-On average, everyday 28 Indian Farmers commit suicide in Indian
-60% of the Indian population works in agriculture
-People in the farm sector accounted for 7.4% of the total suicides in India
-Report shows over 10,000 Farmers committed suicide in 2019.
Mansa, (India): Kiran Kaur surveys her family’s paltry plot of land in Mansa, in the northern Indian state of Punjab, and gestures dismissively at the three acres of wheat that will soon yield to cotton plants, which bring in little profit.
“Cotton is a complete failure for us,” she said. Prices are low, and the cost of producing the fibre is far too high. It’s what drove her father, Gurnam Singh, to take his own life nearly five years ago on the same plot of land that defeated him, driving the family to the edge of economic ruin, she says.
“Life is still very tough without him here,” Kaur, 25, told CBC News. “But that first year after his death almost destroyed me and my family. I dropped my studies and sat at home. The world blacked out for me. I have no recollection of the 10 days that followed his death.”
What fills Kaur with guilt is that she didn’t see it coming. Her father was one of her best friends, and yet, he kept the crippling debt he was struggling to manage hidden from her and the family. “When he died, things were falling apart,” acknowledged Shinderpal Kaur, Kiran’s mother.
She knew about the massive loans her husband had taken out to pay for their eldest daughter’s wedding and to cover medical treatment for Kiran. Even so, the notion that her husband would kill himself never entered her mind.”I never thought the suicide crisis would hit me,” Shinderpal said. “Not in my wildest dreams.”
The crisis is deeply felt in Mansa, one of the poorest districts in Punjab, which is often referred to as the country’s breadbasket, because of its rich soil and rice fields. Nearly every village here has had a string of suicides over the past few decades, but the problem goes beyond the district and even the state.Bankruptcy, debt major factors
As in the rest of the world, the agriculture sector in India is hit disproportionately hard by suicide. Sixty per cent of the country’s population works in agriculture.
The latest data from the National Crime Records Bureau shows more than 10,000 farmers and agricultural labourers killed themselves in 2019, that’s 7.4 per cent of India’s total suicide victims. (As a comparison, students also made up 7.4 per cent while civil servants accounted for 1.2 per cent.) That means an average of 28 suicides in India’s farming community every day.
While there’s rarely just one factor that leads to suicide, the root causes for the suicides among India’s farmers highlighted in the government’s data are mainly linked to despair over their livelihoods. That ranges from bankruptcy and debt to farming-related issues and crop failure. The crisis is spread across two dozen of India’s states, with the highest number of agricultural suicides in the densely populated Maharashtra state. But it is particularly acute in Punjab, where farmer suicides have increased more than tenfold in the past five years.
The state was transformed in the mid-1960s by the Green Revolution, when the government introduced subsidies to encourage farmers to grow high-yielding rice and wheat varieties that eventually led to the country becoming self-sufficient in those grains.But over the years, problems started to accumulate. All those water-intensive paddy fields led to the depletion of the area’s groundwater. Many farmers poured money into digging deeper wells and into pesticides to protect their crops, but their costs spiralled, leading to crushing debt for many.
Decades in the making, it’s such a deep-rooted crisis that many farmers take their own lives by consuming a pesticide called Sulfas. In Haryana state, the phrase “consuming Sulfas” has become shorthand for suicide. “It’s become a social phenomenon,” said Vikas Rawal, an economics professor specializing in agrarian distress at New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University. He noted that references to Sulfas have also turned up in songs dealing with the plight of India’s farmers.
“It’s a loss-making enterprise, but these farmers don’t have anything else to do, so they just keep doing it,” Rawal said. Jobs are scarce, and many people are also reluctant to give up even the smallest plot of land their families own to work for someone else. Rawal said they end up having few options but to descend further into debt. He said up to 90 per cent of India’s farmers can’t cover the basic costs of fertilizer, seeds, pesticide and other equipment.
“Your cost of production has gone up and then you’ve been made to compete with the world,” Rawal said, especially with the majority of India’s farmers tilling tiny plots of land. “That has squeezed incomes of farmers so much that basically they’re being forced to commit suicide.”
Kiran Kaur’s family in Mansa has been especially hard hit. Her father was one of three brothers out of four who took their own lives, leaving behind three widows and their young children.