Film Spotlights Children of Farmers Who Commit Suicide
Every Farmer Counts, Every Child Dreams
By Anju Kaur, SikhNN staff writer, Washington Bureau
Posted: Monday, June 18, 2012 | 08:12 pm
Reporting from Rockville, Maryland - She sings softly, beautifully, a song about the bond between a mother and a daughter, a bond she will never know. Jasvir Kaur’s mother committed suicide when she was seven. And her father is among the more than a quarter-million Indian farmers who have been driven to suicide since 1995.
According to statistics from the National Crime Records Bureau, 256,913 farmers committed suicide between 1995 and 2010, in the five most affected states. That number does not include Punjab, which has a suicide rate as alarming, because its government does not collect reliable statistics.
An Indian farmer commits suicide at least every 32 minutes. That rate does not include female farmers. The government does not record those statistics. By conservative estimates, at least a quarter of a million of their surviving children have been driven into abject poverty, but that number does not include other dependents such as spouses, parents or grandparents. The government also does not record any of those statistics.
Jasvir’s is an ordinary story shared by the extraordinary number of farmer children who have lost at least one parent. The plight of these children is spotlighted in 'A Little Revolution – A Story of Suicides and Dreams,’ the second film by Washington-based director and activist, Harpreet Kaur. Her debut film, ‘Widow Colony,’ exposed the desperate lives of the women whose husbands were massacred in the 1984 anti-Sikh pogroms.
“Both films deal with very serious and morbid issues,” she told SikhNN. “But I cannot afford in my conscious to not do it.”
‘A Little Revolution’ is a 60-minute documentary made on a shoestring budget, she said. It took three years to complete, and was released in the spring of 2011.
“People always talk about statistics, no one highlights the children left behind,” said Harpreet Kaur, in a phone interview, along with her husband and producer, Manmeet Singh. “There is no way you can simply turn your back on them.
“Seeing the children and their lives was the inspiration. The approach was empowerment and activism, to show these children that there is hope in life… that suicide is not the only solution.”
Harpreet Kaur went to Punjab at least a couple of times to research the issue and to conduct some initial interviews. She and her husband then headed to Punjab with a film crew.
“Harpreet brought us all to India in January 2007,” said Suezean Matarazzo, cinematographer for the film. Her husband, the film’s audio recorder, also was part of the crew.
Matarazzo is a native of Africa who lives in Austin, Texas. Filming serious documentaries was nothing out of the ordinary for the 20-year veteran.
“India looks a lot like Kenya, but the people are completely different,” she said. “We drove out from Delhi and discovered Punjab and the people, and found out about the issue… We fell in love with Punjab.”
THE STORY LINE
The plan initially was to capture the in-depth stories of 12 children but that became too many stories, with too many similarities, Matarazzo said. And as the film evolved, and Harpreet Kaur took on a more activist role, she became part of the story. She was not sure whether she should interject herself into story. But once she did, it “made sense.”
After introducing three of the children, and showing the reality of their grief-stricken lives, the film follows the filmmakers and the group of 12, between seven and 18-years-old, as they travel from Punjab and join about a thousand kids in New Delhi to lead a demonstration in the front of the central government. The protest culminates with a scheduled meeting with India’s Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar.
“We wanted them (the children) to go and fight for their rights rather than being oppressed and blaming their fathers,” Harpreet Kaur said. She and Manmeet Singh organized the protest and the meeting.
The couple spent months with the kids to get to know them and their families. Most of the children had never left their villages.
“Taking them to New Delhi was a culture shock,” she said. “When we took them to a playground and sat them on sea-saw, they did not know how it worked. It made me realize that we were really talking to the rural (of the) rural.
“Every child dreams,” she added. “You remember they had very small dreams, like a bike or a doll.” One wanted to be a singer. A sister and brother dreamed of seeing their mother who had remarried and moved away four years earlier.
“There were cases where the mothers gave the children to a sister,” she said. “People do strange things in strange situations.
“When a farmer dies, the family structure dies along with him.”