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Burdened by debt and unable to eke out a living, many farmers in India turn to suicide

Kiran Kaur surveys her family’s paltry plot of land in Mansa, in the northern Indian state of Punjab, and gestures dismissively at the three acres of wheat that will soon yield to cotton plants, which bring in little profit.

“Cotton is a complete failure for us,” she said. Prices are low, and the cost of producing the fibre is far too high.

It’s what drove her father, Gurnam Singh, to take his own life nearly five years ago on the same plot of land that defeated him, driving the family to the edge of economic ruin, she says. 

“Life is still very tough without him here,” Kaur, 25, told CBC News. “But that first year after his death almost destroyed me and my family. 

“I dropped my studies and sat at home. The world blacked out for me. I have no recollection of the 10 days that followed his death.” 


Many in Punjab grow water-intensive crops such as cotton, wheat and rice, which has pushed farmers to invest heavily in irrigation and pesticides to protect crops, often depleting their savings and adding to debt. (Salimah Shivji/CBC)

What fills Kaur with guilt is that she didn’t see it coming. Her father was one of her best friends, and yet, he kept the crippling debt he was struggling to manage hidden from her and the family.

“When he died, things were falling apart,” acknowledged Shinderpal Kaur, Kiran’s mother.

She knew about the massive loans her husband had taken out to pay for their eldest daughter’s wedding and to cover medical treatment for Kiran. Even so, the notion that her husband would kill himself never entered her mind. 

“I never thought [the suicide crisis] would hit me,” Shinderpal said. “Not in my wildest dreams.”

The crisis is deeply felt in Mansa, one of the poorest districts in Punjab, which is often referred to as the country’s breadbasket, because of its rich soil and rice fields.


Kiran’s mother, Shinderpal Kaur, foreground, said the years without her husband have been excruciatingly difficult, as she worries about whether the cotton and wheat crops they are growing will be enough to cover the family’s bills. (Glen Kugelstadt/CBC)

Nearly every village here has had a string of suicides over the past few decades, but the problem goes beyond the district and even the state. 

Bankruptcy, debt major factors

As in the rest of the world, the agriculture sector in India is hit disproportionately hard by suicide. Sixty per cent of the country’s population works in agriculture.

The latest data from the National Crime Records Bureau shows more than 10,000 farmers and agricultural labourers killed themselves in 2019 — that’s 7.4 per cent of India’s total suicide victims. (As a comparison, students also made up 7.4 per cent while civil servants accounted for 1.2 per cent.)

That means an average of 28 suicides in India’s farming community every day.

WATCH | How one Punjabi woman is dealing with the death of her father:

Hidden behind the headlines of the massive farmer protests in India is a suicide crisis that’s devastating families. The latest numbers show 30 farmers die by suicide every day in the country. 4:00

While there’s rarely just one factor that leads to suicide, the root causes for the suicides among India’s farmers highlighted in the government’s data are mainly linked to despair over their livelihoods. That ranges from bankruptcy and debt to farming-related issues and crop failure.

The crisis is spread across two dozen of India’s states, with the highest number of agricultural suicides in the densely populated Maharashtra state. But it is particularly acute in Punjab, where farmer suicides have increased more than tenfold in the past five years.

The state was transformed in the mid-1960s by the Green Revolution, when the government introduced subsidies to encourage farmers to grow high-yielding rice and wheat varieties that eventually led to the country becoming self-sufficient in those grains. 

But over the years, problems started to accumulate. All those water-intensive paddy fields led to the depletion of the area’s groundwater. Many farmers poured money into digging deeper wells and into pesticides to protect their crops, but their costs spiralled, leading to crushing debt for many.

‘A social phenomenon’

Decades in the making, it’s such a deep-rooted crisis that many farmers take their own lives by consuming a pesticide called Sulfas. In Haryana state, the phrase “consuming Sulfas” has become shorthand for suicide. 

“It’s become a social phenomenon,” said Vikas Rawal, an economics professor specializing in agrarian distress at New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University. He noted that references to Sulfas have also turned up in songs dealing with the plight of India’s farmers. 

“It’s a loss-making enterprise, but these farmers don’t have anything else to do, so they just keep doing it,” Rawal said. Jobs are scarce, and many people are also reluctant to give up even the smallest plot of land their families own to work for someone else. Rawal said they end up having few options but to descend further into debt. 

He said up to 90 per cent of India’s farmers can’t cover the basic costs of fertilizer, seeds, pesticide and other equipment. 

“Your cost of production has gone up and then you’ve been made to compete with the world,” Rawal said, especially with the majority of India’s farmers tilling tiny plots of land.  

“That has squeezed incomes of farmers so much that basically they’re being forced to commit suicide.” 

‘We never had a happy day’

Kiran Kaur’s family in Mansa has been especially hard hit. Her father was one of three brothers out of four who took their own lives, leaving behind three widows and their young children. 

Kiran’s aunt Malkeet lost her husband to suicide 17 years ago, when their two sons were eight and 10 years old. The years since have been difficult, she said, wiping away tears, with a nephew taking care of the fields because her children were too young. 


Gurmeet Kaur, Kiran’s aunt, lost her husband to suicide two years ago, after struggling daily to turn a profit on their small farm. ‘We never had a happy day,’ she told CBC. (Glen Kugelstadt/CBC)


Malkeet Kaur’s husband killed himself 17 years ago in Mansa, leaving behind his widow, two young boys and persistent worries about repaying loans. (Salimah Shivji/CBC)

It took five years before anyone explained to Malkeet how to apply for her government-issued widow’s pension. Once she got it, it only came intermittently, disappearing inexplicably for years at a time before being re-introduced. 

The pension is the equivalent of $ 12 Cdn a month.

“It’s a pittance and makes little difference anyway,” Malkeet Kaur said wryly.  

Another of Kiran’s aunts, Gurmeet Kaur, sat staring into the distance during our interview, clearly still mourning her husband, Gumdoor. He took his life two years ago, on New Year’s Day. 

“We never had a happy day,” Gurmeet told CBC. “The daily struggle basically destroys you.

“We used to think we were doing all this work for our children. But once the father dies, the children are burdened.”

She also said she felt betrayed by nature when bad weather led to crop failure.

No national prevention strategy

India’s suicide rate was 12.7 per 100,000 as of 2019, according to the WHO, but experts have said the actual numbers are likely far higher than the official figures because of the stigma in a country where trying to take your own life is still listed as a crime in the penal code. 

The country also lacks a national suicide prevention strategy, although some initiatives are folded into India’s mental health plan. In 2016, the Modi government introduced a crop failure insurance program in an attempt to address a spate of farmer suicides following a lengthy drought. 

WATCH | Indian farmers hold firm in protests over agricultural laws:

For nearly four months, farmers in India have held protests to oppose new agricultural laws they say will strip them of their livelihoods. But the government has only offered them only a few concessions, and the protesters say they won’t back down until there are more changes. 2:32

The fact that India, like nearly every other economy, has been hobbled by the coronavirus pandemic and strict lockdowns has drastically compounded the suicide problem, according to Rawal. 

He also fears the potential impact of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s new farm laws, which have prompted months of protests, has also driven up suicide rates. 

In September, India abruptly transformed the way the country’s massive agricultural sector works, passing new laws that reduce the role of the government in grain markets in an attempt to modernize the industry. It’s a move the farmers fear will push prices down and further ruin livelihoods.

“Having fought for so long to survive … [they] just don’t see this government giving a damn about it,” Rawal said. “That’s forced some people to actually take their lives there in the protest sites or when they went back home.”

It’s estimated several hundred farmers have died at the three large protest camps currently surrounding India’s capital, New Delhi, but it’s unclear how many of those killed themselves.


Tens of thousands of India’s farmers have been camped out for months at several sites bordering India’s capital, New Delhi, in protest of the government’s new laws, which farmers fear will crush livelihoods. (Salimah Shivji/CBC)

As a result of the severe backlash, the proposed laws are now on hold, but tens of thousands of farmers are still camped out in protest, pushing for a complete repeal of the legislation.

‘There needs to be reform’

The standoff is in its fourth month even though both sides know the system as it stands is unsustainable, said Harish Damodaran, agriculture editor at the daily newspaper The Indian Express. 

“Everyone agrees that there needs to be reform … that this cannot be sustained forever,” Damodaran said. “Even the farmers themselves.” 

But he said the Modi government’s error was not moving slowly and prioritizing financial incentives for India’s farmers to diversify the crops they grow. 

“It has to be done very sensibly, very carefully, very sensitively. No reform is possible without consulting the stakeholders,” Damodaran said. 


Many farmers across India are struggling with high debt to keep their farms going. More than 10,000 farmers or agricultural labourers took their own lives in 2019. (Salimah Shivji/CBC)

The protesting farmers see the so-called black laws as a path to allowing large corporations in and a means to decimate the traditional “mandi” system, which guarantees a minimum price for their produce.

“We’re not going to leave until we get what we came here for,” said Surinder Singh, who has a small farm in Punjab, while sitting near his chai stand at Singhu, the largest protest site surrounding Delhi. 

“We know we’ll be here for the long haul, years if needed,” Singh said. He said the harvest will continue to be done by others at home, allowing the protesters to stay put. 

“We will win this war,” he said. 

Helping widows ‘to be heard’

Even with the regulated minimum price for rice and wheat in some areas, many farmers are barely making ends meet. The fact it could disappear is a devastating thought for many at the protests. 

Many don’t trust the Indian government, which has promised it will not get rid of the floor price. Kiran feels that fear whenever she walks around the protest camp. 

She often visits a community kitchen set up by a rotating group of widows at the Singhu camp. On one recent visit, the women were making rotis for other protesters, loudly joking that India’s prime minister should come visit and speak to them directly to truly understand the life of an Indian farmer. 


Kiran Kaur joins a group of widows making roti at the Singhu protest site, set up by farmers bordering the Indian capital. It’s part of the work Kaur does to support families left behind by suicide. (Salimah Shivji/CBC)

After the loss of her father, Kiran started an organization to help widows in her home state. She now buses around Punjab, meeting widows and their families to explain the services available to them, and to emotionally support those “teetering on the brink” and contemplating suicide.

She sees it as another way to honour what her father would have wanted for her. 

“The government does not care,” Kiran said. “Nobody wants to talk to or listen to the widows or the families of suicide victims.”  

Hearing the stories, day after day, of widows struggling is not easy, but it gives Kiran strength. “It furthers my resolve to fight for them, to help them be heard.”

WATCH | The world reacts to farmers’ protests:

Supporters of farmers protesting for months in India are grateful for the international response to the movement. But there are others who think the outside world shouldn’t meddle with India’s affairs. 2:42


If you are thinking of suicide or know someone who is, help is available nationwide by calling the Canada Suicide Prevention Service toll-free at 1-833-456-4566, 24 hours a day, or texting 45645. (The text service is available from 4 p.m. to midnight Eastern time).

If you feel your mental health or the mental health of a loved one is at risk of an immediate crisis, call 911.

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TFC awarded CONCACAF Champions League bye with Forge unable to train

Toronto FC has been given a bye into the CONCACAF Champions League with Forge FC, its opponent in the Canadian Championship final, unable to return to full training.

Canada Soccer, which runs the Canadian tournament, said the final will be played at a later date.

The pandemic has taken a toll on both clubs. Hamilton’s Forge is still waiting approval from local authorities to start camp while TFC, which started training Feb. 17, has been sidelined by a series of positive COVID-19 tests.

Canada Soccer was facing a time crunch given the winner of the Canadian Championship final has an April 7 date with Mexico’s Club Leon in the first leg of round-of-16 play in the CONCACAF Champions League, the confederation’s flagship club competition.

Canada Soccer said TFC and Forge had both signed off on the decision, adding “every effort will be made to hold the Canadian Championship at a later date pending league schedules and in accordance with all public health and safety measures.”

Canada Soccer, which had previously only said the final would be played in the first quarter of 2021, confirmed Thursday that March 20 had been the tentative date. The Champions League dates and a FIFA international window opening March 22 left it little wiggle room.

Eventually, we will crown a Battle of the North champion and award the Voyageurs Cup for the 2020 season.– Canada Soccer president Nick Bontis

Still it did not sit well with Forge owner Bob Young, who released an open letter last Saturday complaining his team was not prepared given the lack of training. Forge has not played since a Dec. 8 loss to Honduras’ CD Marathon in the CONCACAF League, a feeder competition to the Champions League.

Two days after the Young letter, TFC announced its camp had been closed with players and staff sent home to self-isolate after several positive COVID-19 tests.

Canada Olympic coach Mauro Biello opted not to pick any of TFC’s youngsters for the CONCACAF Men’s Olympic Qualifying Championship in Guadalajara, Mexico, saying they would not be ready for Canada’s first game March 19.

The Canadian Championship final will be played at a later date in Hamilton.

“Canada Soccer looks forward to hosting the Canadian Championship final at Tim Hortons Field and celebrating the achievements of both clubs with their fans in the stands in a safe manner,” Canada Soccer president Nick Bontis said in a statement. “Eventually, we will crown a Battle of the North champion and award the Voyageurs Cup for the 2020 season.”

Changes made

The 2020 Canadian Championship originally was to have featured 11 clubs — three Canadian teams from Major League Soccer and eight Canadian Premier League sides. The tournament was slated to kick off June 16 and run through Sept. 23, but was delayed when soccer suspended play due to global pandemic.

In August, Canada Soccer decided to scrap the tournament and just stage a one-off final.

Forge qualified for the final by winning the CPL’s Island Games in Charlottetown last summer. Toronto made it by finishing first among the Canadian teams in the first phase of the revised MLS 2020 schedule.

The Canadian Championship was first held in 2008. Toronto FC has won the Voyageurs Cup seven times compared to four for Montreal and once for the Vancouver Whitecaps.

Toronto (2018) and Montreal (2014-15) have both finished runners-up in CONCACAF Champions League.

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CBC | Soccer News

Unable to say final goodbye, wife of late Oiler Colby Cave urges Canadians to respect COVID-19 regulations

Emily Cave didn’t expect her Instagram post about taking COVID-19 regulations seriously to go viral.

The wife of Edmonton Oilers’ centre Colby Cave, who died in April after suffering a brain bleed, simply wanted people to know how the pandemic is impacting people like her – people who can’t say a final goodbye to their loved ones.

“My 25-year-old husband died alone,” Emily Cave wrote in a story on Thursday. “I have no clue what his last breath was like. I have yet to be able to have a funeral because of this global pandemic.

“So for goodness sake, wear a mask. Wash your freaking hands and it’s not the end of the world if you can’t go to house parties or do things that are essentially a ‘luxury’ in your blessed world.”

Cave said she’d been seeing and hearing a lot of complaints about restrictions aimed at curbing the virus not just in Alberta, where measures were increased Thursday, but around the globe.

“I try to be super respectful and mindful. But I kind of just hit my breaking point a little bit yesterday,” she said in an interview with The Canadian Press.

“COVID is impacting people in so many different ways. It’s impacting small business owners, it’s impacting health care workers, it’s impacting politics. But I can’t speak on behalf of those people. I can speak on behalf of losing a loved one during the global pandemic and what that looked like.”

It wasn’t the first time Cave has gone online to express herself. She posted heart-wrenching updates on Instagram after Colby was placed in a medically-induced coma at a Toronto hospital in April, detailing how she and his parents could only see him through a window and speak to him with a walkie talkie because of COVID-19 restrictions.

Doctors performed emergency surgery to remove a colloid cyst that was causing pressure on Colby’s brain, but the forward from North Battleford, Sask., died on April 11.

When the pandemic began taking hold in North America in March, Cave and her husband were concerned about staying healthy and protecting others, but never would have imagined how they were about to be impacted by the virus.

Her latest Instagram story has shown, however, that she isn’t alone in finding ways to grieve through the health crisis.

Immediately, people began sharing her post. By the time she woke up on Friday, her phone had “blown up,” and her words had caught the attention of outlets like TMZ and the New York Post.

Several people also got in touch with Cave to share their own stories.

“I’ve had people reach out saying `I haven’t had a funeral for my loved one’ or `I was on FaceTime saying goodbye to my loved one’ and all of that….It’s probably the worst experience you could ever go through,” she said. “And if [my post] can open a few eyes, that’s great.”

People have been reaching out in various ways since Colby’s death, Cave said. At first it was odd but now she finds solace in the messages.

“The more and more I get and the more and more time goes on, it’s really actually comforting just to know I’m not the only one, I’m not alone,” she said. “And if me sharing things can help people realize that they’re not alone, I’m more than willing to continue to share stories.”

Some of the comments have brought tears to her eyes, including the one where someone wrote “Colby chose his wife well.”

“It made me cry but I just felt like I was doing him proud,” Cave said.

She hopes the story she shared this week opens eyes and reminds people that they may not be aware what impact COVID-19 is having on the lives of others.

“Just be careful, be kind, look out for each other, don’t take things for granted — all those cliché things that, until a trauma happens to you, you can’t really grasp or really appreciate,” she said.

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Unable to work out at training facility, Impact player breaks foot on routine jog

The Montreal Impact’s inability to hold individual workouts at their training facility has proved to be costly.

The MLS club reported Wednesday that midfielder Steeven Saba will be sidelined eight to 12 weeks after breaking his left foot “on a routine jog” near his home in Montreal.

The Impact are one of six MLS clubs still waiting for the green light from local health authorities to start the individual voluntary sessions outdoor at their training facility. Toronto and Montreal have already started such workouts.

Saba, a 27-year-old Haitian international, joined Montreal after attending the 2020 training camp as a trialist. He did not see any regular-season action.

MLS suspended play March 12, two weeks into the season, due to the pandemic.

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Amid irregularities, AP unable to declare winner in Iowa caucuses

The Associated Press said Thursday that it is unable to declare a winner of Iowa’s Democratic caucuses.

Following the Iowa Democratic Party’s release of new results late Thursday night, former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg leads Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders by two state delegate equivalents out of 2,152 counted. That is a margin of 0.09 percentage points.

However, there is evidence the party has not accurately tabulated some of its results, including those released late Thursday that the party reported as complete.

Further, even as the Iowa Democratic Party’s effort to complete its tabulation of the caucus results continued Thursday, Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez asked the Iowa Democratic Party to conduct a recanvass. That is not a recount, but rather a check of the vote count to ensure the results were added correctly.


Precinct captain Carl Voss of Des Moines displays the Iowa Democratic Party caucus reporting app on his phone Tuesday outside of the Iowa Democratic Party headquarters in Des Moines, Iowa. (Nati Harnik/The Associated Press)

Perez sought the recanvass following days of uncertainty about the results reported by the Iowa Democratic Party, which includes technology problems with the mobile phone app used by the party to collect results from caucus sites, an overwhelming number of calls to the party’s backup phone system and a subsequent delay of several days of reporting the results.

The Iowa Democratic Party suggested it may not comply with Perez’s request, issuing a statement that said it would conduct a recanvass if one was requested by one of the candidates.

“The Associated Press calls a race when there is a clear indication of a winner. Because of a tight margin between former Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Bernie Sanders and the irregularities in this year’s caucus process, it is not possible to determine a winner at this point,” said Sally Buzbee, AP’s senior vice president and executive editor.

The AP will continue to monitor the race, as well as the results of any potential recanvass or recount.


Iowa Democratic Party chairman Troy Price speaks about the delay in Iowa caucus results on Tuesday in Des Moines, Iowa. (Charlie Neibergall/The Associated Press)

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‘I was unable to function’: B.C. mothers share their stories of postpartum depression to erase the stigma

Megan Stratikopoulos understands first-hand the debilitating effects of postpartum depression and the reluctance some women feel about seeking help or even talking about their symptoms.

The Kamlooops mother of two sought out counselling and learned strategies to deal with stress when the “baby blues” didn’t go away following the birth of her first child.

“When I had my second daughter, I thought, ‘well I have these tools and I’m in a better place physically and mentally with my second daughter. I’ve got this nailed. I’m a veteran mom,”‘ she said.

However, Stratikopoulos’ depression returned — this time much stronger than before.

“I was unable to function and unable to get out of bed,” she said.

“I didn’t enjoy my daughter. I didn’t enjoy my family. It affected all parts of my life. I wasn’t able to really even go to the grocery store. My husband kind of needed to be with me everywhere.”

After a month of worsening symptoms, Stratikopoulos sought out counselling and began taking antidepressants.

She now wishes she hadn’t waited so long to seek help and wants other mothers who feel depressed during or after their pregnancy to reach for help and support earlier than she did.

 “If I could get that month back, I would,” she said. “It’s one of my biggest regrets as a mother.”


Megan Stratikopoulos is sharing her story of overcoming postpartum depression at the Stronger Together event she is co-chairing on Sunday in Kelowna. (Megan Stratikopoulos)

Stratikopoulos wants to erase some of the stigma around postpartum depression by sharing her experience at an event she is co-chairing in Kelowna this Sunday called ‘Stronger Together.’

Kelowna mother Pam Nease, also a co-chair of the event, is sharing her story of suffering from the mood disorder as well.

‘Hid in shame’

Nease experienced a brief psychotic episode after the birth of her son in 2006 that she attributes to a combination of prior mental illness, sleep deprivation, stress in her marriage and family relationships and the desire to be a perfect mother.

“It was a perfect storm,” Nease said. “I hid in shame for so many years and there is part of me that is still full of shame over what happened.”

Her experience led her to pursue a career as a sleep consultant and now she helps families establish healthy sleeping habits. 

However, Nease said she encounters women who need more than a good night’s sleep to ward off postpartum depression symptoms.

“You have to really come to terms with that first step — that you truly need help, Nease said. “Thankfully I got the help I needed and I am here today to try to help others.”


Pam Nease says a ‘perfect storm’ of relationship stress, sleep deprivation, the desire to be a perfect mother and a history of mental illness were factors in her suffering a brief psychotic episode following the birth of her son 12 years ago. (Pam Nease)

Enormous life changes when having a baby

Postpartum depression and anxiety affects one in six women and one in ten men, according to Sheila Duffy. director of Pacific Post Partum Support Society, which has been helping families for nearly 50 years.

“A lot of the symptoms that come up actually start during pregnancy,” she said.

“There can be an onset of depression or anxiety type symptoms that’s triggered by the enormous life changes that happen as a result of having a baby, for some people.”

Duffy applauds Stratikopoulos and Nease’s decision to be so public about their experiences with postpartum depression.

“The more people share their stories, the more people then when they do end up feeling [symptoms of depression], they’ve heard it and they know it exists and they are more likely to get help than say, somebody, who is just thinking ‘this is about me being a terrible person or a terrible mother,'” she said.

If you or someone you know is struggling, you can contact any of the people or organizations listed here, or go to a mental health walk-in clinic in your area. If the situation is urgent, go to the hospital emergency department.

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CBC | Health News