Farmer suicides in India

Published: April 26, 2015
The writer is the editor and translator of Why I write: Essays by Saadat Hasan Manto, published by Westland in 2014. His book, India, Low Trust Society, will be published by Random House

The writer is the editor and translator of Why I write: Essays by Saadat Hasan Manto, published by Westland in 2014. His book, India, Low Trust Society, will be published by Random House [email protected]

“Congress has turned Lal Bahadur Shastri’s slogan of ‘Jai Jawan Jai Kisan’ into ‘Mar Jawan, Mar Kisan’. Farmers in Gujarat did not think of ending their lives.” Narendra Modi on March 30, 2014 when farmers were killing themselves under the corrupt, incompetent and anti-national UPA.

“The problem is very old, deep-rooted and widespread. Don’t let our farmers die. Whatever (previous) governments could do, they have been doing. We need to introspect and find a solution collectively.” Narendra Modi on April 23, 2015, when farmers were killing themselves under the clean, competent and patriotic NDA.

Farmer suicides are in the news in India, and this is unusual because viewers find agriculture stories unappealing and such things are rarely covered by English television channels. What changed is that a farmer hung himself before a grateful national media, which duly recorded the tragedy and has been replaying it since. The event occurred at a meeting called by Delhi’s Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which is looking increasingly unmoored and unhinged.
At first nobody could figure out who was to blame for the man’s death. The AAP blamed the BJP, the BJP blamed the AAP and Congress blamed both. But the long-term implications are clear: this issue is something that the BJP cannot ignore, and will need to manage, and that explains the prime minister’s statement reproduced above.
Don’t politicise the deaths of farmers, said Home Minister Rajnath Singh in a debate when the matter went to the Lok Sabha. Who politicised it? Having made farmer suicides a campaign issue, Modi and the BJP should have no complaints in now having to live with it.
And, in any case, if this is not the stuff of democratic politics what is?
In 2013, The Hindu reported that “suicide rates among Indian farmers were a chilling 47 per cent higher than they were for the rest of the population” and that nationwide, the farmers’ suicide rate was 16.3 per 100,000 farmers in 2011. That was five points higher than 11.1, the rate for the rest of the population.” The paper said that data showed “at least 270,940 Indian farmers have taken their lives since 1995. This occurred at an annual average of 14,462 in six years, from 1995 to 2000. And at a yearly average of 16,743 in 11 years between 2001 and 2011. That is around 46 farmers’ suicides each day, on average. Or nearly one every half-hour since 2001.”

And even these numbers might actually not be telling the full story. A BBC story the same year said that “a huge study of suicides in India published (in July 2012) in the UK medical journal, the Lancet, found these figures under-report the problem and suggests there were 19,000 suicides in 2010”.

So Modi is quite right to suggest that this is an old, deep-rooted and widespread problem, and that is something he should have considered when he accused other governments of murdering farmers deliberately.

To some extent, the problem is universal. A Newsweek report last year said: “In the US the rate of farmer suicides is just under two times that of the general population. In the UK one farmer a week commits suicide. In China, farmers are killing themselves daily to protest the government taking over their prime agricultural lands for urbanisation. In France, a farmer dies by suicide every two days. Australia reports one farmer suicide every four days. India yearly reports more than 17,627 farmer suicides.”

Huffington Post’s Terezia Farkas, who quoted the report, explained why this was the case: “Farming is characterised by high stress. You live your profession 24/7. A farmer is both boss and employee. Sick benefits and medical leave depend on the same person. Canadian farmers have to pay into unemployment insurance but usually don’t qualify for the benefit when they become unemployed. Financial pressures, livestock disease, poor harvest, climate change, government policies and legislation can devastate farmers.

High stress combined with frustration can lead to depression. When you feel or believe you have nowhere to turn for help, the idea of suicide starts to look really good.

Stigma and lack of education about depression are the main culprits of farmer suicides. Farmers tend to adhere to the stereotypical image of the self-reliant, tough farmer who doesn’t complain. A farmer who complains of being depressed will usually be labelled crazy, whiner or wimp by fellow farmers. Instead of talking about his depression, a farmer might say, ‘I’m just tired, worn out.’ Ignoring or hiding depression is not the way to deal with depression.”

A report titled “Spate of cases of suicide by farmers” was written by the Intelligence Bureau for the Modi government in December. It noticed “an upward trend in cases of farmer suicides in Maharashtra, Telangana, Karnataka and Punjab recently, besides reporting of instances in Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh and Tamil Nadu”.
It blamed “rising farmer suicides on erratic monsoon (at the onset stage), outstanding loans, rising debt, low crop yield, poor procurement rate of crops and successive crop failure. It also linked the agriculturists’ woes to a depleted water table, unsuitable macro-economic policies with respect to taxes, non-farm loans and faulty prices of import and export.”

It added: “the main reason of farmers’ suicides can be attributed to both natural and manmade factors … while natural factors like uneven rains, hailstorm, drought and floods adversely affect crop yield, the manmade factors, i.e., pricing policies and inadequate marketing facilities result in post-yield losses”.

And so this government is to blame, according to its own report. And there will be no running away from the consequences, as Modi will learn.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 26th, 2015.

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Reader Comments (10)

  • C. Nandkishore
    Apr 26, 2015 - 4:02AM

    Farmer suicides will increase this year for the following reasons:

    Unseasonal rains which devastated many parts of India. Crop has been lost.
    No increase in MSP. An urban employee gets a yearly increase in his salary. This year the farmer is seeing a decrease in income.
    No fertilizers are available. The Modi govt either by fault or design delayed the import of fertilizers which resulted in black marketing.
    Foodgrains procurement has been reduced and delayed.
    The central govt is the last resort in years of stress. This govt is perceived as a suit boot sarkar.
    Payment for Employment guarantee schemes has been delayed.

    This year the gods have conspired against the farmer. And the Modi government is squeezing him from all sides.

    The bright side is that to tide over this difficulties the farmer unwillingly sells his land cheap and this will help industry to buy land at throwaway prices.Recommend

  • Anjaan
    Apr 26, 2015 - 4:51AM

    The people of India will like the Modi Govt. to succeed and not to fail, although there are many in India who do want the Govt. to fail including this author … the people will not like the Modi Govt to be blamed for something that is a making of the the past 68 years, by the utterly incompetent and corrupt Khangress party. Recommend

  • Apr 26, 2015 - 5:14AM

    If the Hindu farmers are killing themselves, there is a reason for it. All minds
    are set in the last century, bunyas and the caste system. There is no help anywhere.
    Modi is just a demagogue. His agenda is using religion race and ethnicity. He
    has nothing left in his bag of tricks. Fresh out of everything. With Kashmir brewing.
    However, this is not hard to understand. For the last 68 years, Hindustan is running
    pillar to post, to learn how to govern itself. Never having to do it themselves in the
    past thousands of years. Some invader, conqueror was always ruling. The Muslims
    did a brilliant job for 1400 yrs.. Then the British Raj did a fairly decent job. Hindus
    simply cannot govern themselves. They should go and beg, petition, Queen Elizabeth
    to take over the country. Again. And bail them out. A life of servitude will suit
    the Hindustanis,…just fine. just fine.Recommend

  • Kolsat
    Apr 26, 2015 - 5:16AM

    The Congress and National Congress Party are both hypocrites in blaming Narendra Modi and the BJP for the deaths of farmers. As the author points out under their regime of both these parties since 1995 farmers have been dying at the rate of 47 every day. Therefore they have no right to blame BJP because it will take time for Modi to reverse the trend set in place by the policies of these two parties whose corrupt leaders and members drove farmers to suicide. Shame on them.Recommend

  • Apr 26, 2015 - 5:28AM

    As the ‘The Hindu’ reported suicide rates is closer to 54% higher.
    because a vast majority are reported as lethal accidents. Strangely,
    the farmers seems to suffer a huge number of “accidents”. Anyone
    surprised? Did not think so. Now here is what staring Bharat in the
    face…FAMINE… keep this up, [farmers dying], and pretty soon very
    few left to keep up the demands of a huge 1.7 billion idlis and dosas
    eating population. Well,…beef might be coming back,…. as legal……
    A starving hindu will not worry about pleasing anyone Gods, or otherwiseRecommend

  • Apr 26, 2015 - 7:39AM

    [email protected]: yo, Burmawala, Pakistani farmers commit the suicide at the same rate as Indian farmers. The only difference is the Fuedals don’t allow the truth to come out.Recommend

  • dada
    Apr 26, 2015 - 8:55AM

    @author & @Gopeet: Farmers have been dying much more in numbers in alien rule over India. These farmers instead of allowing themselves to die decided to kill for their rights and that is how Marathas & Sikhs created empire. Shivaji’s forefathers two generations back were farm hands, Mahadji Shinde (Scindia) who made Mughal progeny of Aurangzeb for their survival was a Kunbi, landless laborer. Last massive farmer and their progeny killing happened was in 1943 because of artificial famine created by British by their confiscation of grains & produce for their war effort. 3 Million of them died in that famine. No communist, Muslim Leager raised a finger against this atrocity.Recommend

  • abhi
    Apr 26, 2015 - 3:18PM

    Congress is doing worst kind of politics. After theri failure in Lok sabha election now they are trying their best to sabotage the development agends. The english media’s love for farmers is not becuase of any specific reason. There are many journalist who are sympathatic to congress and you can see them planting the stories to defame BJP government.Recommend

  • Pakistani
    Apr 26, 2015 - 5:23PM

    High suicide rate for farmers in India is due to Land reforms, there is very less suicide ratio in Pakistan because no land reforms here, not because of its not get reported into newspapers. Recommend

  • Geopolitik
    Apr 26, 2015 - 5:30PM

    Nobody mentioned the Real reason behind Farmers suicides in India to a large extent and all over the world! The use of chemicals and pesticides in their daily life. Let me explain in plain english. Farmers are under stress and pressure to begin with. From unfavourable weather to loss of their lands to corporations to not enough subsidies provided by Govt to urbanization etc,etc. But it is when dangerous chemicals eg Glycophospate, Round up(add up 100’s of other herbicides, pesticides here) mix with their already fragile emotional being, that becomes a combustible mixture. Farmers fell victim to Depression first and because of unable to get proper medical help (which should identify and remove the trigger) they resort to suicide.

    That is real reason behind their tragic deaths. I can give you 1000’s of references for this rationale but please Google real reasons for depression, suicide belt in India,GMO in India Recommend

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