The First Witnesses

Vijay S. Jodha

2017 - Ongoing

India is the among the highest producers of almost every agricultural commodity in the world such as tea, coffee, rice, wheat, corn, beans, spices and milk. Although this indicates a robust farming sector, things have never been worse for many of India’s farmers. Due to financial distress, over 300,000 of them have committed suicide since 1995. The survivors, predominantly widows, are both victims and the first witnesses in this on-going tragedy. This photography project is produced in collaboration with a few such witnesses. It puts faces to some of the grim facts and figures with the intent of humanizing this on-going tragedy rather than keep it distant and abstract, especially in India’s cities where the public and the media has little interest in this issue. Accompanying almost every image are details that restore some immediacy, individuality and a measure of dignity to the people appearing in the photo frames. Common template for photographic portraiture of the poor or the marginalized reinforces collective anonymity rather than individuality. Physical attributes are downplayed unless servicing a preconceived generalized media narrative or an abstract set of statistics around an issue. Photography in such cases often ends up reinforcing rather than shaking up stereotypes. This project attempts an alternate approach. By following the photographic template for the famous and the powerful but collaborating with the anonymous and the powerless, it subverts dominant conventions around staged celebrity/anonymity and powerful/marginal portraiture, as well as shopworn practices common to photo-journalistic reportage. This project is driven in equal measure by such aesthetic concerns as by demands of efficient documentation.

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  • D. Latha with portrait of her husband D.P. Raju and his brother – both farmers. The brothers were unable to repay a farm loan of $ 3580 and killed themselves. India.

  • Kavitha with photo of her husband O. Kasayya – a tenant farmer who was unable to repay a farm loan of $ 5730 and committed suicide. India.

  • Widow of a farmer from Andhra-Telengana region in India. Her husband – a tenant farmer was unable to pay back a farm loan and committed suicide. She did not have even his photo.

  • Yadamma with photo of her husband M. Mallayya – a tenant farmer who could not repay a farm loan of $ 4297 and killed himself. India.

  • Rajitha with photo of her deceased husband D. Ramesh – a tenant farmer who was unable to repay a loan of $ 3295 and committed suicide. India.

  • 18-year old Vennela with photo of her father W. Srinu – a farmer who committed suicide due to inability to repay a $ 18,623 loan. India.

  • Woman with portrait of her family. Her husband seen in the photo was a tenant farmer from Telengana-Andhra region of India was unable to repay a loan and committed suicide.

  • Madhavi with photo of her deceased husband D. Mahendar – a tenant farmer who was unable to repay a farm loan of $14,325 and committed suicide. India.

  • 18-year old B. Manisha with photo of her family. Both her parents were farmers in Telengana- Andhra region in India. They killed themselves due to financial distress. Manisha has since dropped out of school to work and support herself and her younger brother who is also seen in this photo.

  • Ramanamma with photo of her husband A. Lakshmaiah – a farmer who committed suicide over an unpaid $18,623 loan, India. The three women behind her have also lost their farmer husbands to financial-stress related suicides.


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