Farmer Suicides: Some Cold Hard Facts

Decrease in number of suicides is not enough, there should be no case of farmer suicide in the country,” observed the social justice bench of Justice Madan B. Lokur and Justice Uday Umesh Lalit as it pointed to the need to re-examine the National Policy for Farmers, 2007, saying that it may have some inherent deficiencies.

I read with great dismay these Supreme Court directions to the Government. Can any government assure the court that no man acting out of his own pent up emotions will henceforth commit suicide?

Let me say this upfront: Suicides are not a common cause of death. As per the data provided by the 2011 report of the Ministry of Statistics and Program Implementation, they do not figure in the top ten causes of death in either rural or urban India. Diseases kill far more number of people than self-injury. The suicide rate in India is 10.9 per lakh population of which only 1.4 to 1.8 per lakh are in farming and related occupations.

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60% of India’s population depends indirectly or directly upon agriculture for their livelihood. However, as per the National Crime Records Bureau (2013), farmer suicides account for only 8.7% of the total number of suicides in India – and this is not just for those who do it due to economic hardship but the overall number including those with family and other social problems. If 91.3% of suicides happen in areas with less than 40% of population, which segment of population is really at risk for suicides?

We look at some cold hard facts from the Government’s own data and analyze it in this article for the following:

  1. What percentage of population of the states stays in villages and cities, and whether it correspondingly correlates with suicide rates in those areas?
  2. Whether farmers are the most impoverished or are there other communities that are worse off financially?
  3. Whether financial condition correlates with suicide rates?
  4. Does education affect suicide rates?

We compare the data from the top twelve states in this regard.

TABLE 1: HIGHEST SUICIDE RATES VS HIGHEST URBAN VS HIGHEST RURAL POPULATION
TABLE 1: HIGHEST SUICIDE RATES VS HIGHEST URBAN VS HIGHEST RURAL POPULATION

As can be seen from the data, 4 out of 12 most urbanized states / Union territories appear on the “highest suicide rates” list as opposed to 3 of the most rural states. The indication is clear: it is not the most agricultural states that show highest suicide rates, but the urbanized ones.

TABLE 2: CORRELATION OF SUICIDE RATES WITH BPL STATUS
TABLE 2: CORRELATION OF SUICIDE RATES WITH BPL STATUS

The data thus indicates that states / union territories with high urban below poverty line status (4 out of top 12) have a higher incidence of suicides than states with high rural BPL status (3 out of top 12). Considering that 91.3% of all suicides happen in urban areas, the data does indicate that the highest risk population for suicides may actually be the urban poor. A dedicated study to document the incidence of suicides in urban poor population is strongly recommended.

TABLE 3: CORRELATION OF SUICIDE RATES WITH EDUCATION RATES
TABLE 3: CORRELATION OF SUICIDE RATES WITH EDUCATION RATES

CAUSES OF SUICIDES:One can logically assume that people with lesser education would be more prone to suicides due to lack of opportunities that education imparts. However, that is clearly not the case, as the above table shows. States with lower educated population do not fare any better on this account as well. It is reasonable to therefore infer that a higher level education does not afford any protection against suicides. It is intriguing that neither better financial condition nor a better education affords any protection against suicides. The data released by the NCRB for the year 2013 also shows an even spread of suicides proportionately across all segments of population.

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As per the data put out by the National Crime Records Bureau (2013), the highest causes of suicide by far were family problems (24.3%) and illness (19.6%). Poverty and unemployment together accounted for only 3.4% of all suicides. In individual states, the highest incidence as a percentage of overall suicides due to “bankruptcy or sudden change in economic status” was seen in Andhra Pradesh (7.1%), Kerala (3.8%) and Maharashtra (3.7%) – which, though a cause for concern, is far removed from the kind of publicity received by this small percentage of victims.

TABLE 4: CAUSES OF SUICIDES (NCRB, 2013)
TABLE 4: CAUSES OF SUICIDES (NCRB, 2013)

 

CONCLUSIONS

The perception that “most farmers are committing suicide all across India due to economic hardship” is so inherently flawed that one wonders why the respected Judges go by media hype instead of looking at the facts that stare at them in the face. Contrary to popular belief, farmers are not an “at risk” community for suicides any more than their counterparts in the cities. Also contrary to popular belief, better education or better financial condition does not reduce the incidence of suicides as is seen from the much-higher incidence of suicide in urban communities than in rural areas. It needs to be understood that if farmers and those in allied occupations suffer from severe financial problems, so do the urban poor and that the bulk of urban poor are actually rural migrants who have as much right for a solution to their financial problems as do the farmers.

The perspective may become clearer when one considers how the hype created around farmer suicides has been systematically exploited and abused by the political class to further an agenda instead of devoting the resources to actually addressing the problems faced by them. The NREGA scheme was at least in part justified due to heavy projection of farmer suicides, which was also used to justify massive loan waivers to farmers.

There is a genuine problem in certain states with regard to the severe distress faced by farmers. However, this issue needs to be seen in the larger perspective of poverty alleviation without unnecessary media hype of individual incidences of farmer suicides for a more balanced perspective in this regard.

REFERENCES:

  1. No farmer should commit suicide, SC tells Government – NDTV report http://www.ndtv.com/india-news/no-farmer-should-commit-suicide-supreme-court-tells-government-1209745
  2. Ministry of Statistics and Program Implementation report 2011 http://mospi.nic.in/mospi_new/upload/sel_socio_eco_stats_ind_2001_28oct11.pdf
  3. National Crime Record Bureau Report 2013 ncrb.gov.in/adsi2013/ADSI-2013.pdf

Contributed by: Dr Amit Thadhani (Consulting General & Laparoscopic Surgeon)

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