Deaths on the Arable
AGRARIAN DISTRESS IN INDIA AND POSSIBLE ALEATORY STEPS
Indian agriculture is a combination typical drought-prone areas coexisting with assured areas of irrigation. Agriculture in India has a non-preposterous share in the GDP and is marked by varying phases of growth and stagnation. As the performance of agriculture is directly related to the performance of the economy and the well-being of the people, this has engendered a concern among the policymakers in the country. The current phase of liberalization has seen the emerging role of markets, safety nets and the process of commercialization dovetailing and increasing the woes of the farmers. Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, and Punjab have been rocked by the myriad suicides of the farmers, which have been described as a pestilence that must be stamped out.
These states have always taken sensible initiatives, pre-meditated human resource developments, land reforms, and decentralization program. In the comparison of the state-level performances, these trios occupy an unenviable median level, with an average response to the development initiatives. This has caused a matter of concern. Reports on the distress of the farmers in the area and their extreme manifestation which has resulted in suicides of the farmers have caused the policymakers to trace the genesis of such events and determine how they can be averted.
Tabloids reporting such egregious incidents have cited price fall, loss of crops, heavy debt burden and inability to meet family requirements as the main reasons. But, similar distressful events were not infrequent in history; even so, suicides were not common then. In the light of this situation, it is essential to discern whether the changed market conditions, commercialization, and failure of village institutions are responsible for farmer suicides.
Since a long time, Indian farmers have been facing a number of socioeconomic problems, such as harassment by moneylenders, inability to repay debts following crop loss, inability to get medical treatment for the family, etc. The problem is compounded by lack of positive and cooperative support from banks especially in the face of inclement weather and market fluctuations. Economic plight of farmers might be illustrated with the fact that a farmer having as much as 15 acres of land and hence considered a well-off farmer in Vidarbha, with an average income of Rs 2700 per acre per annum, had an income just little more than what he would have earned the legal minimum wage for all 365 days of the year.
As discussed earlier, the reasons for the suicides can be listed below:
- the absence of adequate social support infrastructure at the level of the village and district,
- the uncertainty of agricultural enterprise in the region,
- indebtedness of farmers,
- rising costs of cultivation,
- plummeting prices of farm commodities,
- lack of credit availability for small farmers,
- the relative absence of irrigation facilities,
- repeated crop failures,
- dependence on rainfall for farming,
- rural living and easy access to poisons, and
- Lack of political will and insight in the region.
With the cumulative effect of these reasons coupled with environmental antagonism and exploitation of the farmers in all sectors have made them pessimistic toward life resulting into the development of suicidal tendency in them. The remedial measures undertaken by the government have not shown any immediate positive effect in the attitude of the farmers. Thus, in Indian context the causes are multi factorial, cumulative, repetitive and progressive, leading an individual to a state of helplessness, worthlessness, and hopelessness, obviously influenced by his social strengths, and weaknesses along with his mental health status.
Farmers are in severe distress and there is an urgent need for increased public awareness among farmers regarding agricultural policies both financial and those extended by the government. If given an option, 40% farmers say that they would like to quit agriculture and take up some other carrier. It is a complex task and requires more than just throwing money at it. Surely, other measures will be needed to set the rural economy on track. Marketing and storage infrastructure will have to be built. New crop patterns that answer to emerging needs will have to be introduced. Better rural credit delivery system will have to be evolved. Self-help groups need to be encouraged.
Finally, suicide should not be viewed as an only mental health problem, which is a common notion among people.Religious leaders have a major role to play in suicide prevention since all religions discourage the act of suicide. In this context, especially support provided by Hindu religious values in India is a strong protection against suicidal behavior. So indeed, it is very difficult and needs the courage to commit suicide especially by farmers. Blaming only moneylenders, as if they have become plastic bags of rural economy is not the solution. We need to address actual reasons for suicide. There should be a committee, not only of agriculturists, economists but also psychiatrists and social workers as well. Forming self-help group in every 4–5 villages will help. Suicide in farmers is a public health problem having no borders. It needs immediate and serious intervention.
There is a need to chalk out India’s road map to development which is inclusive of the welfare of the farmers and inclusive of the rural economy only then, the vision of Mahatma Gandhi – Gram Swaraj could be realized.
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