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Last Updated: Monday, 4 September 2006, 15:36 GMT 16:36 UK
India farm suicides hit new high
Daughters mourn Indian cotton farmer Neelkhant Haste near Nagpur
Families have been devastated across the state
More than 200 farmers have committed suicide in India's Maharashtra state since Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visited in July, campaigners say.

August alone saw 110 despairing famers in India's cotton belt take their lives - the highest monthly figure since the debt crisis began nine years ago.

Activists put the rising deaths down to official apathy and farmers' despair.

Mr Singh announced a relief package worth $815m. But many farmers say help has yet to reach them.

Heavy debts

The state's cotton-growing region of Vidarbha is home to 3.2 million farmers, more than 90% of whom are heavily in debt.

They owe money to government banks as well as to local money lenders.

Kishor Tiwari
Mr Tiwari says the government has not done much

On average, one Vidarbha farmer commits suicide every eight hours.

As part of the package, the prime minister announced the waiver of interest payment on loans to banks, but most farmers have taken substantial loans at very high interest rates from private moneylenders too.

Kishor Tiwari, who has been fighting for the farmers' rights for several years, says despair and hopelessness, borne out of official apathy, is the main reason for the increase in suicide cases.

He says the Indian government needs to take emergency measures to tackle the problem which is acquiring epidemic proportions.

The suicides have left thousands of widows in the region, many of them between the ages of 19 and 25 with two to three children.

'Positive thinking'

The state government says it is aware of the problem and admits its failure to check the farmer suicides.

The local administration has now introduced the farmers to yoga and meditation, run by the Art of Living Foundation, in an attempt to check suicides.

Officials hope this will help the farmers think more positively. Activists say they are sceptical of the move, but will support it.

The authorities have already tried spiritual chanting sessions but these failed to stem the suicides.

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