0.25m farmer suicides in India since ’95


Jawed Naqvi

NEW DELHI, Oct 29: More than a quarter million Indian farmers committed suicide in the last 16 years, making it the worst-ever recorded wave of suicides of this kind anywhere, The Hindu reported on Saturday.

“It’s official. The country has seen over a quarter of a million farmers’ suicides between 1995 and 2010,” the newspaper said in an article by P. Sainath, an acclaimed scholar on India’s rural distress.

Mr Sainath quoted the National Crime Records Bureau’s latest report on’Accidental Deaths & Suicides in India’ as placing the number for 2010 at 15,964. “That brings the cumulative 16-year total from 1995 – when the NCRB started recording farm suicide data – to 256,913, the worst-ever recorded wave of suicides of this kind in human history.”

The period straddles the peaking of free-market reforms inaugurated by then finance minister Manmohan Singh and his second innings as prime minister, which began in May 2009.

“Maharashtra posts a dismal picture with over 50,000 farmers killing themselves in the country’s richest state in that period,” The paper said.

It also remains the worst state for such deaths for a decade now. Close to two-thirds of all farm suicides have occurred in five states: Maharashtra, Karnataka, A.P., Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.

“The data show clearly that the last eight years were much worse than the preceding eight,” Mr Sainath, author of the Everybody Loves a Good Drought, a widely acknowledged authentic record of India’s rural calamity, wrote.

As many as 135,756 farmers killed themselves in the 2003-10 period, the paper said.

For 1995-2002, the total was 121,157. “On average, this means the number of farmers killing themselves each year between 2003 and 2010 is 1,825 higher than the numbers that took their lives in the earlier period.”

It was alarming since the total number of farmers is declining significantly. “Compared to the 1991 census, the 2001 census saw a drop of over seven million in the population of cultivators (main workers). The corresponding census data for 2011 are yet to come in, but their population has surely dipped further. In other words, farm suicides are rising through the period of India’s agrarian crisis, even as the number of farmers is shrinking.”

While the 2010 numbers show a dip of 1,404 from the 2009 figure of 17,368, there is little to cheer about.

“There was a similar dip in 2008, only to be followed by the worst numbers in six years in 2009,” points out Prof K. Nagaraj, an economist at the Asian College of Journalism, Chennai, who did the largest ever study of the farm suicides covering a decade.

“This one-year decline does not in any way indicate we have turned the corner. This dip happened mostly because of one-off falls in Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh. In fact, a look at the ‘Big 5’ who drive the numbers shows the fallout of the agrarian crisis to be as grim as ever. They have actually increased their share of the farm suicides.”

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