Just found out from the New York Times that tonight PBS will screen “The Dying Fields,” a Wide Angle installment about the epidemic of suicides among farmers in India. (Amendment: KQED will show it in the Bay Area at 8 pm tomorrow, August 29.)
According to the program, Indian farmers in the Vidarbha region in central India — where 1.8 million families farm, about as many as America has total — have been taking their own lives at the rate of one every eight hours. Most of the farmers are caught in a nightmare of debt caused by crop failures, sinking global cotton prices, and illegal moneylenders, plus the prices of genetically modified seeds and the pesticides that go with them.
Director Fred de Sam Lazaro puts it in his notes on the PBS site for the show:
It is interesting to compare the transformation of the Indian economy and where the rural economy fits in, with what happened in the United States during the 1980s where we saw massive transformation of its rural farm economy. So many farmers went out of business, so many farmers found themselves terribly indebted and so many farmers indeed in Minnesota and Nebraska, Wisconsin, Iowa, committed suicide as well. That’s happening in India on an Indian scale.
The distress has mostly passed in the U.S. The offspring of those farmers in Nebraska, in the Dakotas, found themselves in Chicago, in New York, on the West coast in an urbanized economy and are thriving. That is not what happened in India. You’re seeing an urbanizing country here. However, 70 percent of India’s 1.1 billion live in the rural areas and the cities are already full. They do not have the option for a variety of reasons of wanting to go to the cities to become accountants, to become janitors. That is not an option for the farmers and their children here in India.
"The Dying Fields" premieres at 9 p.m. on most local PBS stations. Check here for its schedule on yours.