VIDARBHA: “Hitler used these organophosphate gases to execute thousands in his gas chambers, we are now using the same to kill our farmers in the open fields,” said farmer activist Kishor Tiwari. He was speaking to The CItizen from Vidarbha where he was visiting the families of at least 40 farmers who have recently dies after using the deadly pesticides supplied by MNC’s. At least 2000 are suffering from the symptoms of nerve gas poisoning that is said to be deeply painful.

Tiwari has been asked by a panicky Maharashtra government to head its task force, the Vasantrao Naik Sheti Swawlamban Mission, to looking into what he referred to as a “genocide” committed by the state on the farmers.

He sent photographs shortly after the interview of the grieving widow and family of a farmer, otherwise sound and healthy, who died because of the pesticides. Tiwari was visiting the family as part of the probe.

Tiwari said that a pesticide banned across the world was being supplied to the Indian farmers. There is no known antidote for it, he said, and that is why probably it was made available for Indian farmers. He scoffed at the regulatory agencies claim that farmers had been advised to wear protective gear like masks, pointing out, “do they really expect our farmers to use all this, they have no money, they are committing suicide because of debt, and now you are giving them poison to inject into their crops.”

At least 40 farmers died with nerve gas poisoning, collapsing almost immediately, after spraying the pesticides and inhaling the poisonous gases. The same kind of pesticide chemicals were used by German fascist dictator Adolf Hitler to gas the Jews in his horrific chambers, Tiwari insisted. The difference is that we are gassing our farmers in the open fields, he added.

Tiwari was scathing in his criticism of the government for supplying lethal pesticides to its farmers.He insisted that the government should move to organic, non chemical pesticides to prevent such tragedies. How can the poor farmer, struggling to survive, even be expected to follow some guidelines that have probably never even be communicated to him, Tiwari asked.

In Bihar 25 school children died because of an overdose of the same organophosphate based pesticides in the food they consumed in 2013. These pesticides were developed in Germany in the 1940’s and continue to be used extensively against agricultural pests, although governments in the west have banned these. Scientists pointed out at the time of the Bihar tragedy, that these are junior-strength nerve agents and have the same mechanism of action such as nerve gases like sarin. A serious downside, however, is that they also happen to be extremely toxic.

At least 23 school children, aged four to 12, died and many more fell seriously ill after eating a mid day meal of rice, soybeans, and lentils in Mashrakh, a village in Bihar. The deaths were swift, and very painful suggesting a high dose of the lethal pesticide in the food.

The same kind of painful death visited the farmers in Maharashtra. The US has guidelines in place to ensure that the amounts of organophosphates do not reach dangerous levels, which is clearly impossible in India where regulation has little or no meaning in the field.

In Vidarbha several incidents of pesticide poisoning have been reported. Sources said that at least two more inquiries have been held in the past, although details of these are not known. Vidarbha has also registered a high degree of agrarian distress recording a large number of suicides because of crop failure, and debts. Growing unrest in the region, and across the state, has now led Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis to state that a culpable homicide case has been registered against the local company selling the pesticide, ironically called, Police.

(Cover Photograph KISHOR TIWARI: Wife and daughter of a farmer in Vidarbha who died of pesticide poisoning)