Already on the back foot over its controversial land acquisition bill, the Centre on Friday scored yet another own goal when its Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan Singh said that dowry, love affairs and impotency were among the reasons for the deaths of over 1,400 farmers in 2014. “According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), causes of (farmer) suicides include family problems, illness, drugs...dowry, love affairs and impotency,” he said in a written reply in the Rajya Sabha to a question on what had caused the death of so many farmers in the country. The minister’s reply, however, did not rule out debt as one of the reasons behind farmer suicides. The minister also cited NCRB data to show that the total number of suicides committed by persons working in the farming or agriculture sector were 13,754, 11,772 and 5,650 in 2012, 2013 and 2014 respectively.
Irrespective of all the numbers, it was a callous statement on the union minister’s part. This is, however, not the first time that a minister from the Bharatiya Janata Party has made an insensitive remark about farmer suicides. Earlier this year, a minister from the Haryana government OP Dhankar had said, “Committing suicide is a crime, according to Indian law. Any person who commits suicide escapes from his responsibilities and leaves the burden on his wife and innocent children and such people are cowards.” When he was asked about compensation to kin of farmers who committed suicide, <g data-gr-id="28">Dhankar</g> had said, “An institution like government cannot stand behind cowards (those committing suicides) and cannot be with a criminal.”
Farmer suicides are the result of man-made policies, not natural calamities. It’s not droughts and floods which force farmers to take their lives, as the government’s intervention or the lack thereof. One government after another at the Centre has made policy decisions that are totally driven towards creating inequality and driving our farmers to the coffin. If one buys a car in India, even say the most expensive one, the interest rate at which you get a loan is 7% from a public sector bank, like say the State Bank of India. However, if a farmer tries to purchase a tractor through a loan from the very State Bank of India, the interest rate charged is nearly double. Worse is the way our banks behave. Many of them refuse to give loans to <g data-gr-id="37">farmers,</g> unless say the Panchayat intervenes.
Sometimes, the head of the Panchayat colludes with the banks to ensure that people have to pay bribes to get loans, sometimes the bank officials ask for bribes on their own. Moreover, stiff terms set by public sector banks for agricultural loans are such that it’s difficult to get loans once you are not able to pay the previous loan. If our farmers are unable to get loans from banks, <g data-gr-id="35">moneylenders</g>, who are generally the big landlords in most villages, are the last resort. The rate of interest charged can be as high as 40-50% for the year, and in only lenient cases can it be 30% or so. Our farmers mostly depend on the rain gods for water. Therefore, any changes in rain patterns lead to issues with crops, and in many cases they get destroyed either due to lack of water or too much water. And mind you, this only one aspect of the problem, regarding government policy and its implications.