(News) Farmer suicides: Myth and reality

News : Farmer suicides: Myth and reality

As a suicide is a very deep, very sad human tragedy, public discussion of suicides is expected to be careful and cautious. Unfortunately, this caution has not been observed in the case of so important an issue as farmers’ suicides in India, with the result that exaggeration and over-simplification, which are supposed to help the farmers’ cause are actually harming them.

Generally, the suicide rate of an occupational or other group is highlighted when it is much higher than the world average. In India the reported figure of 17,000 farmers’ suicides a year (during 2006) has been highlighted.

By going back to about a decade, it is stated that about one lakh farmers have committed suicide. Another frequently used figure is to say that 47 farmers commit suicide in a day, or two farmers commit suicide in one hour. It is easy to inflame passions by shouting that in this country the Finance minister P Chidambaram on Friday downplayed the lowering of India’s credit outlook by global rating agency Fitch, saying it is not a cause of worry as economic fundamentals are strong.

wo farmers are committing suicide every hour, but we would like to quietly ask — is this below the world average or above the world average?

As roughly one-sixth of the world’s people live in India and about two-third of Indians are, directly or indirectly, engaged in agriculture and allied activities, the world average norm for Indian farmers’ suicides would be about 10% or 11% of the world suicides. As about 9,00,000 suicides take place in the world in a year, the average norm for farmers in India would be a little over 90,000. The reported 17,000 suicides are much below this, even if additional suicides of teenagers, students, etc., from farmers’ families are added to the figure of 17,000.

The WHO World Report on Violence and Health says, “In the year 2000 an estimated 815,000 people died from suicide around the world. This represents an annual global mortality rate of about 14.5 per 100,000 population — or one death about every 40 seconds.” In other words, in the entire world 90 people commit suicide in one hour. The average norm for farmers in India would be nine suicides in one hour, while the reported figure is two per hour. Thus even after adding suicides by other family members, the reported figure of suicides for farmers in India is roughly about one-third of the world average norm.

Secondly, an impression has been frequently created as if all suicides by farmers are due to economic reasons. It is a reality that farmers across vast areas of India are in the middle of a real and serious crisis. I’ve myself documented many cases of farmers’ suicides in which their economic distress and indebtedness, sometimes aggravated by adverse weather conditions, had played a leading role. At the same time, many serious social problems are increasing in rural areas — dowry system and rising expenses of marriage, rapid spread of liquor vends in villages, tensions relating to caste and gender-based discrimination, breakdown of joint family, yearnings of youth which can’t be satisfied in the traditional system, etc.

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Courtesy : http://economictimes.indiatimes.com