Co-authors: Anoop Singh Poonia and Shradha Shreejaya
Is Make in India complete without growing our own food? Isn’t food security linked to farmer security? Shouldn’t Indian Youth get a fair choice to practise farming and be compensated well for it? Who will feed the nation tomorrow?
On 22nd April 2015, a young farmer Gajendra Singh Rajput from Rajasthan, shocked the nation & the world by committing suicide in full public view in a farmers’ rally in New Delhi. Having been ruled ineligible for compensation, he had spent his last few days fruitlessly trying to convince government officials regarding due compensation for the loss of his wheat crop, ruined by unseasonable rain.
In January 2015, Ramesh Khamankar, a 57-year old cotton farmer in Maharashtra’s Yavatmal district walked to his ruined fields and drank from a bottle of pesticide. He died a few hours later. Khamankar’s case was determined to be a ‘genuine farmer suicide’, and his family received a compensation of Rs. 1 lakh, months after he died. Reportedly due to rain impact, he owed about 2.5 lakhs to the local bank. For Shailesh Khamankar, his father’s death has ironically reversed his attempt to find a life away from the farm. He is a second-year engineering student at a college in Bhopal, but now doesn’t have the Rs.60,000 needed to continue his studies.
In the last two decades, over 290,000 Indian farmers have killed themselves. According to the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice, in 2009, an Indian farmer took his life every 30 minutes. According to the 2011 census, the suicide rate for Indian farmers is 47 percent higher than the national average.
The increasing incidence of farmer suicides has sent discouraging signals to Indian youth about our nation’s commitment to a sector serving fundamental needs of the country. This sector is placed in popular rhetoric of ‘service to the nation’ on the same level as armed forces still the condition of the sector has worsened, now also facing adverse impacts of climate change. This apathy will have its impact on nation’s food security, fiscal deficit and human development index. The real drawback though will be widespread lack of enthusiasm among young people to take up agriculture as their chosen profession.
Who will farm 10 to 20 years from now if the apathy and poverty continues to drive youth away?
Rural Distress : Alone in a Billion
Farmer suicides are doubly devastating because they mark the death of a bread winner, and often mean the loss of a season of crop as well. However, after these farmers transcend the pain and suffering of this life, their widows and children are left with an even larger accumulation of debt. Many of these women cannot obtain extra jobs to support their families because they must have a man to help them get a job. Consequently, the combined stress and patriarchal cruelty have caused a slew of widow suicides in recent years.
The growing agrarian distress has reached global levels where we see countries like United States with even higher suicide rates and an observed trend of male farmers twice as likely to commit suicide as the general population. In France, a farmer dies by suicide every two days. In China, farmers are killing themselves to protest the government’s seizing of their land for urbanization. In Ireland, the number of suicides jumped following an unusually wet winter in 2012 that resulted in trouble growing hay for animal feed. In the U.K., the farmer suicide rate went up by 10 times during the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in 2001, when the government required farmers to slaughter their animals. And in Australia, the rate is at an all-time high following two years of drought.
Rural distress is a term coined to explain lost crops and/or mounting debts. Government functionaries – political or bureaucratic – continue to duck responsibility for the causes of rural distress which is an outcome of very specific policy decisions taken or not taken in the light of various hardships faced by farmers.
86% of small and marginal farmers of India (contributing 14% to the GDP) are solely dependent on farming their small land-holdings for their own consumption and work as labour to earn for other expenses. This makes them extremely vulnerable and insecure to slightest of changes.