Indian Church mobilises in "suicide region"

With an estimated 100,000 poor farmers estimated to have killed themselves over the last ten years in India's "suicide region", the Catholic Church is mobilising to assist widows and prevent further deaths.

UCA News reports that Manda Davak thanks a Church centre for the "miracle" of her life after debt drove the Hindu widow's husband to suicide.

"Don't ask me the details, it makes me shiver with pain," Manda, 29, said when asked about her farmer husband's death. "I have recovered from the tragedy to some extent, thanks to the social worker who visits my home regularly," she told UCA News.

The social worker comes from the social-service center of Amravati diocese, in the western Indian state of Maharashtra.

Manda's husband was among 1,442 farmers who ended their lives in 2006 the Vidarbha region. Manda's family lives in Mozer, a village 1,100 kilometers south of New Delhi.

This year, 536 farmers have committed suicide, Kishore Tiwari, president of Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti (council for popular stir in Vidarbha), told UCA News. Tiwari's organisation monitors suicide cases in the region.

Fr Jolly Puthenpura, who directs the social-service center, says it launched an integrated farmer-development project to help people whose spouses took their own life because of crop failure and debts.

Fr Puthenpura told UCA News the centre first surveyed affected villages to identify widows and children in need of assistance.

It then launched an eight-month project on April 1 with 1.11 million rupees (about $A30,000) from Caritas India, the Indian bishops' social-action agency. The priest said the international Catholic NGO Manos Unidas (united hands) provided 4 million rupees ($A120,000) to continue the project through 2009.

Volunteers from the center visit affected families to counsel members and offer moral support.

Arun Dongre, a top Amravati district official, termed the farmers' suicides a "national tragedy" and added that the government is trying to help overcome it through various programs.

Dongre commended the diocesan centre for reaching out to victims' families. "I am touched by their dedication, compassion and genuine care for the poorest of the poor farmers and the backward tribals," he told UCA News.

Dwarka Savankar's husband consumed poison last year after she went to work in the field.

"My husband said he would follow me. But he left me alone in this world," she said, sitting next to her ninth-grade son on the porch of their mud house. She said her husband had mentioned receiving repayment notices for a bank loan. "But I never dreamed my husband would kill himself," she said.

The sons of Manda and Dwarka were among 150 students from 75 families who received school stationery from the diocesan centre recently.

It also gave between 5,000 and 8,000 rupees ($120-200) to 55 families to start piggery, goat-rearing, poultry, tailoring and other income-generating schemes, Fr Puthenpura said. The centre distributed 320,000 rupees in four affected districts through the first week of August.

Currently, the center is surveying the four districts prior to launching a 6-million-rupee second phase of its project at the end of the year. Under that program, the center will provide agricultural training, form farmer's clubs and conduct seed fairs, organic farming and vegetable markets. It will also teach farmers soil conservation, modern agricultural practices and watershed techniques.

Mukund Deshmukh, who works with the centre, says the response to the first phase has been "great." Families are happy that somebody visits and cares for them, he told UCA News.

"We want to ensure that there are no more farmer suicides in villages where we are working," the Hindu social worker added.

Unfortunately, Father Puthenpura said the various developmental programs reach only 79 of more than 20,000 villages in the diocesan area. "The Church needs to expand the program - with staff and resources - if it is to be sensitive to the region known as the 'Suicide Region,'" he added.

Diocese Reaches Out To Families Of Farmers Who Commit Suicide (UCA News, 14/8/07)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Seeds of Suicide (PBS)
The Suicide Economy Of Corporate Globalisation (Counter Currents)

Church in India takes up farmers’ mass suicide issue (CathNews, 30/7/04)
Suicide not only big problem in Western world (CathNews, 18/6/04)

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