Agrarian distress is widespread in India. Since 2005, more than 2.7 lakh farmers have committed suicide, driven to the brink by rising input costs, crop failure and rural indebtedness. Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh are the worst affected, and also among regions with the most chemical-intensive farming. These suicides have ripped apart the countryside, the psychological and social impacts of which we are just beginning to fathom. The reality of this rural distress barely registers in the urban imagination, and is a truth far removed from the mall-shopping classes. Even government interventions have hardly gone beyond farm loan waivers or some “package” or the other, often timed around elections, a dubious salve for wounds that are raw and deep.

In Andhra Pradesh (and Telangana as well), there’s a community-level movement started by NGOs, and backed by the government, that offers some hope. It is now the country’s biggest experiment in non-pesticide and chemical fertiliser-free farming, covering more than 38 lakh acres and more than 10 lakh farmers. Their lives are better, the level of debt low, and small scale studies show no suicides among those farming in this way, writes Govind Krishnan V. in the cover story “The clean crop”.

History, even unpleasant history, demands engagement. Not much is known or discussed about the crimes of the Roman Catholic Church in Goa, in particular the cruelty of the Inquisition, and the bigotry of the early missionaries. Francis Xavier paved the way for the Inquisition even as he went about converting the heathens. He later became a revered saint, and his preserved remains or “holy relics” are available for public viewing every 10 years during the Exposition. The last such event has just concluded. Sunil Murthy examines the legacy of the saint (“Patron saint of Goa’s Inquisition”), and how the veneration for the priest is at odds with the more violent parts of his legacy.

Did the American “war on terror” in Afghanistan achieve anything? As the Nato troops withdraw, they the leave behind a country notionally united with hundreds of real, violent divisions. Afghanistan’s future is at stake as various strategic allies and neighbours bat for their interests in the region, writes Saroj Kumar Rath in “Afghanistan’s future tense”.

Last year ended well for us, with two photojournalism awards coming our way. Contributing Photo Editor Harikrishna Katragadda’s “Republic of Cannabis” about the children of Malana, where the world’s best hashish grows, won the “Best Photo Story” award in the MFI-Yes Bank National Press Photo Contest. Pattabi Raman was awarded the second prize in the “Best Photograph” category for his work on the rebuilding efforts in northern Sri Lanka (“After the war, a bitter peace”) in the PII-ICRC Humanitarian Reporting and Photography awards.

Wish you more good cheer and better journalism in 2015.

Saurav Kumar, Editor
saurav@fountainink.in

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