ASIA/INDIA - Chain suicides among farmers in Southern India ruined by poor harvests and heavy bank debts: Caritas comes to aid of stricken families

Wednesday, 26 May 2004

Hyderabad (Fides Service) - Caritas and other Catholic humanitarian agencies are striving to help impoverished farmers in the southern Indian state of Andrha Pradesh stricken by bad harvests and who have resorted to committing chain suicides to enable their families to get state grants. The local Christian community is shocked to see how poverty can lead to such a desperate act.
Fides spoke about the situation with Archbishop Joji Marampudi, Catholic Archbishop of Hyderabad, capital of Andrha Pradesh, who said: “I have spoken to the Prime Minister and I asked him on behalf of the 4 million Christians in Andrha Pradesh, to intervene immediately to help farmers whose crops were affected by serious prolonged drought. He promised to do his best. In the meantime the local Caritas and other Catholic humanitarian agencies have launched a programme to provide assistance t the grieving the families. A small gesture to assure them of our sympathy and solidarity may save many lives”. Most of the farmers whose cotton crops were destroyed by prolonged drought are not Christians, they are Hindus and Animists, but Caritas provides assistance to making no distinction of creed, race or tribe.
The local Church is also striving to promote respect for life and to help the heads of families realise that the suicide of a father is a great loss and tragedy for the family.
Whereas the local civil authorities have issued a message circulated all over the state appealing to people to stop the chain of suicides. “Do not take your lives. All farmers with drought damaged harvest will receive grants from the new Congress government ”.
In Andrha Pradesh, Congress Party won the elections causing the clamorous defeat of new technology businessman Chandrababu Naidu who made Hyderabad one of the most advanced Information Technology laboratories in India. Congress won precisely thanks to votes from farmers and farm workers in desperately impoverished due to bad harvests and consequent heavily in debt.
This situation led as many as forty farmers to commit suicide in the last ten days. The phenomenon is not new. Since 1997 as many as nine hundred suicides were recorded among farmers ruined by prolonged drought and deeply indebted with banks. The state government formed by Congress Party members has promised grants of 50,000 Rupees (about US$ 1,100) to pay off debts and rehabilitate the family economy.
In the meantime Sonia Gandhi is about to become President of the ruling coalition in the largest democracy in the world, the United Progressive Alliance formed of Congress Party and its allies.
(PA) (Agenzia Fides 26/5/2004 lines 55 words 540)