Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Nero's Guests

We saw another amazing film that is part of the Human Rights Watch Film Festival last night. Titled "Nero's Guests," it follows a crusading journalist named Palagummi Sainath who is chronicling the agrarian crisis in India and the tragic suicides of thousands of impoverished farmers who are prevented from making a living by public policies that favor the rich and ignore the poor. These farmers are so distressed by their financial situation and so humiliated by their inability to support themselves and their families that many of them feel they have no choice but to end their lives.

The film begins with these facts emblazoned in white letters across a black screen:

"In India, 60% of people are still dependent on agriculture."

"836 million Indians live on less than 50 cents a day."

"Nearly 200,000 farmers have committed suicide since 1997, driven by debt and distress."

Yet, in India, this story is rarely if ever reported and not a single journalist for any mainstream paper is assigned solely to the topic of poverty. Few Indians even know about this crisis and yet its impact is enormous. This film focuses on the unrelenting efforts of Mr. Sainath to let people know what is happening and in the process to lobby for policies that support the rural poor. In a brisk 59 minutes, many of the issues surrounding this complicated situation are introduced and viewers get a sense of how much of a difference one reporter can make who is persistent, single-minded, and willing to confront the powerful with the painful truth.

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