The Life of Debt in Rural India


Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships




Over 250,000 farmers have committed suicide in India since 1995. Scholarly accounts link farmers’ suicides to an economy of peasant indebtedness and the industrialization of agriculture in the early 1990s. This project focuses ethnographic attention on suicides in the cotton-growing region of Vidarbha. It uses debt relations to understand social and ethical obligation in the wake of late-capitalist transformations of the agrarian landscape. It shows that as debt becomes an inseparable component of the productive process, it is viewed not as a hindrance, but rather as vital to ethical obligation. Usurious interest rates become grounds for negotiating social and familial proximity, and monetary debt becomes the language through which other exchanges, such as honor and gifts, receive meaning. The project revisits anthropological investments in debtor-creditor relations as the condition of sociality, and recent critiques of the governance of debt in late capitalism as the conversion of public wealth into private liability.