Unmasking the Disturbing Reality of Farmer Suicides in India

Unmasking the Disturbing Reality of Farmer Suicides in India

India's agriculture crisis deepens with rising farmer suicides, as the climate crisis further compounds their struggles. Amid political indifference and data discrepancies, urgent action is needed this election year.
First Published: Feb 06,2024 09:07PM
by Aryan Saini
Farmer suicides in India

Farmer suicides in India
An Indian farmer | Photo courtesy: Special arrangement 

India’s economy is undeniably intertwined with its agricultural sector, which contributes a significant 70% to the national income. In the pre-independence era, a staggering 95% of the nation’s economic sustenance hinged on agriculture and its associated revenues. This shows how farmers have historically played a critical role in driving India’s economic engine. They have been the backbone of the nation, providing food security and livelihoods for millions. However, a dark shadow looms over this crucial sector as we witness the distressing surge in farmer suicides. 

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The farmer suicides in India is multifaceted, driven by a complex web of factors. These tragic deaths can be attributed to a variety of reasons, including natural disasters like floods and droughts that devastate crops, the burden of mounting debt, the adoption of genetically modified seeds, inadequate government support, the impact of climate change, and the use of lower quantities of pesticides due to financial constraints, resulting in decreased yields. However, when we examine the overarching pattern, one critical factor consistently stands out – the inability to repay loans. This burden of debt, compounded by other stressors, pushes many farmers over the edge, making it the primary catalyst behind these heart-wrenching suicides.

When we delve deeper into the distressing issue of farmer suicides in India, it becomes evident that there are two distinct categories of these tragic deaths. On one hand, we have farmers who take their own lives because they find themselves trapped in a suffocating cycle of debt, struggling to repay loans they have already acquired. On the other hand, there are farmers who are driven to suicide because they face the stark reality of being unable to secure loans in the first place. For instance, a paddy farmer in Alappuzha, Kerala, tragically died by suicide in November of last year. His desperate act came to pass after several banks denied him the financial lifeline he so much needed.

According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), in 2022, India witnessed a staggering 11,290 farmer suicides, marking a 3.75 percent increase from the 10,881 suicides reported in the previous year. This means that, on average, 30 farmers took their own lives every single day in 2022. To further emphasise the gravity of the situation, consider this stark fact: there was one farmer suicide every hour of the day throughout the entire year.

However, these numbers only scratch the surface, for they fail to capture the full extent of the agony experienced by farmers across the country. Beyond a certain point, these statistics become an inadequate representation of the harsh reality on the ground. Many believe that the actual number of farmer suicides far surpasses the figures officially recorded by the government. 

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The NCRB has long been criticised for its handling of data related to farmer suicides, and these concerns are not unfounded. The bureau’s methodology for collecting suicide data has significant limitations, as it relies solely on information gathered from police stations in various states. It’s a well-known fact that not every suicide is reported, and not every case results in a First Information Report (FIR) being registered.

Activists in the country have raised valid concerns about the accuracy of these statistics. The classification of a suicide as a farmer’s suicide hinges on whether the farmer’s name appears on the land title deed. This raises a fundamental issue: if a farmer who tragically takes their own life has been cultivating ancestral land registered in their father’s name, will their death be officially recognised as a farmer suicide? Similarly, when a woman farmer dies, her name is often omitted from government registers, as the land is typically not in her name. She is reduced to being labeled as someone’s daughter or wife who committed suicide, thereby not being counted as a farmer suicide case.

These are just a few examples of the systemic challenges in accurately documenting farmer suicides. As one delves deeper into the issue, one uncovers even more reasons why countless cases go unrecorded. Therefore, when we consider the staggering data provided by the NCRB, we must acknowledge the enormity of this problem and recognise that the actual scale of farmer suicides in India may be far greater than what these official figures indicate. 

Adding to the already dire situation, the escalating climate change crisis has compounded the challenges faced by farmers in India. A study conducted by the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) has shed light on a distressing correlation: farmer suicides are on the rise during drought years, and climate change appears to be a significant factor behind this troubling trend.

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As we find ourselves in the midst of an election year, there’s a palpable hope that the mounting pressure from various quarters will not lead to the underreporting of farmer suicides. Thousands of bereaved families, who have tragically lost their loved ones to suicide, continue to navigate bureaucratic mazes, desperately seeking the compensation they are owed. Many of these families face a uniquely distressing challenge – they must tirelessly prove to the government, on paper, that the deceased family member was indeed a farmer.

Regrettably, the response from the political class has often been far from empathetic. In the past, we have seen many insensitive comments being made by the political class against farmers. Recently, Karnataka Minister Shivanand Patil was heard saying that farmer suicides in the state were surging because the government had increased compensation. Astonishingly, a few days later, he went on to claim that some farmers even wished for droughts in the hope that it would lead to loan waivers.

What’s truly alarming is that such statements often go unchallenged and are even tolerated. It has become commonplace to witness governments portraying farmers as villains, branding them as greedy individuals who prioritise loan waivers over the fate of their crops. These narratives not only reveal the insensitivity of the ruling class but also lay bare the underlying causes of these tragic suicides.

While there may be countless factors driving a farmer to such despair, the fundamental question that looms large is this: Are we truly affording the farmers of our nation the dignity they rightfully deserve? Despite labelling them as the backbone of our country, are we providing them with the support and strength they require to face the multitude of challenges that threaten their livelihoods? This question beckons us to reflect on the true essence of our commitment to those who tirelessly toil to feed our nation.

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