Issue: farmer suicides in india
A PRECARIOUS SITUATION
Vast areas of rural India are currently facing a crisis that few outside of the subcontinent are aware is even occurring. Yet whether or not the world watches, the crisis deepens. At the center of this emergency are the thousands of Indian peasant farmers who have taken their own lives over the last fifteen years. Although an exact figure is hard to come by, one common estimate is that roughly 200,000 farmers have committed suicide between 1993 and 2010i. States hardest hit from this pandemic include Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Kerela and Panjab; since 2003 things have gotten much worse in all three places.
"Why?" people ask, is this happening. Like many other crises currently facing the world at this moment (genocide in Sudan, the destruction of the Amazon rainforest, etc.) there is no one single, complete answer to the painful riddle of farmer suicide in India. For rather than a single solitary cause, the reasons that an Indian farmer would take his own life are linked with several larger and deeply interrelated issues affecting India's society, environment and economy as a whole, including:
Vastly increasing rates of rural inequality across much of India. With the advent of industrial farming in India, beginning in the late 1960s, agricultural landholdings across the nation began to be moved into the hands of fewer and fewer large farmers, and out of the hands of the majority: small, peasant farmers. While this shift has been a boon for large agricultural endeavors, it has brought massive upheaval and chaos to traditional, agrarian society in many parts of India. In Panjab, for example, according to the state government's own 2004 Human Development Report, the move toward larger and larger farms in the Panjab has meant "dual processes of pauperization and proletarianisation"ii over its small and marginal farmers, without new opportunities for them opening up elsewhere in the society.
Severe ecological collapse both in soil and water systems due to a variety of factors, but intimately linked with the introduction of "high-yielding variety" (HYV) seeds into India during the so-called Green Revolution of the 1960s and 70s. With industrial farming practices spreading across India without regard to local ecologies and climates, entire areas that were formerly used for growing locally appropriate crops at an ecologically sustainable output were replaced with HYV "mono-crops" such as rice, wheat, or cotton. As such, Panjab became one of India's largest rice producing states, despite the fact that rice was never grown there on a large scale historically. As these regions' soils have eventually given way under years of industrial pesticide and fertilizer use, ever larger --and costlier-- amounts of these chemicals have been needed simply to maintain former yields. In addition to these chemical needs, thirsty HYV seeds require enormous amounts of water just to grow at all. To supply this water, industrial-scale irrigation technologies are needed. Few farmers can afford these technologies, and many go into un-recoupable debt trying to pay them off. In either case, as with chemicals, the long-term damage that industrial irrigation does to the land is vast. As water levels drop, formerly productive areas either go barren, or the farmers --the few who can actually afford it-- dig ever deeper "tubewells" to pull up the last drops of water that their land can supply, destroying their sole means of income in the process.
Skyrocketing levels of debt among Indian farmers, often at greater percentages for small-scale farmers.
Farmer debt in India ties together the first two issues, rising inequality and ecological damage, but also stands on its own as perhaps the primary factor motivating Indian farmers to end their lives. The levels of debt in rural India right now are truly astonishing. For example, in Panjab the average level of indebtedness-as of 2004-among farmers was about 120,000 rupeesiii ($2,716 USD) this despite the fact that the average per-capita income in India in 2004-2005 as a whole was only 23,222 rupees ($525 USD). In fact, the 2004-2005 per-capita income in Panjab's wealthiest city, Chandigarh, only came to 67,370 rupeesiv ($1,525 USD). In other words, Panjabi farmers' debt levels are nearly twice as much as their urban neighbors' income for an entire year.
In order to understand the farmer suicide crisis currently taking place in India, it is helpful to know a bit about the larger historical and global context from which it arose and where India's headed now.
Latest News on Farmer Suicides:
In 16 years, farm suicides cross a quarter million - The Hindu
Why is there no political reaction to farmer suicides? - Times of India
Around 900 farmer suicides in drought-hit Marathwada this year - The Indian Express
Farmer suicide problem worsening in Maha: RTI response - India Today
India's shock currency shift drives farmer to suicide - The National
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iMalika Chopra, The Huffington Post 2009
ii2004 Human Development Report: Panjab (The Government of Panjab w/ UNDP; 2004) 41.
iiiH.S. Shergill, "Rural Credit and Indebtedness in Panjab" (Institute for Development and Communication; 1998; Chandigarh) 64-66.
ivFrom a report by India's Central Statistical Organization, August 2006. (www.rediff.com/money/2006/aug/10capita.htm)