Friday, December 23, 2011

Farmers' suicides in India

Farmers' suicides in India

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

India is an Agrarian country with around 60% of its people directly or indirectly depend upon Agriculture. Agriculture in India is often attributed as gambling with Monsoon because of its almost exclusive dependency on Monsoons. The failure of these monsoons leading to series of droughts, lack of better prices, exploitation by Middlemen have been leading to series of suicides committed by farmers across India.

Farmers in India became the centre of considerable concern in the 1990s when the journalist P Sainath highlighted the large number of suicides among them. Official reports initially denied the farmer suicides but as more and more information came to light the government began to accept that farmers in India were under considerable stress. On figures there was much debate since the issue was so emotive. The government tried to underplay the cases of farmer deaths, intellectual supporters of the farmers preferred to inflate them. More than 17,500 farmers a year killed themselves between 2002 and 2006, according to experts who have analyzed government statistics.[2] Others traced the increase in farmer suicides to the early 1990s.[3] It was said, a comprehensive all-India study is still awaited, that most suicides occurred in states of Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Kerala and Punjab.[4][5][6][7][8] The situation was grim enough to force at least the Maharashtra government to set up a dedicated office to deal with farmers distress.[9]

In 2006, the state of Maharashtra, with 4,453 farmers’ suicides accounted for over a quarter of the all-India total of 17,060, according to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB). NCRB also stated that there were at least 16,196 farmers' suicides in India in 2008, bringing the total since 1997 to 199,132 .[10] According to another study by the Bureau, while the number of farm suicides increased since 2001, the number of farmers has fallen, as thousands abandoning agriculture in distress.[11] According to government data, over 5,000 farmers committed suicide in 2005-2009 in Maharashtra, while 1,313 cases reported by Andhra Pradesh between 2005 and 2007. In Karnataka the number stood at 1,003, since 2005-06 till August 2009. But in Kerala because of the interference of L.D.F government the suicidal rates are reduced. L.D.F Government took necessary actions to reduce suicide of farmers. They introduced a debt relief law. Also given 50000 rupees to the suicide persons family. Also take necessary steps to give up the debts of farmers below 25000 rupees. Kerala government was an icon at that time. Central Government also praised these activities. Introduced an insurance scheme for farmers named "kissan abhimaan". The strategic movements of LDF government reduced the suicide rate during 2006 to 2011. According to NCRB database number of suicides during 2005-2009 in Gujarat 387, Kerala 905, Punjab 75 and Tamil Nadu 26.[12] In April 2009, the state of Chattisgarh reported 1,500 farmers committed suicide due to debt and crop failure.[13] At least 17,368 Indian farmers killed themselves in 2009, the worst figure for farm suicides in six years, according to data of the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB).[14]
[edit] History

In the 1990s India woke up to a spate of farmers suicides. One of the major reporters of these suicides was the Rural Affairs Editor of The Hindu, P. Sainath. The first state where suicides were reported was Maharashtra. Soon newspapers began to report similar occurrences from Andhra Pradesh.[15] In the beginning it was believed that most of the suicides were happening among the cotton growers, especially those from Vidarbha.[16] A look at the figures given out by the State Crime Records Bureau, however, was sufficient to indicate that it was not just the cotton farmer but farmers as a professional category were suffering, irrespective of their holding size.[17] Moreover, it was not just the farmers from Vidarbha but all over Maharashtra who showed a significantly high suicide rate.[18][19] The government appointed a number of inquiries to look into the causes of farmers suicide and farm related distress in general. Subsequently Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visited Vidarbha and promised a package of Rs.110 billion (about $2.4 billion) to be spent by the government in Vidarbha. The families of farmers who had committed suicide were also offered an ex gratia grant to the tune of Rs.100,000 (about $2,000) by the government. This figure kept on varying, depending on how much criticism the government was facing from the media and the opposition parties for being uncaring towards the farmers' plight. Such a high figure was ironic considering that the net average income of a family of farmers in this region was approximately Rs.2700 (about $60) per acre per annum. The economic plight of the farmer might be illustrated with the fact that a farmer having as much as 15 acres (61,000 m2) of land, and hence considered a well-off farmer, had an income of just a little more than what he would have earned were he to merely get the legal minimum wage for all of the 365 days of the year. Little wonder that despite government efforts at pumping in more money into the suicide belt the suicide epidemic among farmers remained unabated through 2006-07. The problems of the farmers were quite comprehensive. There was little credit available. What was available was very costly. There was no advice on how best to conduct agriculture operations. Income through farming was not enough to meet even the minimum needs of a farming family. Support systems like free health facilities from the government were virtually non-existent. Traditionally support systems in the villages of India had been provided by the government. However, due to a variety of reasons the government had either withdrawn itself from its supportive role or plain simple misgovernance had allowed facilities in the villages to wither away.[20]
[edit] Causes

Research by various investigators like Raj Patel,[2] Nagraj,[18][19] Meeta and Rajivlochan,[21] identified a variety of causes. India was transforming rapidly into a primarily urban, industrial society with industry as its main source of income; the government and society had begun to be unconcerned about the condition of the countryside; moreover, a downturn in the urban economy was pushing a large number of distressed non-farmers to try their hand at cultivation; the farmer was also caught in a Scissors Crisis; in the absence of any responsible counselling either from the government or society there were many farmers who did not know how to survive in the changing economy. Such stresses pushed many into a corner where suicide became an option for them [22]

Research has also pointed to a certain types of technological change as having played an instrumental role in the problem. One study from the Punjab showed dramatic misuse of agricultural chemicals in farmer households in the absence of any guidance on how to correctly use these deadly chemicals and linked it to the rise in farm suicides wherever farm chemicals were in widespread use.[23] Important research in Andhra Pradesh showed the very rapid change in seed and pesticide products to have caused "deskilling" in the cotton sector.[24]
[edit] Responses to Farmers suicides

Vidarbha was in the media for a spate of farmer suicides in recent years ostensibly because of the falling Minimum Support Price for cotton. The problem is complex and root causes include lopsided policies of the World Trade Organisation and developed nations' subsidies to their cotton farmers which make Vidarbha's cotton uncompetitive in world markets. Consequently Vidarbha is plagued by high rates of school drop outs, penniless widows left in the wake of suicides, loan sharks and exploitation of the vulnerable groups.[25]

The Indian government had promised to increase the minimum rate for cotton by approximately Rs 100 ($2) but reneged on its promise by reducing the Minimum Support Price further. This resulted in more suicides as farmers were ashamed to default on debt payments to loan sharks. "In 2006, 1,044 suicides were reported in Vidarbha alone - that's one suicide every eight hours."[26]

In April 2007 a development consulting group named Green Earth Social Development Consulting brought out a report after doing an audit of the state and central government relief packages in Vidarbha. The report's conclusions were:

Farmers' demands were not taken into account while preparing the relief package. Neither were civil society organisations, local government bodies, panchayats etc. consulted.
The relief packages were mostly amalgamations of existing schemes. Apart from the farmer helpline and the direct financial assistance, there was scarcely anything new being offered. Pumping extra funds into additional schemes shows that no new idea was applied to solve a situation where existing measures had obviously failed.
The farmer helpline did not give any substantial help to farmers except in Karnataka.
The basis for selection of beneficiaries under the assistance scheme was not well-defined. Also, type of assistance to be given led to problems like a farmer needing a pair of bullocks getting a pump set and vice versa (or a farmer who has no access to water sources being given pump sets)
Awareness regarding the package was also fairly low.

The report concluded quite alarmingly that the loan burden of the farmers would double in 2008.

To attract attention a variety of catch phrases were coined such as ‘SEZ’ or (Farmers) ‘Special Elimination Zone’ states.[27]

The government set up a dedicated group to deal with farm distress in 2006 known as the Vasantrao Naik Sheti Swavlamban Mission, based in Amravati [9] A group to study the Farmers Suicides was also constituted by the Government of Karnataka under the Chairmanship of Dr Veeresh, Former Vice Chancellor of Agricultural University and Prof Deshpande as member.[28]
[edit] In popular culture

"Summer 2007" by producer Atul Pandey, focused on the issue of farmer suicides in Maharashtra's Vidarbha region, as did the 2009 Bollywood film Kissan.[29] Prior to this "The Dying Fields", a documentary directed by Fred de Sam Lazaro was aired in August, 2007 on Wide Angle (TV series).

In 2006, A documentary by Indian film maker Sumit Khanna titled "Mere Desh Ki Dharti" , did a comprehensive review of the way we grow our food. A well researched and in-depth understanding of the agrarian crisis, it won the national award for the best Investigative film.

In 2009, the International Museum of Women included an examination of the impact of farmers' suicides on the lives of the farmers' wives and children in their exhibition Economica: Women and the Global Economy. Their slideshow "Growing Debt" and accompanying essay by curator Masum Momaya entitled "Money of Her Own" showed how many widows were left with the burden of their husbands' debts, and were forced to work as indentured servants to repay the debt. The widows were also unlikely to remarry, because other men in the community were unwilling to take on the widows' debts for themselves.[30]

The 2010, award winning film Jhing Chik Jhing is based around the emotive issue of farmer suicides in Maharashtra. It looks at how the farmer has very little in his control and looks at the impact of indebtedness on his family.[31]
[edit] See also

Farmers Suicide in Western Orissa
Suicide in India
The Corporation - Explains the impact of commodification and patenting life forms on independent farmers.
P. Sainath, a journalist who covered the Covering farmers' suicides in India, later won the 2007 Ramon Magsaysay Award
Peepli Live (2010 film)
Kissan (2009 film)
Battle in Seattle, a 2007 film that quotes the Indian suicide statistic in the end credits)

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