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Private Money Lenders (2:50) Excerpt from film "The Dying Fields", August 2007
Private money lenders contribute to the desperation of the Vidarbhan farmer.

Country: India

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Guiding Questions
  1. What do farmers do with the money they borrow from moneylenders?

  2. Why are farmers borrowing from private moneylenders?

  3. How do private moneylenders exploit the farmers?
Background Essay
Under India's new free trade policies, farmers are struggling financially. For poverty-stricken Indians, bank loans are hard to obtain. Private money lending has therefore become a very lucrative business, despite the fact that it is illegal and poses great risk to the farmers.

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.

Under India's new free trade policies, Vidarbha's farmers - most of them small land holders - must compete in a global market that includes formidable, often subsidized rivals, including American cotton farmers.

Of course I'm worried. I've taken a large loan. Many things can happen, marriages or a sudden illness, which require money. Then the situation becomes worse. When we need more money, we pawn our utensils and other things to run the household. I'll probably need about $1,250 more.

Chavan is hoping he can aid resorting to a private moneylender to tide him through harvest in December. Unlicensed lending businesses are illegal, but they are everywhere, as lucrative as they are invisible.

They do it behind the doors of legal businesses like grocery stores.

This man, a grocer, was willing to appear on camera. He says he was a lender until his conscience forced him to quit.

The farmers borrow money for farming or for their daughters' marriages. They have a lot of problems for which they need money. They don't get money from the banks very easily. With moneylenders, they just walk in with a stamp paper and walk out with the money.

Stamp paper is often used in financial contracts. Farmers sign or place their thumbprint on blank forms, risking the possibility that lenders will later take over their land.

The newspapers keep carrying stories that say: stop the money lending business, farmers are committing suicide. Because of this negative publicity some lenders have stopped operating.

I feel for them, that's why I shut down completely but many of my friends are in this business; no one has got a license. If some officers come to ask questions, these guys bribe them with 50 bucks and get rid of them.

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