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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

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More than 200 people came to see the screening of 'A Little Revolution - A Story of Suicides and Dreams,' a documentary about the desperate lives of the children of Punjabi farmers who have committed suicide.

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Harpreet Kaur, director, and Manmeet Singh, producer, make announcements before the screening at the D.C. South Asian Film Festival in Rockville Maryland, just outside Washington.

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'Debt and Death in Rural India,' documents the plight of the small farmers of Punjab, and presents the interplay of national and global policies that have driven them to suicide.

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T-shirt for sale at the screening.

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Boy wearing a T-shirt with the plea: "Pugree Sambhaal," support farmer rights.

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THE CHILDREN AND THEIR BIBIJIS

The 12 representative children boarded a bus to New Delhi. Each prepared for their meeting with the agricultural minister. They were ready to discuss their present situation and ask for a better future.

“We got to see the government’s attitude, the true nature of the government,” Harpreet Kaur said. The government is trying to hide the problem. But it also is a part of the problem.

“The children had such an overwhelming sense of hopelessness,” Matarazzo said. We got to meet all the children in the film, and made friends with all of them. But perhaps one of the more memorable stories was that of Manpreet Kaur, her mother, brother, sister and her four-foot-tall grandmother – Bibiji. Although their story ended up on the editing room floor, Matarazzo said she could not forget the abysmal condition in which they lived, with no electricity and barely any food.

“But they had such a sense of nobility about them,” she said. “There is something different about being in Punjab, you don’t see beggars.”

Matarazzo said she cried every night for two weeks. She especially remembers all the bibijis.

“Listening to them was so moving,” she said. ““I have nothing but stars above me and the Earth below me,” one of the bibijis said. “And I have to raise three children.

“I think about their situation. They are all still with us.”

A CONVOLUTED PROBLEM

Most people of Indian origin know about the farmer suicides, but they are not aware of the seriousness of the problem, Manmeet Singh said.

According to the film’s Web site, “There is no one single, complete answer to the painful riddle of farmer suicide in India. For rather than a single solitary cause, the reasons that an Indian farmer would take his own life are linked with several larger and deeply interrelated issues affecting India's society, environment and economy as a whole, including:

“Vastly increasing rates of rural inequality across much of India. With the advent of industrial farming in India, beginning in the late 1960s, agricultural landholdings across the nation began to be moved into the hands of fewer and fewer large farmers, and out of the hands of the majority: small, peasant farmers.

“Severe ecological collapse both in soil and water systems due to a variety of factors, but intimately linked with the introduction of high-yielding variety (HYV) seeds into India during the Green Revolution of the 1960s and 70s.

“Skyrocketing levels of debt among Indian farmers, often at greater percentages for small-scale farmers… In Punjab, the average level of indebtedness-as of 2004 among farmers was about Rs. 120,000 ($2,716 USD), this despite the fact that the average per-capita income in India in 2004-2005 as a whole was only 23,222 rupees ($525 USD).”

THE PUNJAB STORY

According to the film, many of the local government officials are either purposely not keeping record, or are in denial about the number of farmers that have committed suicide in their districts. It is the local humanitarian organizations that are taking note of the numbers and struggling to provide assistance, at least in Punjab.

“The Punjab story is largely ignored,” Manmeet Singh said. “It is as severe as other states but the numbers in Punjab are difficult to determine. There are 700 villages with an average of 15 suicides in each village. If you consider even half that number, that’s 3,000 suicides per year in Punjab.”

Without a breadwinner, the families rely on the good will of their neighbors and on the Baba Nanak Education Society, headed by Inderjit Singh Jaijee. The society also collects data on the suicides.

Inderjit Singh’s daughter, Aman Kaur Sidhu, embarked on this project 20 years ago, travelling from village to village in Punjab to collect affidavits. After working with the survivors for many years, they slowly began to come forward to tell their stories.






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