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“In Wayanad, 90 percent of people depend on agriculture for their livelihood,” explains E.J. Jose, lead editor of K.S.S.F.’s study “Wayanad Suicides: A Psycho–Social Autopsy.” He is also the project manager for a program sponsored by a Catholic charity, Caritas India, which helps small farmers increase the profitability and sustainability of their farms. “There are no other means of income. Agricultural failure means life itself has failed.”

Particularly hard hit is Wayanad’s Christian community. Christians and Muslims, for instance, respectively represent about a quarter of the district’s total population. But according to the K.S.S.F. study, more than 15 percent of all reported suicides came from the Christian community, compared to 6 percent from the Muslim community.

The reasons for the high rate of suicide are multiple and complex. For sure, poverty, economic hardship and household debt top the list, but other less obvious factors, such as the lack of a social safety net, cultural values and family pressures, also contribute to the crisis.

Perhaps nowhere is the complexity of suicide more evident than within Wayanad’s Christian community. The K.S.S.F. study asserts that Christians make up one of the “most organized, well educated, politically and socially elevated groups in Wayanad. Their progression and achievements on socioeconomic and cultural fronts have always been splendid.”

However, the study also claims that “where people are better educated, rich and affluent, politically strong, communally organized and socially secure, there are larger and deeper vices like consumerism, greed, social extravagance, alcoholism, mental disorders, marital discords, family feud.”

“The Catholic community, specifically with all its socioreligious supported systems, seems to have failed to design appropriate responses to a hazardous situation that has direct bearing on Christian belief and life,” the study continues.

Published in November 2009, the K.S.S.F. study served as a wake–up call to church leadership. “In each panchayat [a group of villages], we’ve trained one social worker just like Rosa Puthenkalayal who belongs to that particular area,” explains the study’s editor.

“This ‘community facilitator’ has clear access to that village and people in distress — suicide victims’ families and suicide–prone families. She befriends them and supports them in their stress management and problem–solving efforts so they will feel listened to and release their wounded feelings.”

They call Wayanad God’s country because of its beauty and greenery,” explains Father John Choorapuzhayil, director of Wayanad Social Service Society (W.S.S.S.), an agency of the Syro–Malabar Catholic Eparchy of Mananthavady that offers support to struggling farmers and their families, promotes and trains local farmers in sustainable farming methods, runs an agroprocessing center and markets its members’ products domestically and internationally.

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Tags: Kerala Farming/Agriculture Economic hardships Socioreligious programs Alcoholism