pesticide
treadmill,” makes India the third largest cotton grower in the
world, accounting for 1/3 of its export earnings.
Continuous GM cotton crop
failures resulted in the state of Andrha Pradesh, the seed capital of
India, prohibiting the sales of Bt cotton varieties by Monsanto. This
perpetual poverty is sustained by the bourgeois pursuit of maximizing
production at the lowest possible expense!!!!!
Last year the Indian government
forced Monsanto to cut the royalties they receive from the patented
seeds in India- but Monsanto has appealed to the Indian Supreme Court.
The economic disparity of Indian farmers only increases as they try
to keep up with the lowest import prices. It is estimated that they
are losing $26 billion annually.
In fact, non Indian farmers
receive six times the amount of GDP that Indian farmers get, requiring
an exorbitant amount of loans to be taken out. While 90% of farm loans
come from money lenders, they are charged anywhere from 36-50% interest,
placing them in a cyclical mode of poverty. Surely poverty alone cannot
be responsible for such massive amounts of bloodshed! After all, poverty
has always existed, so what is it about current conditions that have
led to all this bloodshed? The fact is that mass suicides have transformed
these farmers into agrarian martyrs for peasants everywhere. Their deaths
are inspiring significant social forces both by the government and among
its citizens. In response to the crisis, the government has implemented
compensation laws in which the victim’s family receives free electricity
and $3,500. In response to economic disparity, the Indian government
imposed a one year suspension for all agriculture loans while waiving
However, monetary compensation
laws only provide more economic incentive for suicide, thus the citizens
of India are forced to devise alternative solutions to the problem.
Arguably, the mass suicides can be seen as a revolutionary tactic...
Dr. R. Raghuarami, an Indian psychologist, argues that many of the farmers
are takingtheir lives with direct intent of addressing attention to
the agrarian struggle. He argues that “suicide by one farmer is
inviting others to do the same." The All Indian
Kisan Sabha (AIKS), or peasants
front of the Communist Party in India view this agrarian crisis as a
direct result of proletarian exploitation. S. Ramachandran Pillai, AIKS
president, “called for a united movement of the peasantry to fight
the neo-liberal imperialist offensive looming large all over the country."
AIKS has formed allies with other social groups like the Agricultural
Workers Union, Adivasi Kshema Samithi, Center for Indian Trade Unions
and the Democratic Youth Federation of India to combat neoliberalism
and to voice demands for proletariat justice.
The nation is calling upon
cultural unification to combat the imperialist offensive and the corrupt
bourgeois government. The debate on the true reasons for the uproar
of suicides and the effects of GM crops remains heated... but, unfortunately,
it is very likely that the rest of the world would not have been aware
of this current crisis if it were not for these intense disputes. With
each passing day, an estimated seven more farmers die.... the question
remains, are you listening?
graduated Western Washington University with a degree in Political Science.
When she's not travelling the world, she makes her home in Washington
Share Your Insights
it! And spread the word!
Here is a unique chance to help this article to be read by thousands
of people more. You just Digg it, and it will appear in the home page
of Digg.com and thousands more will read it. Digg is nothing but an
vote, the article with most votes will go to the top of the page. So,
as you read just give a digg and help thousands more to read this article.