While Karnataka has seen over 700 cases of farmer suicides in 2015, what is surprising is that a portion of Belagavi district in the state has neither witnessed any farmer deaths nor any attrition from agriculture.
“About 30-40 villages in Belagavi district have taken to the Gandhian way or simply put organic farming. A Gandhian organization that has adopted the village advises them on the kind of crop that would work,” says Maya Jaideep, a journalist who with another scribe KG Vasuki has been touring villages of Karnataka studying what farmers in Belagavi were doing right and what was going wrong in the rest of the state.
KG Vasuki and Maya Jaideep spent close to three months studying more than 50 villages in 11 districts including Mandya, Mysore, Chamarajnagar, Tumakuru, Chitradurga, Davanagere, Bagalkot, Belagavi in Karnataka.
The documentary titled 'When death strikes on the field' is due for release on October 30.
Lack of scientific study on farming and concrete agricultural policy
“We focused on various aspects that lead to farmer suicides. But what struck us was that there was an imbalance between market ecology and global changes – both of which control farmers significantly.”
Vasuki and Maya have studied the plight of sugarcane farmers for the documentary.
“There is no global demand for Indian sugar anymore. It is called white poison as it contains chemicals. So we are competing with countries like Brazil and Vietnam who export brown sugar for cheaper price,” said Vasuki.
Doles and subsidies from the government are not sufficient and the situation is only leading to death traps.
“Change in dynamics of cropping patterns was not there and instead farmers were stooping to industry demands, no scientific study and no agricultural policy per se,” said Maya.
Suicides are higher in places where there is more water available and irrigation is practiced, says Maya. “This is because farmers are spoilt for choice. They want to do everything and there is nobody to advise them,” she said.
Media’s role and copycat suicide
For the documentary the duo reached out to experts and also psychiatrists, who have researched on farmer suicides.
“While speaking to a psychiatrist from NIMHANS, he said that the kind of gory descriptions that newspapers give of suicides itself plants the idea in farmers. They copy techniques,” Vasuki said.
In 2005, the duo worked on a documentary focussed on illegal mining in India- “Death mail to Nilgiri biosphere”, which was produced as evidence in the apex court.
They have worked on several issues like HIV, environment and ecology, gender discrimination and health.