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.
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.
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.