Farmers’ Suicides in India: Magnitudes, Trends, and Spatial Patterns, 1997–2012
This paper enquires into the large number of farmers’ suicides in India between 1997 and 2012. It uses secondary data on suicides (categorised by profession) obtained from the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB).
The paper also analyses the trends and regional patterns in farm suicides. It argues that while the causes underlying the suicides are complex and require further empirical work, their connection to agrarian distress in the country is undeniable.
The paper was presented at the Tenth Anniversary Conference of the Foundation for Agrarian Studies called ‘On Agrarian Issues’ in Kochi from January 9 to 12, 2014. It was printed in the July-December 2014 issue of the Review of Agrarian Studies.
According to the National Crime Records Bureau, close to 16,500 farmers committed suicide every year between 1997 and 2012.
In the same period, farm suicides increased at an annual compound growth rate of around 1 per cent per annum, while the total number of farmers stayed constant or even declined.
In 2001, the country’s farm suicide rate was 12.9, about one-fifth more than the general suicide rate, which was 10.6. In 2011, the farm suicide rate had not tapered off; if anything, it recorded a marginal increase.
However, the authors say that these high rates of farmers’ suicides are still underestimates. One reason for this underestimation was the strict definition of ‘farmer’ adopted by the police, who considered those with land titles as farmers, thus mostly leaving out tenant or women farmers.
Another reason was that the denominator in these calculations was “a rather liberal conception of cultivator”, that is, the census figure for both ‘main workers’ who practise cultivation for 180 days or more in a year and ‘marginal workers’ who do not. The authors show, for the years 2001 and 2011, that if only the number of main workers was used – which is the basis of police figures too – the farm suicide rates would be significantly higher.
From 1997 to 2012, as many as 85 per cent of farm suicides were by male farmers, and every fifth male suicide in the country was a farm suicide. The number of suicides by young male farmers (in the 15-29 age group) accounted for nearly 30 per cent of all farm suicides.
In two years, 2001 and 2011, the number of farm suicides in Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh accounted for nearly two-thirds of the total farm suicides in the country.
The incidence of farm suicides was the highest in these states because of pre-existing multi-causal conditions of very high vulnerability, the acute agrarian crisis, and an absence of alternative livelihood opportunities, especially for the poor.
The number of farm suicides in the country jumped up in 1998, remained stable till 2001, witnessed an increase in 2002 and again in 2004, after which it was steady but still high. The number of all cultivators – main and marginal – fell by 6.7 per cent or 8.7 million between 2001 and 2011.
Farm suicide rates were not only much higher than general suicide rates in 2001 and 2011, but also recorded a marginal increase in 2011 over 2001.
This agrarian crisis, the authors say, was precipitated by neoliberal state policies, a decline of state investment in agriculture, the drying up of organised credit, the withdrawal of agricultural subsidies, and external trade liberalisation, among other factors.
In an annual publication titled Accidental Deaths and Suicides in India, the National Crime Records Bureau lists up to 26 ‘causes’ for general suicides. But the authors believe that the NCRB’s classification explains suicides in mono-causal terms. They say that even if the causes of farmers’ suicides were available, they would not be very useful in identifying the socio-economic factors underlying them.
Focus and Factoids by Tarun Gidwani.
K Nagaraj, P. Sainath, R. Rukhmani and R. Gopinath
Review of Agrarian Studies (Vol. 4, No. 2), Foundation for Agrarian Studies, Bengaluru, available at http://ras.org.in/farmers_suicides_in_india
01 Jul, 2014