Farmer suicides continue…

A couple of years ago, in the farmer suicide capital of Punjab (Sangrur-Mansa belt), the first Peoples Tribunal on farmers suicides took place, organized by the Human Rights Law Network and the Voluntary Health Association of Punjab. Word got out about the tribunal by word of mouth and women traveled to Lehragaga, Sangrur by bus and foot to have their stories heard and recorded.

farmer-suicides.jpgAs people from 10 villages spoke of how their families had witnessed double, even triple, suicides in a year, everyone knew of the havoc debt and unsustainable agricultural practice had wreaked on farmers in the state.

So they spoke fearlessly, revealing shocking details. National Samples Organisation data shows whereas the average annual loan taken by farmers in India is Rs 13,000, the corresponding figure for Punjab is Rs 40,000. It also shows that around 40 per cent Indian farmers want to quit farming due to the cost it involves.

Why are farmers in such debt? Agriculture is no longer the profitable livelihood it once was, yet many do not have the skills or education to turn to other forms of livelihood.

For a country, which has 600 million farmers and another 200 million agricultural workers, the cost of faulty economic liberalization has just begun to show. Withdrawing the State support to agriculture and farming, and increasingly leaving farmers at the mercy of the monsoon and the markets, the national policies were in reality being drawn to shift the national resources for the benefit of only the business and industrial houses. Successive governments, since the noted economist Dr Manmohan Singh as Finance Minister made the blunder of buttressing industry at the cost of farming in 1991, have only exacerbated the crisis by moving the scarce resources to bolster the industry. While agriculture continued to be neglected, industry continued to receive tax-holidays, cheaper credit, highly subsidized land, and excise duty relief.

Farmers often have nowhere to turn for small (or large) loans for things such as tractors, other farming expenses or living expenses (including cost of daughters weddings and dowries). Theyre forced to turn to loan sharks who charge exorbitant interest rates for loans.

Voices of dissent against commission agents (who charge 36 per cent annual rate of interest on loans) and the police were louder than before, with Buta Singh from Harkrishanpura (Bathinda) demanding action against Commercial Bank and the commission agent who forced his brother to repay debt of Rs 3 lakh. His brother hanged himself.

(Not) Surprisingly, the governments claim of estimated suicides is FAR below what local and non-governmental organizations estimate.

The government claims there have been 2,116 suicide cases between 1998 and 2005, but activists say this is gross under-reporting.

Inderjit Jayjee of the Movement Against State Repression says: Andana and Lehra blocks of Moonak subdivision in Sangrur alone have reported 1,360 farmers suicides between 1998 and 2005. If all of Punjabs 138 blocks show roughly the same level of suicides, the number would exceed 40,000 for the given period.

punjab.gif

Im using this old article because it was the last major move regarding farmers’ suicides Id heard about.

After recording of 60 heart-rending testimonies of farmers suicide by legal experts, the stage was set for filing of the first PIL in the Supreme Court.

Colin Gonsalves, SC lawyer and Director, HRLN, said: We will file a special leave petition and demand action against the Government of Punjab. The stories reflect trauma and hopelessness and these need to be highlighted lest the deadly spate should continue.

The PIL will seek total moratorium of outstanding debt of farmers families, stay on transfer of farm lands to commission agents, prosecution of commission agents who have, in 90 per cent cases, abetted suicides by forcing victims into repayment of loans when they had no money and rehabilitation of widows and children.

Does anyone have more recent or follow up information about this case, legislation or moves against the loan sharks being considered? Ive heard of groups of farmers protesting, but am curious about whether any political ground has been gained. In a functioning, efficient political system, it shouldnt take so long to pass a law capping interest rates on loans to farmers.

I’ve heard from a friend who was recently in India that there are small non-governmental organizations supporting some of the families whose husbands, fathers, or sons have committed suicide. But these organizations only have funds to support a small percentage of families who need it. For many families, the man who committed suicide was the main breadwinner for the remaining family members. Elderly grandparents are left with their widowed daughter-in-laws to provide for young children.


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23 Responses to “Farmer suicides continue…”

  1. sizzle says:

    such a farmers crisis tends to occur whenever a nation transitions through industrialization. look to American history and the movement to factories during our own industrialization. it is always hard, and always forces some degree of change as farming itself becomes more efficient. farming is inherently hard, fluctuates like mad, and nearly impossible to sustain independently – hence, the massive subsidies and government involvement in our own farming system.

    the one thing that astounded me was the 36% interest rates that some farmers were trapped into. that is preposterous…and if anything, the government should be intervening to curb such predatory lending or even providing low interest rate loans. but it is India, so i'm not too optimistic that anything will happen.

  2. sizzle says:

    such a farmers crisis tends to occur whenever a nation transitions through industrialization. look to American history and the movement to factories during our own industrialization. it is always hard, and always forces some degree of change as farming itself becomes more efficient. farming is inherently hard, fluctuates like mad, and nearly impossible to sustain independently – hence, the massive subsidies and government involvement in our own farming system.

    the one thing that astounded me was the 36% interest rates that some farmers were trapped into. that is preposterous…and if anything, the government should be intervening to curb such predatory lending or even providing low interest rate loans. but it is India, so i’m not too optimistic that anything will happen.

  3. Reema says:

    That's precisely the problem, sizzle. Transition pains are inevitable as a country's economy moves from one based on agriculture to industry BUT it's the government's job to cushion these pains. Instead, the policies of the central government have not only turned a blind eye, but exacerbated the problems for small farmers (not only in Punjab). Even if funds are limited, I'm not aware of such gross negligence on the part of other nations in their industrial development where tens of thousands are committing suicide and the government refuses to respond.

    I don't think US style massive subsidies are necessarily the answer, but at least a cap on the outrageous interest rates of loan sharks. Maybe micro-financing could be an alternative.

    Farmers with large plots can afford to educate their children who then go on to jobs in the industrial sector or abroad (maybe not doing glamorous work, but making ends meet at least), but small farmers who are basically subsistence farming are the ones who are most affected.

  4. Reema says:

    That’s precisely the problem, sizzle. Transition pains are inevitable as a country’s economy moves from one based on agriculture to industry BUT it’s the government’s job to cushion these pains. Instead, the policies of the central government have not only turned a blind eye, but exacerbated the problems for small farmers (not only in Punjab). Even if funds are limited, I’m not aware of such gross negligence on the part of other nations in their industrial development where tens of thousands are committing suicide and the government refuses to respond.

    I don’t think US style massive subsidies are necessarily the answer, but at least a cap on the outrageous interest rates of loan sharks. Maybe micro-financing could be an alternative.

    Farmers with large plots can afford to educate their children who then go on to jobs in the industrial sector or abroad (maybe not doing glamorous work, but making ends meet at least), but small farmers who are basically subsistence farming are the ones who are most affected.

  5. P.Singh says:

    Sizzle's comments point to the very real difficulties faced by farmers in industrializing nations; however, Punjab's farming history since the 1960's needs to be considered as well.

    The true cost of a 'Green Revolution' based on high-yield farming, unsustainable irrigation and ridiculously heavy use of pesticides is finally beginning to hit home. Couple this with falling water tables, no effective water conservation policy, and a political regime allowing illegal transfer of Punjab's waters to non-riparian states, and the tale gets darker.

    The educated and those with means saw what was coming, and largely removed themselves from the farming situation in Punjab. The majority of farmers left, were those with no ability, no means to leave farming as a business and/or occupation. It is heart-wrenching to hear the stories of these farmers, and their widows and children, caught in a downward spiral with seemingly no avenue of escape but death.

    As indicated above, an appropriate government response is needed immediately to halt the loan-sharking, and to introduce subsidies and re-training/education to effected farming communities.

    Of course, even should the government move forward with subsidies and the like, it would still only be the equivalent of placing a band-aid on a gaping wound. Punjab simply cannot support 'green revolution' type farming anymore, and there needs to be a fundamental shift away from such farming practices. I do not know if there is enough political will and desire to effect such a large change and disturb the status quo – although, one would hope, the plight of so many farmers provides more than enough impetus.

  6. P.Singh says:

    Sizzle’s comments point to the very real difficulties faced by farmers in industrializing nations; however, Punjab’s farming history since the 1960’s needs to be considered as well.

    The true cost of a ‘Green Revolution’ based on high-yield farming, unsustainable irrigation and ridiculously heavy use of pesticides is finally beginning to hit home. Couple this with falling water tables, no effective water conservation policy, and a political regime allowing illegal transfer of Punjab’s waters to non-riparian states, and the tale gets darker.

    The educated and those with means saw what was coming, and largely removed themselves from the farming situation in Punjab. The majority of farmers left, were those with no ability, no means to leave farming as a business and/or occupation. It is heart-wrenching to hear the stories of these farmers, and their widows and children, caught in a downward spiral with seemingly no avenue of escape but death.

    As indicated above, an appropriate government response is needed immediately to halt the loan-sharking, and to introduce subsidies and re-training/education to effected farming communities.

    Of course, even should the government move forward with subsidies and the like, it would still only be the equivalent of placing a band-aid on a gaping wound. Punjab simply cannot support ‘green revolution’ type farming anymore, and there needs to be a fundamental shift away from such farming practices. I do not know if there is enough political will and desire to effect such a large change and disturb the status quo – although, one would hope, the plight of so many farmers provides more than enough impetus.

  7. P.Singh says:

    Sorry Reema – I didn't see your second post. Your last paragraph captures a significant part of the persisting problem: Those with means have the ability/flexibility to skirt around the greatest perils of farming. However, those who remain dependant on farming are largely those without the means or flexibility to leave the profession. Relatively speaking, they are the powerless and marginalized members of our community and easy prey for abuse and extortion.

  8. P.Singh says:

    Sorry Reema – I didn’t see your second post. Your last paragraph captures a significant part of the persisting problem: Those with means have the ability/flexibility to skirt around the greatest perils of farming. However, those who remain dependant on farming are largely those without the means or flexibility to leave the profession. Relatively speaking, they are the powerless and marginalized members of our community and easy prey for abuse and extortion.

  9. Sundari says:

    Here is a link to a comprehensive analysis about Punjab's agricultural crisis and farmer suicides. The paper was the thesis behind a workshop at this year's Toronto Sikh Retreat.

  10. Sundari says:

    Here is a link to a comprehensive analysis about Punjab’s agricultural crisis and farmer suicides. The paper was the thesis behind a workshop at this year’s Toronto Sikh Retreat.

  11. Mewa Singh says:

    Such figures are mind-blowing. Seems as if India really is shining.

    17,060 farm suicides in one year

    78,737 occurred between 1997 and 2001. The next five years — from 2002 to 2006 — proved worse, seeing 87,567 farmers take their own lives.

    This means that on average, there has been one farmer’s suicide every 30 minutes since 2002.

    http://www.hindu.com/2008/01/31/stories/200801316

  12. Mewa Singh says:

    Such figures are mind-blowing. Seems as if India really is shining.

    17,060 farm suicides in one year

    78,737 occurred between 1997 and 2001. The next five years from 2002 to 2006 proved worse, seeing 87,567 farmers take their own lives.

    This means that on average, there has been one farmers suicide every 30 minutes since 2002.

    http://www.hindu.com/2008/01/31/stories/2008013160930100.htm

  13. Kaur says:

    This is astonishing.

    Just to let everyone know, I believe Manmeet Singh and Harpreet Kaur, the Director and Producers of the Widow Colony are working on a documentary specifically on this topic. From the last I heard they are still filming in Punjab and other areas of India (not sure exactly where else). I'm not sure when the projected completion date is for this project, but I have the pleasure of knowing the two individuals working on it and have high expectations that I do believe will be met. =)

    I believe there is some information on the internet, and as soon as I find the link I would be happy to post it.

  14. Kaur says:

    This is astonishing.

    Just to let everyone know, I believe Manmeet Singh and Harpreet Kaur, the Director and Producers of the Widow Colony are working on a documentary specifically on this topic. From the last I heard they are still filming in Punjab and other areas of India (not sure exactly where else). I’m not sure when the projected completion date is for this project, but I have the pleasure of knowing the two individuals working on it and have high expectations that I do believe will be met. =)

    I believe there is some information on the internet, and as soon as I find the link I would be happy to post it.

  15. Jodha says:

    Specific statistics on Punjab are even worse. This article includes mention of the work by Harpreet Kaur and Manmeet Singh

    ‘90,000 farmers killed themselves in state so far’
    http://www.expressindia.com/latest-news/90-000-fa

    As per estimate and study, there were 90,000 suicides in Punjab to date. This was stated by Inderjit Singh Jaijee, convener of Movement Against State Repression (MASR).

    "Interestingly, as per the Punjab Police, only seven suicides have been reported in the last seven years across Punjab, while the state government status report of 2004 puts the number at 2,116. The Punjab Farmers' Commission's report of 2006 places the figure at 2,000 per year and the Punjab Revenue Department's report of 2007 says 132 suicides took place in the last seven years. But MASR puts the figure at 3,000 per year," he said.

    Jaijee alleged that the state government does not want the true figure of suicide to come out, as it will have to give more money. In 2002, when the SAD-BJP was in power, they promised to give Rs 2.5 lakh per family and earmarked Rs 2 crore, but nothing was done, he said. Then, the Congress came to power and did zilch for the farmers, he added.

    Manmeet Singh and Harpreet Kaur from the USA, who are making a documentary on these children and the farmers' suicides, took the children to meet Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar.

    Singh say, "He gave us an appointment for January 31, and did not meet. Then he asked us to meet the next day, but again avoided us. But Harpreet managed to throw some pamphlets in his car. After a few hours, he met us and gave the assurance that he will write to the Punjab Chief Minister to financially help these 12 children and also give them free education. However, he did not talk to the children."

  16. Jodha says:

    Specific statistics on Punjab are even worse. This article includes mention of the work by Harpreet Kaur and Manmeet Singh

    90,000 farmers killed themselves in state so far
    http://www.expressindia.com/latest-news/90-000-farmers-killed-themselves-in-state-so-far/268559/

    As per estimate and study, there were 90,000 suicides in Punjab to date. This was stated by Inderjit Singh Jaijee, convener of Movement Against State Repression (MASR).

    “Interestingly, as per the Punjab Police, only seven suicides have been reported in the last seven years across Punjab, while the state government status report of 2004 puts the number at 2,116. The Punjab Farmers’ Commission’s report of 2006 places the figure at 2,000 per year and the Punjab Revenue Department’s report of 2007 says 132 suicides took place in the last seven years. But MASR puts the figure at 3,000 per year,” he said.

    Jaijee alleged that the state government does not want the true figure of suicide to come out, as it will have to give more money. In 2002, when the SAD-BJP was in power, they promised to give Rs 2.5 lakh per family and earmarked Rs 2 crore, but nothing was done, he said. Then, the Congress came to power and did zilch for the farmers, he added.

    Manmeet Singh and Harpreet Kaur from the USA, who are making a documentary on these children and the farmers’ suicides, took the children to meet Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar.

    Singh say, “He gave us an appointment for January 31, and did not meet. Then he asked us to meet the next day, but again avoided us. But Harpreet managed to throw some pamphlets in his car. After a few hours, he met us and gave the assurance that he will write to the Punjab Chief Minister to financially help these 12 children and also give them free education. However, he did not talk to the children.”

  17. Jodha says:

    Harkiran Kaur posted pictures of the filmmakers, Harpreet & Manmeet on her blog.

    harkirankaur.blogspot.com

  18. Jodha says:

    Harkiran Kaur posted pictures of the filmmakers, Harpreet & Manmeet on her blog.
    harkirankaur.blogspot.com

  19. JSD says:

    jatt di zameen na hovay, ohs di pagh na hovay, jeray jatt kol sardariyan he nahin rahiyan, ghar di zumevariyaan vi gaiyaan, din raat kaam karke jatt khavaunda eh Punjab nu, raat nu saunda roh roh ke sarkaar nu, ki zindagi rahi jatt punjabiyaan di, oh shaan oh jaan, mard punjabiyaan di, jo ik time de ankheelay gabru ne punjab de, aaj zaher khake marde yah gabru eh punjab de.

    the heart, the soul, the face of punjab…Jatt

  20. JSD says:

    jatt di zameen na hovay, ohs di pagh na hovay, jeray jatt kol sardariyan he nahin rahiyan, ghar di zumevariyaan vi gaiyaan, din raat kaam karke jatt khavaunda eh Punjab nu, raat nu saunda roh roh ke sarkaar nu, ki zindagi rahi jatt punjabiyaan di, oh shaan oh jaan, mard punjabiyaan di, jo ik time de ankheelay gabru ne punjab de, aaj zaher khake marde yah gabru eh punjab de.

    the heart, the soul, the face of punjab…Jatt

  21. Singh says:

    Punjabi Farmers are Leaving India/Punjab at Alarming numbers to Australia, Argentina, Canada, Recently PM of Mongolia have ask Indian PM for Indian farmers for help, If Indian Government dont help them, Indian wont be in good shape in long run, Food prices are already sky rocketed, Remember that Industry do not Grow food.

  22. Singh says:

    Punjabi Farmers are Leaving India/Punjab at Alarming numbers to Australia, Argentina, Canada, Recently PM of Mongolia have ask Indian PM for Indian farmers for help, If Indian Government dont help them, Indian wont be in good shape in long run, Food prices are already sky rocketed, Remember that Industry do not Grow food.

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