|S.F. Bay Area Residents Hold Vigil for Farmer Suicides|
By KETAKI GOKHALE
India-West Staff Reporter
BERKELEY, Calif. — A cluster of candles flickered Oct. 2 in Sproul Plaza here on the UC Berkeley campus, as students, university professors, local residents and Silicon Valley professionals mourned the thousands of Indian farmers who have committed suicide in the past decade, and expressed sympathy for farmers ever-burdened by debt. The gathering was part of a “global vigil” organized by the Association for India’s Development, in honor of Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday and the U.N.-declared International Day of Non-violence.
The Indian Ministry of Agriculture estimates that 100,000 farmers committed suicide between 1993 and 2003. One of the hardest hit regions is Vidarbha, the northeastern region of Maharashtra, where 836 farmers, plagued by debt and poor crops, have committed suicide this year.
Experts suggest that the leading causes of farmer suicide are the lack of access to low-interest loans and the disastrous effects of chemical farming on soil and water quality. Industrial agriculture and the control of seed supply by multinational corporations has led to drastic increases in the price of fertilizers, pesticides and seeds, further deepening debt for many.
Some have suggested that globalization has played a role in the plight of Indian farmers, too — forcing small Indian farmers to compete with imports produced with heavy subsidies from foreign countries. “Our decisions right here affect farmers over there,” reflected Naveena Khanna, one of the attendees at the demonstration.
Event organizers had propped several large placards, bearing the names of all those who have committed suicide this year in Maharashtra, against a low wall. “This list is just the reported deaths,” said Berkeley resident Preeti Shekar. “Women are not considered farmers, so they’re not included here. We should remember those people, too.”
“The impact of globalization,” she said, “needs to be challenged at every level.”
Another local activist, Anirvan Chatterjee, said that Berkeley residents are uniquely positioned and can have an impact on the fate of India’s farmers. “The city of Berkeley is at the epicenter of the food justice movement,” he said. “We think of this as an India-specific issue, but there are ways of connecting it to what’s going on here.”
More than 3,000 people worldwide participated in the vigil, including several hundred participants in California.
“People who support globalization are very good at communicating their point of view,” said one man at the vigil. “There are people like us, too, who don’t agree with it, but believe in global cooperation. We need to think about how to communicate our views — and this is the sort of place where that can begin.”