India’s Agrarian Martyrs: 17,107 suicides


Richard Moore

       In 1998, around the inception of mass farmer suicides, the
        World Bank imposed regulations that opened up India¹s 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

Original source URL:

India's Agrarian Martyrs:
Are You Listening?
By Jessica Long
13 August, 2007

Many 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 farmers¹ actions.

However, research shows the massive numbers of farmer suicides are linked not 
only with economic disparity, but with corporate exploitation by multinational 

Whether addressed as "agrarian martyrs" or merely desperate peasantry, exploited
Indian farmers, like Lee Kyung Hae, have found that their loudest voice is in 

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 

1) exploitation by multinational agribusinesses
2) severe economic disparity and

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 India¹s 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 
³pesticide treadmill,² 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 victim¹s 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 interest.

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 ³suicide 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, ³called 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

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?

Jessica Long graduated Western Washington University with a degree in Political 
Science. When she's not travelling the world, she makes her home in Washington 

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