India (MNN) — Across India’s caste system, one group of people stands out as the most desperate and hopeless. These people are the low-caste, many of them subsistence farmers, stuck in a system designed to leave them disenfranchised and impoverished.
There has been a dramatic increase in the suicide rate for these Indian farmers over the past few years, and Lindsay Ackerman, a spokeswoman for Grand Rapids, Michigan–based Mission India, says there’s not likely to change soon.
So what’s behind these tragic rates? Ackerman says the sobering numbers are “not because of emotional problems necessarily, but because the farming community is facing so many challenges.”
There are a few problems, says Ackerman, but there are two main challenges that make it especially difficult for farmers to make a decent living.
“These challenges could be weather related: India’s weather is so extreme that there may be a drought one year and very heavy rains the next that cause flooding,” she explains.
But not all problems find their roots in nature. Because of failing crops, farmers struggle financially, too. “In order to get seeds, they have to borrow money in order to even plant,” says Ackerman, adding that “they’re not able to harvest enough to pay back the debts that they’ve taken.”
For many, the problem doesn’t stop there. ”They’re renting their land, [and] the rates are just astronomical.” Many farmers see suicide as the only way to end the vicious cycle that’s plunging them deeper into poverty.
How bad is it? In 2013 alone, it was reported that almost 12,000 farmers took their own lives across India. But the number is probably much higher because of the great shame associated with the topic. Almost 9% of all deaths in India are attributed to suicide. That means someone commits suicide in India every 45 minutes.
With the increasing suicide rates, it’s easy to see why Mission India formed a plan. They’re using three on-the-ground programs to reach the local hurting communities and give them hope.
The first is the Church-Planting Program. Volunteers from around the community invest in teaching the local people about the everlasting love of God. “They’re able to bring hope into a community where it’s complete hopelessness.”
Next is the Children’s Bible Clubs. In this program, local volunteers are “leading children’s Bible clubs and opening their doors to children of farmers, or just anybody in the community.”
Finally, the Adult Literacy Classes are a great way to give farmers a chance to escape the cycle of poverty. The practical skills the farmers learn are vital for making a profit. “When a farmer is able to count accurately for the first time, that brings a whole different skill set to his work where he can actually know whether he’s being cheated,” says Ackerman.
Farmers can also learn what to charge for their produce at the market, how to make the correct change, and what a contract for a loan actually says about things like the rate of interest or the time frame for returning the funds.
Mission India’s main focus is to spread the gospel and tell the communities about the love of Christ. How does that make a difference in eking out a living on harsh land? The goal is to help farmers understand that “there is something greater than themselves, bigger than their situation, that there’s a God that loves them and created them and wants a relationship with them and is there to strengthen them during difficult times.”
Even if you have a black thumb, Ackerman says you can help. First and foremost, “We definitely need people to come alongside us through prayer and support for these ministries.” To her, the farmers’ tragedy presents “a phenomenal opportunity to come alongside a community that’s struggling, that’s facing hopelessness; and as we invest into nationals, as they bring the hope of Christ, it’s just an amazing example of God’s kingdom in action.”
You can support Mission India by prayer or by donating here.