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Life & Debt (3:11) Excerpt from film "The Dying Fields", August 2007
This clip shows the daily struggle of an Indian woman left widowed by her husband's suicide.

Country: India

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Guiding Questions
  1. Describe the daily life of Urkada Aturam. What is her life like? How has her life changed since her husband's death?

  2. Why did Urkada Aturam's husband commit suicide?

  3. What crops do the farmers of Vidarbha grow in this region? How have they been impacted by globalization?
Background Essay
In Vidarbha, a hilly forest region in central India, about 3.2 million farmers depend on cotton for a living. Farming in this region has become known as a "high-risk occupation" due to a disturbing trend - the extremely high rate of suicide among Vidarbhan farmers. Analysts tie the suicides to an ever-increasing sense of despair among farmers as debt and free trade policies erode farmers' profits and their ability to provide for their families.

For better or worse, the 21st century has given rise to an international form of trade known as globalization. Globalization can be defined as the worldwide integration of economic, cultural, political, religious, and social systems. The term, associated with free trade practices believed by many to benefit large multinational corporations at the expense of small farmers in developing nations, ignites controversy at its very mention. Its impact can be felt far beyond the economic sector and cannot be easily assessed.

Proponents of globalization believe it expands economic freedom and encourages competition. They believe that globalization raises the productivity and living standards of people in countries that open themselves to the global marketplace. Among those living in less developed countries, globalization offers access to foreign money, an opportunity to trade in global markets, and access to the benefits of modern technology. Globalization's strongest supporters suggest that a globalized world will result in the reduction of poverty, higher standards of living and greater democracy.

Opponents of globalization dispute these claims, aruging that the disparity between haves and have-nots has become more acute and that the environmental damage being caused by many corporations is irreparable. These critics feel that citizens of the developing world have suffered at the hands of globalization, that they have been seduced by Western consumerism, and exploited by international institutions intent on increasing profits at the expense of the domestic laborer.

Nowhere can this conflict be seen more clearly than among the cotton farmers of Vidarbha, India. As recently as July 2007, Reuters reported that farmers from the wealthy state of Maharashtra have been committing suicide at an alarming rate. Tempted by the promise of prosperity, farmers borrow money to purchase a controversial, genetically modified cotton seed.

The expensive seed requires ample water sources that are unavailable to most Indian farmers. The rising cost of chemical fertilizers and the plummeting price of cotton contribute to the economic plight of the farmers in this region. Distraught and desperate, indebted farmers have taken their lives rather than face the consequences of financial ruin.

THE DYING FIELDS provides a glimpse into the shattered lives of families who have endured these suicides, and encourages its audience to examine the impact of globalization on the region. Critics of free trade policies, lack of government subsidies, and failed government relief efforts share their concern for the fate of Vidarbha's farmers.

Vidarbha is a region of hilly forests in the middle of India, a land that is rocky but when the monsoon behaves, it is generous. About 3.2. million farmers here depend on cotton for a living. It's become a high-risk occupation.

Urkuda Attaram shares a grinding routine tending her family's nine-acre farm with two sons and their recent brides. Like most of the 700 million people in India who live off the land, this family survives on less than two dollars a day.

After doing work on our farm, I work on other farms. Only then can we afford food. We couldn't survive otherwise.

For days, this family will clear the field as they prepare a bed for the cotton seeds.

My legs hurt. My body aches. I just feel like going home and throwing myself on the bed.

She runs the family farm as well as the household, a juggling act she never anticipated.

I used to only look after the home. He used to look after the fields.

About a year ago, her husband, Dassaru, killed himself.

I can't imagine why he did it. He ate well and went to bed. We don't know when he went to the farm. There was a small wooden canopy. He hanged himself there.

He was very gentle and kind. We never used to fight.

It's difficult to talk about him. I miss him a lot.

At the time of his death, her husband owed money to the bank. Most farmers must borrow money to pay for seeds, fertilizer and pesticide. In India, that means bureaucracy. Urkuda Attaram can neither read nor write, yet she competes in a global cotton market, a world that drove her husband into despair over debt. Now it's her turn to take out a loan, and she sets out on a two-hour walk to the bank.

I think of him all the time. I think that if he were here he would be working with our sons in the fields. Now I have to do it all.

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