It is distressing that the latest government statistics indicate an abnormally high rate for Indian farmers’ suicides. The new Census 2011 data, which shows a shrinking farmer population, when put together with the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) suicide data, indicate that farmer suicides were 47 per cent higher than they were for the rest of the population and were well over 100 per cent higher in the states worst hit by agrarian crisis. These statistics are important as attempts have been made to downplay this crisis in rural India by the suggestion that farmers’ suicide, though large in number, were not much at variance in their rate from the national rate of suicide, which includes the rate for other segments of the population, implying thereby that the severity of the agrarian crisis was not the real cause, but the general social factors shared in common with the rest of country were. The present data destroys this misleading suggestion and brings the linkage between agricultural distress and farmers’ suicides into sharper relief. It is disturbing that farmers’ suicides, which first caught the nation’s attention in the 1990s in a big way continue to occur in large numbers even today. According to official figures, at least 2,70,940 farmers have taken their lives since 1995 and the trend that is discernible is that of a steady increase in farmers’ suicides over the years, with a host of factors intensifying the pressure on them. The actual figures may be far greater as the records of the NCRB consist only of police reports of the suicides, which records are both incomplete and based on such a stringent definition of a farmer that they leave out many.
There is, thus, a crisis in rural India with not enough attention being paid either to agriculture or to the problems of the rural people who continue to get a raw deal. While government policies did usher in the ‘green revolution’ in agriculture, these have helped the bigger farmers and have not been universally beneficial. The problems of debt and fluctuations in prices as well as price manipulation by speculators continue to cripple farmers while the appearance of large multinational companies that sell seeds and fertilizer has only made matters worse for them. The problem of farmers’ suicides is a great shame, and, linked as it is to agricultural neglect, must not get swept under the carpet but deserves greater political and official recognition so that it can be dealt with adequately.