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Dying to be Read: Suicide Notes of Indian Farmers as Public Texts

Monday, March 27, 2023 at 12:15pm

Uris Hall, G08
Central Campus

Talk by Jomy Abraham

Wars, pogroms, environmental catastrophes, and resulting refugee crises turn certain geographies into killing fields. We are witnessing ‘unproductive’ geographies and population groups being abandoned to perish. The contemporary world is seeing new modes of narratives and texts emerging from such death-worlds which demand scholarly attention. Agricultural lands in India have turned into death-worlds where a massive number of suicides have been reported since the mid-1990s. Economic policies implemented by consecutive governments, the introduction of GM crops with inadequate research along with changing climate patterns have pushed a vast population into great distress and the agricultural sector as a whole into a crisis. Situating the suicide notes of farmers from India as texts emerging from a geography of abandonment and death, this paper intends to understand how the act of writing and the text, when the self is anticipating to cease, become ‘the political’ act. A suicide note is the final, desperate means for a ‘suiciding’ farmer to speak in a political voice. Having been written at the cusp of life and death, these texts open up a multiplicity of styles, forms, and materiality to acquire the characteristics of ‘public texts’ with the potential to unsettle the state narratives. Discussing these texts in their singularity within the larger context of the continuing agrarian crisis, the paper will argue how the suicide notes as public texts negotiate for the farming community in the age of necro-power.

Dr. Jomy Abraham is a Visiting Scholar at the South Asia Program, Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies, Cornell University. She received her Ph.D. from the Centre for English Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, India, in 2021. Her thesis titled Thanatowritings: Death, Self and Writing in the Farmers’ Suicide Notes from Vidarbha Region, Maharashtra is an interdisciplinary work that draws from literary philosophy, environmental humanities, political theory, and critical suicidology studies to understand texts and authors emerging from geographies where death is ubiquitously present. She obtained her MPhil degree from the Department of English, University of Hyderabad, India. Her dissertation titled De/reterritorialising the Nation: Gender Politics in the Short Stories of Contemporary Women Writers in Kerala tries to understand the shift in the gender politics in the stories of women writers from Kerala to problematise the idea of a nation. She is a literary studies scholar interested in the philosophy of literature, death and literature, death and contemporary cultures, environmental humanities, gender and literature, and Indian English fiction. She has published both peer-reviewed and popular articles. She is currently working towards publishing her book titled Suicide Studies: Philosophy, History, and Politics (a rough English translation) in Malayalam, her first language.

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Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies, Asian Studies, South Asia Program



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