The Indian Farmer Suicide Crisis

According to Al Jazeera, in the last 20 years, almost 300,000 farmers in India have committed suicide. This Indian agricultural crisis started in the 1900’s when India, in efforts to create more globalized laissez-faire policies, allowed for their economic markets to open and privatization of different industries to begin. Multinational farming corporations, such as Monsanto, changed the face of Indian agriculture, introducing genetically modified seeds, as well as pesticides.

With a combination of crop failures, drought and overworked land, Indian farmers fell into a deep cycle of poverty. Unable to pay for seeds or pesticides, they took out loans in efforts to financially support themselves. Some farmers, unfortunately, found themselves in a deep cycle of poverty and took their own lives in order to relieve themselves of the financial burden. This suicide crisis was furthered when the families of farmers who committed suicide were given compensation from the government for the loss of their loved one. For some farmers, this compensation was the only way to ensure their family’s survival.

In 2010, this issue saw more media coverage in western countries. Many foundations such as Sikhi Awareness Foundation began to contribute aid to these farmers and their families. In India itself, the government had released relief compensation packages to be given out to the families of farmers who committed suicide in 2006. In 2008, the Indian government began the Agricultural Debt Waiver and Debt Relief Scheme, which erased part of the farmers’ debt and introduced special credit cards aimed at farmers. In 2013, the Indian government introduced the Special Livestock Sector and Fisheries Package which was made in order to aid farmers in branching out their incomes in other sectors, rather than just agriculture.

With so many governmental relief programs in place for these farmers, why are they not effective? It stems from three reasons. The first issue is the ineffectiveness of these relief programs themselves. Surinder Sud, who has written opinion pieces in many different Indian newspapers regarding this crisis, has stated it is because these relief programs themselves are flawed. He stated these programs help pay off part of both interest and loans to moneylenders, but they do not aid these farmers into getting to diversify their incomes or earning a better income. Surinder Sud has stated that these relief programs have just postponed the issue, instead of providing a lasting solution.

The second issue is related to gender. Palagummi Sainath, the Rurals Affair Minister, as well as Editor-In-Chief of The Hindu, has created a documentary entitled “Nero’s Guests” where he discusses this in detail. Women are not considered to be farmers. While they do 80 percent of farm work, they will always be considered a farmer’s wife, but never a farmer themselves. This is related to the idea of the second shift or double burden, the idea that women perform domestic work that they are not financially reciprocated for. So while women do engage in most of the farm work, when they commit suicide because of the financial burden, their families are not reciprocated at all with any sort of relief payment.

The third issue is that the Indian government solely aids in fixing the symptoms of the issue, and not the issue itself. Ramesh Golait, a journalist, explained this issue with the debt repayment plan by stating that it did not solve a lot of issues farmers still faced, including expensive credit and market prices. Therefore, all these efforts look to solve this issue temporarily and not bringing out a permanent solution to these farmer suicides.

A true solution would focus on finding an actual solution. All solutions so far have not been effective. They have both excluded farmers from what they deemed to be the solution, or have furthered the problem. In order to fix the issue of farmer suicides, a number of processes need to take place.

Firstly, women farmers would also need to be counted as farmers. There should be no divide in any characteristic that fails to constitute a farmer as what he or she truly is. Ideally, farmers would be allowed to cultivate to their own means with their farming techniques without a corporation to enforce rules and regulations and a government to enforce subsidies. They would generate their income as they have for hundreds of years.

Immediately, the government could place a debt relief program, where it would be stated that a part of the governmental budget would be placed to relieve all farmers of their debts. In the future, the government could enforce limitations on the moneylenders. In regards to both the interest rate and to a capping time period after which interest would no longer be added. Government banks could also issue interest-free loans for farmers, which would also help them immensely.

Advisory boards made of both farmers and laypersons could be put in place to be a leeway between the farmers and the corporations in this hypothetical situation. They could inform the government and corporations how they would like to farm and what is best for their land. The corporation could then willingly allow them to do so. The corporations would also raise the farmers’ incomes to make sure that if they do need to pay a loan, they could indeed pay it back. In regards to those who have already passed, the company should hold some sort of corporate responsibility in order to provide themselves with some sort of compensation.

There also has to be accountability, both with the government and the corporation. They must be accountable to an international organization to assure them that the security of farmer’s lives and incomes is not at stake anymore. Representatives of farmers, or farmers themselves, would have to confirm this.

In India, a farmer’s security of life and economic security are both threatened. As human lives, this is unacceptable. As the works of Palagummi Sainath have shown, farmer’s have a lot of securities at risk. Their right to life is at risk as they themselves are choosing to end it. Their economic security is threatened as they are not earning enough, or not at all to lead a normal life. Since they are in debt, food security is also an issue. Sainath points out the paradox of those who grow food for the entire nation do not have enough to feed themselves. As a result of all these factors, water security (clean water is largely unavailable due to it being used for irrigation, which farmers are not informed about), health security (especially in terms of mental health are unavailable to farmers), and equality rights (as women are exempted from ‘farmer status’) are not upheld for Indian farmers.

Through both policy revisions and mobility, one day, farmers in India can also lead a life free from debt and hardship.

Sehar Malik

Sehar Malik has graduated with her BA from York University in Political Science. She is currently in a graduate certificate program for Government Relations. She specializes in security news in South Asia.

About Sehar Malik

Sehar Malik has graduated with her BA from York University in Political Science. She is currently in a graduate certificate program for Government Relations. She specializes in security news in South Asia.