The largest wave of suicides in history
9th December 2012,
Cotton for my Shroud is about what it describes as the largest wave of suicides in history. In India, now.
It also says that the 250,000 farmers’ deaths by their own hand in Maharashtra in recent years is tantamount to genocide: “The gas chamber is not the only way of committing genocide.” A development paradigm, argue film-makers Kavita Bahl and Nandan Saxena, can be equally lethal.
The GM multinationals and the government are to blame, they say: the former for working towards a system in which they control, and repeatedly sell, their seeds - in this case, Bt cotton and the accompanying seeds, fertilizers and pesticides; the latter for acting on cahoots with the giant corporations and for pursuing a policy of forcing small farmers off their land.
The system sets up a cycle of debt, deprivation and dishonour, leading to huge numbers of suicides, they argue. This second Green Revolution “is a euphemism for a sell-out to America”.
In Maharashtra this drive towards modernisation and corporate control has meant replacing food crops with cotton, increasing the vulnerability of farmers and their families. “What will we eat tomorrow morning?” asks a grieving grandfather. For Bahl and Saxena, the outcome will be “mayhem”.
This is a powerful and challenging thesis, the impact of which is reduced by the film’s sober and relentlessly serious approach. There are no frills, no amusing animations, no charts, no slo-mos or fast cuts. Bahl and Saxena believe this is an important story and that it’s their duty to tell it as thoroughly as they can and the audience’s duty to watch it carefully and take note.
It’s not dull, though. How could it be when it’s dealing with such deep, life-wrecking personal tragedies, such massive social upheavals and such a crucial issue. And being India, there are some wonderful faces, some withering home-truths, some dramatic confrontations and a lot of tears. The film-makers also capture the timeless non-committal blandness of a politician caught hopelessly out of his death.
Cotton for my Shroud makes no attempt to be even-handed. It’s a polemic, which of course features analysis from the ubiquitous environmentalist, Vandana Shiva, and none-the-worse for that. And information about the suicides is not new. But the film's argument – and the tens of thousands of deaths - must be taken seriously. Monsanto and the government should be made to answer the charges, point by point. Until then, this film deserves to be seen by as many people as possible.
* Cotton for my Shroud will be screened at the City University London on 19 January as part of the Centre for Investigative Journalism Investigative Film Week, 15-19 January. Info: Film Week
• Also showing during Investigative Film Week: Bahrain: The Forbidden Country