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India: A wave of suicides among farmers

India is the world's second most populous country with a population of 1.2 billion people and 70% of its population lives in the villages. Over 456 million Indians (42% of the population) fall below the international poverty line of $1.25 a day. Although the the agricultural sector accounts for 28% of GDP, a significant portion of the population are involved in this sector either as farmers or in support services. However an epidemic has hit the Indian farmers. Increasingly farmers are resorting to extreme measures like taking their own lives en masse to bail out of pressures of indebtedness and poverty and this has been happening year after year.

Devinder Sharma, an India based food and trade policy analyst who blogs at Ground Reality, informs:

60 farmers have committed suicide in the month of July (2009). By Aug 10, another 16 had taken their lives. That such a deadly drama continues to be enacted in the farms despite a number of committees and relief measures speaks volumes about the criminal apathy that prevails among the urban elite and the policy makers. The tragedy is that no one is keen to come to grips with the reasons that lead to this never ending saga of human suffering.

And why are these farmers committing suicide? Freelance journalist Nita J. Kulkarni explains in her blog A Wide Angle View of India:

Farmers fell into debt because of a combination of high farming costs – exorbitantly priced hybrid (so-called high yielding) seeds and pesticides sold by multinationals and a lack of a good price for their produce, partly due to imports. Drought added to their woes. Irrigation was too expensive for these farmers and the state government didn’t help.

Indian blogger S Gupta slams the ineffectiveness of the government relief systems.

Sonia Faleiro, an award-winning journalist and writer from India explains how the cotton farmers in Vidarbha region of the Maharashtra state are stuck into this quicksand of debt without the help from the State.

One diseased crop or the misguided purchase of spurious seeds, for example, necessitates a loan. Only five percent of farmers are eligible for loans from cooperatives and banks, usually because of a previous default. The remainder are forced into the grip of private, often hostile moneylenders who extract approximately Rs 500 interest every four months on every Rs 1,000 borrowed.

The burden of debt becomes unbearable, tips over at any small provocation by nature, and farmers commit suicide.

The burden of debt becomes unbearable, tips over at any small provocation by nature, and farmers commit suicide.


Vikas writes at Associación Prabhat, the blog of a non-profit organization registered in Spain and India to promote and support community developmental efforts in the forgotten parts of India. He is outraged by the inaction of the government and lack of concern of others:

If government want to solve farmers problem then why not farmers received special package after drought or flood (more often in Bihar). Why farmers in many part of country are denied even legal right to credit from commercial bank… Why no one is talking about malnutrition and hungers in many part of India (25% world poor and hungry lives in certain part of India) ?

Why there is no news of slow systematic massacre of farmers in many part of India?

I guess India is too busy in its economic progress and just want to live in dream that it’s getting closer to developed world (and 25% world poor living in India are non-existent).

Indian film maker, teacher, writer and blogger Harini Calamur shows how the media ignores the plights of the farmers resorting to suicide, by comparing it to the much coverage on celebrities:

On the day Shahrukh Khan got detained for two hours [..] 21 farmers committed suicide in Andhra Pradesh because they couldn’t pay off their debt.

But, farmers committing suicide cannot be sponsored, it does not drive up TRP’s and it definitely is not conducive for off the cuff ranting by our esteemed ‘journalists’.

Himanshu Rai , an IT expert and blogger, also points out to the selectivity of Indians in highlighting problems:

The increasing disparities between rural and urban sector is creating big vacuum in the development model.The irony is that nobody bothers about the poor any more or need for a real change.

The urban class, which constitutes less than 5% of the population, that gets disproportionate coverage. Job shredding at the airlines becomes bigger issue than the mass suicide of farmers in our country.

A recent report by the Navdanya Trust, an Indian campaign group, showed that “there were now more hungry people in India than in sub-Saharan Africa. And its hungriest of people are its producers – the farmers”.

The farmers are protesting. But their only tool is suicide. After four years of drought, 5,000 farmers in Indian state of Jharkhand have signed a suicide pact complaining that government is not taking any steps to improve their conditions.

Indian philosopher, environmental activist, eco feminist and writer Vandana Shiva blames it on the negative economy in the agricultural sector and globalization. However, with an unemployment rate of more than 7% it is unlikely that the farmers will be able to switch profession to survive.

Mitti, a short documentary made by amateur film makers Vibhu Mohunta and Ashish Dhadade shows the plights of the Indian farmers.

An award winning Indian development journalist P. Sainath at Counterpunch shows poverty and hunger are growing rapidly amongst the Indian farmers:

Millions of small and marginal Indian farmers are net purchasers of food grain. They cannot produce enough to feed their families and have to work on the fields of others and elsewhere to meet the gap. Having to buy some of the grain they need on the market, they are profoundly affected by hikes in food prices, as has happened since 1991, and particularly sharply earlier this year. Hunger among those who produce food is a very real thing. Add to this the fact that the “per capita net availability” of food grain has fallen dramatically among Indians since the “reforms” began:  from 510 grams per Indian in 1991, to 422 grams by 2005. (That’s not a drop of 88 grams. It’s a fall of 88 multiplied by 365 and then by one billion Indians.) As prof. Utsa Patnaik, India’s top economist on agriculture, has been constantly pointing out, the average poor family has about 100 kg less today than it did just ten years ago.

The poor Indian farmers will continue to suffer if there are lack of proper groundwater management, as geologist Suvrata Kher explains. The unavailability of easy credit facilities like micro-credit and lack of diversification of crops or other earning opportunities will add to their miseries. They are stuck in the cycle of poverty and the natural disasters like droughts pull them into the abyss. Economist and environmentalist Sanjeev Sanyal opines that India needs to radically rethink its agricultural sector to stop these deaths.

The number one cause for suicide is untreated depression. Depression is treatable and suicide is preventable. You can get help from confidential support lines for the suicidal and those in emotional crisis. Please visit www.befrienders.org to find a suicide prevention helpline in your country.
  • http://www.solanasaurus.com/ Solana Larsen

    wow, I had never heard of such a thing as a “suicide pact”

  • Juliette.Qu

    While you are in a desperate situation, look around to see if you can find a solution or if others are in the same situation with you.
    Once a bunch of you are all in a desperate edge, what is more to lose?
    rebellion!

  • http://my.opera.com/oldephartte/blog/ opit

    Once the growers of food are gone…how will you eat ?
    The Panelist had a wonderful piece on Iraq and Monsanto a while back. India has the same problem with the so called Green Revolution and GM Foods with the seeds that must be bought season after season…eventually failing to bring in a crop.
    Indian farmers have been committing suicide for years. The reasons lie in a financial trap in which they become enmeshed.
    One of the most famous suicide pacts was at an African cult settlement called Jonestown. They drank poisoned Kool Aid.
    Rebellion! Easier said than done.
    If you haven’t followed policies designed to give corporations control of agriculture – nor know what disasters follow their operation – check http://www.worldproutassembly.org/archives/2006/05/corporate_agric.html and http://opitslinkfest.blogspot.com/2009/07/corporate-farming.html
    In Africa, farmers are also falling into a debt/drought trap.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/kombizz/3625350522/ kombizz

    What a sad story. I hope the Indian Government instead of dealling with military business, take care od her own people.

  • http://www.caribbeanfreeradio.com/blog Georgia Popplewell

    For a fictional treatment of the issue, see Mira Nair’s short film “Migration”, which is part of AIDS Jaago, a series of films about HIV/AIDS in India directed by major Indian directors and funded by the Gates Foundation.

    The film can be rented for free at jaman.com – http://www.jaman.com/movie/Mira-Nair-AIDS-Jaago-Films/05_VFYrxYIaI/

  • azmat

    Blame the religion please
    Same ol’ story same ol’ game in Pakistan and in India. The sad story of suicides makes me throw up. The villagers/farmers have been starving themselves to death for thousands of years. Only thing different now is these mass suicides. In Pakistan they do it for Allah the most merciful; usually the desperate poor are chosen to committ suicides to settle their outstanding debts with the elite or the poor elect to die and sell their souls so that others in the family can live a few more days. You don’t see mullas killing themselves for any cause, do ya? The situation in India is no different. The culprit again is despotism of class system of Hiduism. Poor are considered as “birth of rebirth” of dirty dogs. Their lives don’t mean much yet poor are supportive of religion and willingly serve the harsh and cruel religious minority. In desporation the poor people have to sell theirbody parts such as kidneys to make a little money for their starving families. What other choices do they have? Slim and none. In these countries the the govt. always looks the other way. There is no true democracy anywhere in the world, I don’t think. The slogan of democracy seems to say, “screw the poor and support the rich.” Even in the U.S the poor pay a heavy debt to the society with nothing in return. The white house was built by the sweat and blood of the African slaves. Its the fundamentalist elite that get away with everything everywhere, I mean the conservative right are the most hypocritical people on earth. Their “Holier than thou attitude:” They consider its their God given right to be served and not be criticized for anything. They guard this right with ‘reckless abandon’. We urgently need radical changes in Pakistan and in India; a revolution of reformation of some sort is warranted, otherwise the situation in these countries could get even worse.

  • Pingback: Conversations with Dina » “The Internet for the Next Million” - Mobile Innovations in Rural India

  • http://blog.savevillage.org Vikas

    Thanks for covering my blog here.
    Interesting to read few comments here. I don’t know if religion is really to blame.

    I have few related post on “blog.savevillage.org”
    Read the original blog covered in this article,

    Indian monsoon, economy and farmers’ suicide…
    http://blog.savevillage.org/?p=20

    Effect of draught and political game
    http://blog.savevillage.org/?p=106

    Land distribution in Bihar: political or social issue
    http://blog.savevillage.org/?p=18

    There are many factors and one very important factor is socio-economic and cultural factors which often have not been discussed in media.
    If you look Indian scenario, most of the suicide are in southern states which comparatively better off than northern states. Interestingly there are very or no cases of suicides in some of the most deprived state of India. I guess we need to analyse it properly before jumping on some media hyped conclusion…

    Vikas

    • azmat

      Vikas,
      “Believe it or not”
      True, there are many other factors that are resposible for these suisides but both Islam and Hinduism clearly stand out alone, above all as the main fellow culprits responsible for dishing out atrocities ( cruel and subhuman treatment) against the poor and the weak of our human race that cause these suisides. Almost all the problems we face in India and Pakistan have to do with religious fanatisim. Please do some soul searching on this: even one case of suiside in any region is one too many.

  • http://opitslinkfest.blogspot.com/ opit

    Before the British came, farm villages were wealthy. The UK’s legal system has its roots in land serfdom : open slavery. Now years down the road ‘religions’ – Hindi and Islam – are thrown up as the root cause of desperate acts by farmers.
    There’s an old joke : de Nile ( denial ) is a river in Egypt.
    http://opitslinkfest.blogspot.com/2009/07/corporate-farming.html

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