‘Bitter Seeds’ probes suicides in India

[In his latest documentary film, Micha X. Peled traces not only the deleterious ecological effects of Monsanto’s genetically engineered seeds on India’s agriculture, but also the imposition of unprecedented debts foisted on millions of farmers in the forced march to buy Monsanto seeds–and the effects these debts have on traditional family dowry obligations, leading to high and constant levels of “honor” suicides among distraught farmers.  See also, below, an article on the horrifying levels of these suicides in India last year. — Frontlines ed.]

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G. Allen Johnson, San Francisco Chronicle, Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The release of “Bitter Seeds” completes an intriguing trilogy about globalization, some dozen years in the making.

San Francisco filmmaker Micha X. Peled got started in the late 1990s with an expose of Walmart‘s effect on local American communities in “Store Wars: When Walmart Comes to Town,” which was released in 2001. He then tackled cheap Chinese labor, following a teenage factory worker through her long hours, in “China Blue” (2007).

Krishna, a farmer in rural India in Micha X. Peled’s “Bitter Seeds.” Photo: SFIFF / SF

Now Peled has capped the trilogy by examining the rash of suicides among farmers in India, and how it’s tied to the international conglomerate Monsanto, in “Bitter Seeds,” which opens Friday.

“Thematically, they’re very nicely connected,” Peled said over lunch in San Francisco. “The first was about us – the American consumers. The second was about how the cheap goods that we buy get made, and the third is about the raw materials – the farmers who grow the cotton that gets exported to China’s factories to make the jeans that we buy.”

Peled found that in India, a farmer reportedly kills himself every 30 minutes because of a vicious circle, in which Monsanto has taken over the seed market with a genetically modified seed with hybrid technology that produces high yields but cannot renew itself. Thus farmers have to buy new seed for the next planting season, but can’t afford it, so they borrow from loan sharks. Confronted with mounting debt and family shame, many kill themselves.

Peled found a young woman, Manjusha, who dreams of being a journalist and whose father was a farmer who committed suicide. Peled gave her a camera and encouraged her to find her own story; he also follows her on her inquisitive journey.

They meet Krishna, a farmer whom Peled follows through an entire season. They help Peled flesh out a dimensional portrait of a rural farming family and the dynamics of their village.

“Keep in mind that these farmers have been growing cotton for centuries, and were always able to eke out a living,” Peled said. “That was with conventional seeds, which are suited to the region and don’t need much water, because there isn’t any.”

Peled believes globalization can be a force for good, but that there should be a balanced approach that respects local communities. (Incidentally, he supports California’s Proposition 37, which mandates labeling of genetically modified foods.)

“I’m just a dumb filmmaker,” Peled smiles. “I don’t have all the answers. But I wanted American viewers to spend a little time living with the experience of what it’s like for other people in other parts of the world to deal with what globalization brought them mostly as a result of what our multinational conglomerates are able to do.

“Hey, we like the cheap prices of shirts, and like the fact that the price of cotton is low. We’re benefiting from it, but what does that mean for the millions of other people?”

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Starts Friday at the Roxie Theater, 3117 16th St., S.F. (415) 863-1087. www.roxie.com.

G. Allen Johnson is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. E-mail: ajohnson@sfchronicle.com
Read more: http://www.sfgate.com/movies/article/Bitter-Seeds-probes-suicides-in-India-3917195.php#ixzz28rmSZlhe

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1.35 lakh people committed suicide in 2011; West Bengal, Tamil Nadu. top the list

October 7, 2012

New Delhi: More than 1.35 lakh people committed suicide in the country in 2011 of which the highest number were reported in West Bengal followed by Tamil Nadu.

Family Problems and illness, accounting for 24.3 per cent and 19.6 per cent respectively, were the major causes of suicides while poverty was to be blamed in 1.7 per cent of the cases, according to government data. Love affairs (3.4 per cent), drug abuse/addiction (2.7 per cent), dowry dispute (2.4 per cent) and bankruptcy (2.2 per cent) were among the other causes.

Delhi has reported the highest number of suicides (1,716) among UTs, followed by Puducherry (557). Seven UTs together accounted for 1.9 per cent of total suicides in the country.

The number of suicides in the country over the decade (2001-2011) has recorded an increase of 25 per cent, from 1,08,506 in 2001 to 1,35,585 in 2011.

West Bengal reported the highest number of suicides (16,492) accounting for 12.2 per cent of the total suicides in 2011 followed by Tamil Nadu (15,963), Maharashtra (15,947), Andhra Pradesh (15,077) and Karnataka (12,622). They accounted for 11.8 per cent, 11.8 per cent, 11.1 per cent and 9.3 per cent respectively of the total suicides in the country.

These five states together accounted for 56.2 per cent of the total suicides reported in India, the NCRB said.

The remaining 43.8 per cent suicides were reported in the rest of 23 states and seven Union Territories, according to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB).

Uttar Pradesh, country’s most populous state (16.5 per cent share of the population) has reported comparatively lower percentage of suicidal deaths, accounting for only 3.6 per cent of such deaths.

Fifty-three mega cities accounted for 13.5 per cent of the total suicides in the country.

Suicides due to drug abuse, love affairs, family problem, dowry dispute, suspected/illicit relation and cancellation/non-settlement of marriage have shown an increasing trend during last three years.

The number of suicides due to ideological causes/hero worshipping and poverty declined by 59.3 per cent and 25.1 per cent respectively as compared to previous year, whereas number of suicides due to divorce, illegitimate pregnancy and professional problem have increased by 54.5 per cent, 20.3 per cent and 20.1 per cent respectively.

A total of 9.1 per cent suicides in Uttar Pradesh and 7.6 per cent suicides in Madhya Pradesh were due to dowry dispute.

Drug Abuse accounted for 17.5 per cent suicides in Dadra and Nager Haveli. 6.3 per cent suicides in Assam were due to failure in examination.

Kerala, Puducherry, Maharashtra and Tripura have reported of 44.6 per cent, 40.2 per cent, 39.9 per cent and 36.6 per cent respectively of suicides due to family problem.

14.7 per cent suicides in Assam were due to love affairs, 1.1 per cent suicides in Jammu and Kashmir were due to not having children, 8.3 per cent suicides in Andhra Pradesh and 6.8 per cent suicides in Punjab were on account of poverty.

7.5 per cent suicides in Punjab and 7.7 per cent suicides in Assam were on account of unemployment and property disputes respectively.

Source:  http://ibnlive.in.com/news/135-lakh-committed-suicide-in-2011-wb-tn-tops-the-list/297241-3.html

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