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3,00,000 farmer suicides: Making sense of the impersonal stats of a suicidal Indian farmer

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By Ishan Kukreti

The Indian farmer is in limelight again, and like always, for all the unhappy reasons.

A farmer died during the rally of Aam Aadmi Party at Jantar Mantar. The Land Acquisition Bill is being widely debated and Rahul Gandhi has lent his unequivocal support for the cause of the farmers. Recently, O.P. Dhankar, Haryana Agriculture Minister, called farmers who commit suicide, ‘criminals’ and ‘cowards.’ All this has focused the national attention on the tiller, once more.

But amidst the cacophony of prime time debates, angry questions, decreasing subsidies and unseasonal rains, the Indian farmer remains at the same place, on the margin and highly suicidal. 

What’s the big deal?

Since independence around 3,00,000 farmers have committed suicide. The highest number of farmer suicides were recorded in 2004, when 18,241 farmers committed suicide, according to National Crime Records Bureau. Division tells that this means, on ever day of 2004, around 50 farmers committed suicide in India. The jet black irony of the situation is that the year of BJP’s ‘India Shinning’ was the darkest for Indian farmers.

Agriculture as an economic activity is fast becoming an option not very viable. The input costs are rising at a rate which the output price is not able to match. Apart from this a long list of problems like decreasing water table, decline in soil fertility due to using fertilizers and chemicals, emergence of pests resistant to chemicals, are killing agriculture in India, along with the agriculturist.

Minimum Support Price Scheme

To secure the position of the farmers, the government started its Minimum Support Scheme in 1966-67. It is the minimum amount at which the government buys grains from the farmers. The scheme provides a guarantee of crop sale to farmers, but as the name suggests, it is a bare minimum amount and is mostly inadequate.

“Government gives Rs. 1,450 for a quintal of wheat, but it doesn’t help us. The MSP is worse than charity, it is given just as a formality. We require a minimum of at least Rs. 2,000 per quintal to make things better,”  says a highly disgruntled Karam Singh Pajja who is a farmer in Bajpur, Uttrakhand, and has ‘sold’ a crop of sugarcane worth Rs.82,000 to Bajpur Sugar Mill over a month ago but hasn’t received the money yet.

It is true that MSP has been increased by the government over the years. But the hike, when viewed keeping in mind the reduced financial assistance of government in activities like irrigation, health and related services, employment schemes etc, turns out to be a mere joke.

Moreover, even the guaranteed MSP comes with a there’s-a-rub condition. The government doesn’t purchase wheat crop ( one of the most grown crop) with moisture content over 12%. But during the time of harvest, the crop inevitably has moisture content higher than that. To bring it down to 12%, the yield has to be dried in the sun, this also means the requirement of a storage facility and a possibility of loss because of rodents and pests.

Arahati and the hoarding

When the farmer can’t sell the produce to FCI ( Food Corporation of India) due to the glitch of moisture content or if he requires a better price, he then turns to the ‘Arhati’ the middle man who buys the produce from him and sells it in the mandi to retailers.

“The farmer has to recover his money as soon as possible because he has to repay the loans. Arahati buys the produce for a lower price, exploiting the farmers and then makes profit by selling it at a higher rate to retailers and government officials,” says Baljit Singh Randhawa, treasurer of the Kisan Union, Uttrakhand.

For a person who thrives on the simple profit and loss principle of reducing cost price and increasing selling price, it is no surprise that the Arhati takes advantage of the farmers’ condition.

“It is his business and he does everything to make it profitable. What’s it to him if a farmer lives or dies? or whether our kids go to schools or not?” says Ramesh Khartri, who owns farms in Rajasthan.

Postscript    

The apathy of government, dishonesty of officials and the greed of Arhati, all are the combined burden which the sisyphus of an Indian farmer sloughs under, generation after generation.

Karam Singh’s words in this context, help put things in clear perspective. He says, “Kisan is the only person in Hindustan who is not allowed to fix the price for his goods. The government or the private trader does it for him. He cannot say that I want this much amount for my crop. He too has to send his kids to school, get his daughters married.”

 

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  • A very succinct, point by point analysis of the farmers plight in india. Hope it reaches the powers that be. We need more journalists like you, who bring such pressing issues to the table.

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India’s Farmer Protests Highlight Increasing Rural Distress

Political analysts also said the growing rural anger could erode support for Prime Minister Modi in the countryside ahead of next year's scheduled elections.

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Indian what reaches Afghanistan via Chabahar Port
FILE - Farmer sifts wheat crop at a farm on the outskirts of western Indian city of Ahmedabad. VOA

Vimla Yadav, a farmer from India’s Haryana state, says agriculture costs, such as fertilizers and seeds, have soared, yet produce prices have plunged, leaving her family of 10 with virtually no profit from their four-acre farm. “We don’t even get the fruits of the labor that the entire family puts in on the farm, although we slog day and night,” she laments.

Yadav is one of the tens of thousands of angry farmers from around the country who poured into the Indian capital recently, demanding a special session of parliament to discuss their demands: better prices for farm produce and a waiver by the government from repaying loans taken from banks.

The protest highlighted the deepening distress among the population in the countryside, where there is growing concern about diminishing agricultural profits because many are being driven into debt.

In a country where half the population of 1.3 billion depends on agriculture, low farm profits have long been a challenge and prompted promises by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to double rural incomes by 2022. But the growing disenchantment among the farming community could pose a challenge to Modi as he seeks re-election next year.

farmers
Police try to stop farmers during a protest demanding a better price for their produce on the outskirts of New Delhi, India. VOA

According to the government, the average income of a farmer is about $100 a month. But many make less, said Yogendra Yadav, one of the main leaders of the protest and founder of the farmers group Jai Kisan Andolan. The Yadavs are not related.

“For a majority of them, the income is probably less than $50 a month. That is the level at which they survive. And one of the principal reasons for that is that they don’t get enough price for their crops,” Yogendra Yadav said.

Low prices for crops are not the only problem: increasingly erratic weather patterns pose a new challenge in a country where nearly half the farmers lack access to irrigation.

In eastern Orissa state, for example, back-to-back droughts over the past two years have brought widespread distress.

“There has been very little rain this year,” said Lakhyapati Sahu, a farmer who traveled from Orissa, one of India’s poorer states. “We face a massive problem due to successive droughts.”

According to various studies, nearly half of Indian farmers have said they want to quit working on the land but cannot do so because of a lack of alternate livelihoods.

Farmer protests, farmer
Police use water cannons to disperse farmers during a protest demanding better price for their produce on the outskirts of New Delhi, India. VOA

Despite the challenge of finding work, Parul Haldar, a farmer from West Bengal, said she wants to migrate with her entire family to the city. “I will give up farming and go to Kolkata and look for work to make a living. There is no money to be earned from the farm,” she added.

Although the rural crisis has been festering for many years, economists partly blame the deepening crisis on a sweeping currency ban that led to widespread cash shortages two years ago and affected their incomes.

“Many farmers lost working capital, they had to borrow money from the banks or from the local moneylenders at high interest rates, so their costs went up,” economist Arun Kumar said. “So if costs go up and revenue comes down, then income gets squeezed.”

Protests by farmers have intensified in the past two years as they try to draw attention to the usually forgotten countryside — their recent march was their fourth and largest to Delhi so far this year. They have also held marches in other cities like Kolkata and Mumbai. In June, farmers in several parts of the country threw their produce on the streets to highlight low prices. And last year, farmers from southern India protested in New Delhi with skulls to draw attention to suicides by farmers.

Farmer
The Farmer Portal provides all the relevant information and services to the farming community and private sector. Wikimedia Commons

“Farmers are saying enough is enough, now something needs to be done,” Yogendra Yadav said. “Both the economic and ecological crisis is leading to an existential crisis, farmers are committing suicide, they are quitting farming.”

Also Read: Millions Of Urban Children in Worse Condition Than Rural People: UNICEF

Political analysts also said the growing rural anger could erode support for Prime Minister Modi in the countryside ahead of next year’s scheduled elections. Farmers make up an important voting bloc.

“Opposition to Modi is growing. Unless you have rural support, no party can win on [the] basis of urban support only,” said Satish Misra, of the Observer Research Foundation in New Delhi. “The distress is real. The agriculture issue needs to be addressed in a very focused manner.” (VOA)