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`Kurudan' makes suicide easy for farmers

By K.P.M. Basheer

KOCHI, APRIL 2. The farming community in the High Ranges in Idukki district has invented a deadly cocktail that puts an end to all its worries, including debts. It is called `brandy with kurudan'.

For the uninitiated, `kurudan' is the nickname of a highly potent insecticide, widely used to fight the little creatures that harm the crops in the villages here.

This insecticide, available in granule form in packets, is used on a variety of crops such as pepper, cardamom and ginger. `Kurudan' is manufactured by many companies and marketed in slightly different names. When mixed with water, it is colourless and tasteless. But when taken with brandy, it makes death a bit easy.

Consumption of insecticide is the most common way of ending life in the High Ranges, which has a very high rate of suicide. The police records say that in more than three-fourth of the cases, consumption of insecticide is the most preferred means of suicide. For instance, 17 of the 25 persons who have killed themselves in the Rajakkad Panchayat since 2002 used insecticide. Only six resorted to hanging themselves.

In Bison Valley, in the same period, 18 of the 23 persons who committed suicide took the insecticide route; only five hanged themselves.

Almost the same pattern is seen across the mountain region the inhabitants of which are farmers and farm labourers. In most cases of insecticide-induced deaths, `kurudan' is the poison used. To the locals, it is synonymous with insecticide, pesticide, poison and of course, suicide.

Why is `kurudan' so popular with those with a death wish? "Because it is easily available," points out P.Y. John, an insurance agent in Bison Valley, who has played an active role in the `suicide survey' conducted in the panchayat five years ago. `Kurudan' has a reputation of being a `sure killer' and it is accessible for almost anyone almost anytime in these mountain folds. "Farming is the main occupation in the High Ranges. And since insects are the main enemies of the farmers in these areas, all the households store insecticides, mostly `kurudan'," he adds.

"When you consider committing suicide in a moment of emotional turbulence, you turn to the easiest way out," says M.P. Pushparajan, CPI(M) local secretary. "Since `kurudan' is within arm's reach in most homes in the High Ranges, it is the natural choice," he says. Shailaja Surendran, head of the Welfare Committee of the Bison Valley Panchayat, points out that the availability of `kurudan' is the villain behind the high rate of suicide in her panchayat. "I strongly urge the Government to ban this insecticide in the High Ranges," she says.

Ms. Surendran, who is involved with a number of CPI(M) organisations and who also offers counselling to women in distress, notes that many women consume `kurudan' not with the intention to end their lives, but to shock their husbands or to grab their sympathy. Unfortunately, the poison is fatal in most cases.

While men consume `kurudan' mixed in liquor, women usually pour it into water and drink the mixture, she says.

Local social and political activists say that use of the insecticide has gone up manifold in the High Ranges.

This is because of the farmers' need for increased production and due to the widespread attack by insects.

The soil in the High Ranges, once the most fertile in Kerala, is now home to an innumerable variety of plant diseases.

Farmers often use the prescribed dosage of `kurudan'. But this has poisoned the soil and water and affected their health of the locals.

"An insecticide-induced disaster, on the lines of the endosulfan disaster, is in the making here,'' Mr. Pushparajan warns.

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