03/20/2014, 00.00
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Maharashtra, 38 farmers commit suicide in less than a month

by Nirmala Carvalho
Farmers indebted after a violent hailstorm that destroyed 1.9 million hectares of farmland. Bishop of Pune tells AsiaNews: "Problems can not be solved with economic packages alone: social and spiritual support needed".

Mumbai (AsiaNews ) - "Dozens of farmers who commit suicide is a heartbreaking fact that unfortunately happens with alarming regularity. We must not abandon them to themselves", says Msgr. Thomas Dabre, of the Archdiocese of Pune.  He was speaking to AsiaNews about the spate of suicides in the past three weeks that have affected the state of Maharashtra. At least 38 farmers have already taken their own lives, including nine in the last three days. Economic problems seem to underlie this phenomenon, perhaps related to a sudden and violent hailstorm which on February 22 devastated the state, destroying many crops.

The Relief and Rehabilitation Department has commissioned an investigation "to see if the suicides were due to indebtedness related to this disaster, or other reasons. Nevertheless, it is a fact that all deaths have occurred after the hailstorm". Most suicides occurred in the regions of Vidarbha and Marathawada.

The cataclysm affected 28 districts out of 35, destroying more than 1.9 million hectares of land. Fields of wheat, sorghum and sugarcane have been damaged, as well as pomegranate, mango, orange and grape plantations. The state has asked the central government for aid to the tune of 50 billion rupees (600 million euro).

"It is urgent and essential - says Msgr. Dabre - that the government has to pay a sustained regular attention and show its commitment to our farmers. The government has to show its commitment and its sincerity towards helping our famers this is the primary responsibility of the government agencies".

Secondly, says the prelate, "the farmers' problems cannot only be solved by the government agencies alone so other social bodies, organisations, NGOs and religious bodies must pay greater attention to these areas, to the despair of the Farmers.  The problem cannot be solved through economic packages alone. What is needed is social and spiritual interventions".

The bishop calls it "shameful and a sign of neglect, that in spite of the stark statistics, a near absence of rural mental health services and of public awareness of mental health disease to cope with the grim situation.  It is urgent that our farmers have access to professional counselling and coping mechanisms in their harrowing distress".

Msgr. Dabre concludes: "I shall personally appeal to Caritas India and request that a significant contribution is made to the families of the farmers who have committed suicide.  Widows burdened with the new responsibility as the sole breadwinner, who are vulnerable to exploitation and harassment by corrupt moneylenders".


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