Documenting a Human Tragedy :: Documentary Review

The story of India's green revolution has a dark side. It is the shade of dark crimson, the color of blood. Between 1996 and 2006 100,000 farmers committed suicide in Vidarbha region in the north Indian state of Maharashtra. Since June of 2005 two to three farmers take their lives every day. The seeds of this problem were sown with the introduction of the green revolution in the mid 60's. Farming in India was largely organic, needing little investment. Farmers would use the seeds that they saved from the previous harvest. But the green revolution changed all that, now farmers had to buy seeds, fertilizers and pesticides by borrowing money at high interest rates from Sahukar's (private money lenders) and in the course of time farmers were trapped in huge debt. Such disasters don't go unnoticed--they rarely do. Headlines trumpeted, relief poured in before going to bed. One night during the and so did the politicians with their 'packages'.

Now just few years on, this issue is forgotten by the mainstream media. Suma Josson, a journalist turned filmmaker, documents the problem that took many years in the making. In her latest documentary film, "I Want my Father Back" she asks a few crucial questions. I managed to catch this documentary at the recent KAFISO Third National Short and Documentary Film Festival. The documentary managed to walk away with the first prize that it so richly deserves.

The film deals with the disastrous way in which India's green revolution pushed traditional farming practises aside in a mad dash to increase crop yield. New hybrid seeds were introduced with heavy subsidies. Fertilisers and pesticides were introduced at low prices, and attractive loans were offered for those who could not afford to buy them. Cash crops like cotton and soya soon replaced the food crops. Farmers went into debt to manage their homes and farms and were getting low prices for their crops largely due to corrupt and inefficient marketing practices of farmers co-operatives. Trapped in deep debt, the farmers resorted to taking their own lives.

Josson's film deals in detail with every facet of this problem, effects of globalization, economic policies of successive governments that helped create new markets for large multinational corporations. The menace of costly Bt cotton seeds with their false claims of high yield, its adverse effects on environment and the health of cotton industry workers. Lack of measures to protect and promote the indigenous seed variates that are resistant to pests and well adapted to local conditions. Also the erosion of traditional farming method of cultivating heterogenous crops which provided a safe net in case of single crop failure. Perhaps it is the director's early training as a journalist that played a large role in her investigative approach. The documentary provides a revealing mix of scientific evidence, farmers' insights and experiences, along with the voices of activists.

The mass suicides of farmers is not the problem of Vidarbha alone. In the other Indian states of Kerala, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Punjab farmers are commiting suicide in large numbers. Every day we hear similar stories from other parts of the world. This documentary forces the audience to think and to ask itself: Is this the state of the world to come?

Recently published in film review section of IISE Journal. You can watch the documentary online in an older post I Want My Father Back

1 comment:

  1. I Want My Father Back was definitely a very moving documentary. The large amount of pollution created by the green revolution, methinks, has led to many strange medical conditions as well as, I feel, more illness and whatnot than is realized by the majority. For example, the girl born with two faces (,2933,337492,00.html) might seem like a miracle of reincarnation, but in truth I wonder if perhaps it is more a harbinger of things to come if we are not careful with the use of chemical fertilizers et cetera.

    But what can one really do? With thanks to a capitalistic world mired in corruption, it's hard to say that things will ever be the same. It's definitely not a problem to be ignored, but globalization is something which has occurred since medieval times, when the Europeans would travel to India and China to trade.


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