Guest Post by VASANTHI SRINIVASAN
With depressing regularity, the newspapers have been reporting farmers’ suicides in many states. Recently, P Sainath wrote on BBC that around 296,438 farmers have committed suicide since 1995. He also mentions that cash crop cultivators of cotton, sugar cane, vanilla, pepper, groundnut etc account for the bulk of those suicides. According to a PIL heard by the Supreme Court in December 2014, around 3146 farmers in Maharashtra have committed suicide this year. Of course, farmer’s suicides only account for a fraction of all suicides reported in India. Besides, farmer’s suicides are a global phenomenon. The litany of woes is also familiar to readers, namely rising indebtedness, crop failures, falling prices, natural disasters etc.
And yet the meaning of these suicides, if any, is worth reflecting upon.
Politicians, who are used to massive debts, seem to think this is an ‘extreme step’ on the part of farmers. In 2003, the then Union Minister for Agriculture hinted that indebtedness alone may not be causing the ‘extreme step’, and that ‘family problems’ may also be a reason. In Karnataka, the Veeresh committee report had earlier identified depression, alcoholism and marital discord rather than the rising debt as the relevant causes. Never one to lag behind, the hi-tech Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh Chandrababu Naidu announced compensations and proposed to get psychiatrists to rural areas. One scholar has pointed to the increasing isolation of cultivators and high levels of anxiety about failure suffered by some farmers . These attempts at ‘personalizing’ the farmers’ problems may be necessary but not sufficient as long as other factors remain unexplored – increasing cultivation costs, crop failures, water shortages and falling product price. Citing the high figures of suicides (204) in Maharashtra for 2014 until April, followed by Telangana (69 until October), the Times of India (dated Nov 26, 2014), reported that the present Central government admitted indebtedness as a possible factor. There are also calls to increase monetary compensation to families affected by such suicides. Continue reading Farmers’ Suicides and Fatal Politics: Vasanthi Srinivasan