Thursday, June 16, 2011

Every thirty minutes, a farmer commits suicide

Flouting of dalit and gender rights contribute to committing of farmer suicides despite Government’s effort, according to a report by the Centre for Human Rights and Global Justice (CHRGJ).

The report issued by CHRGJ and the International Human Rights Clinic (at New York University School of Law) claims that farmers’ suicide, which is connected to agrarian crisis will become more severe due to the existing gender and caste-based discrimination in the Indian society since the government has so far taken only financial steps as policy measures instead of going for structural changes.

In the document titled Every Thirty Minutes-Farmer Suicides, Human Rights, and the Agrarian Crisis in India, 2011 (for the full report please check the link no.1 and for the press release check the link no. 2) it is said that there is a deep association between farmer suicides and caste or gender-based discrimination. After the implementation of neo-liberal policies in India (pertaining to commercial/ corporate agriculture) the pattern of farming has witnessed a sea change. Due to socio-economic obstacles, farmers belonging to the so-called “lower caste” lack the essential technology to undertake corporate farming and it is possible that debt burden on these farmers for carrying out cotton farming based on Bt cotton or farming cash crops which is capital-intensive in nature may be more compared to the rest.

According to the same report “lower caste” farmers and their families face discriminatory policies when it comes to land entitlement. Farmers who do not have title to land are not enumerated as the same in official surveys and therefore when the family head dies by committing suicide, the family is often deprived of the compensation and relief package which is being offered by the Government. Similarly, tenant farmers are not counted as farmers. In technical terms, a large section of farmers who do not have title to land are women, dalits and tribals and the Government of India’s National Crime Records Bureau statistics actually underestimates the number of farmer suicides. Marginalized sections like women and dalits do not enjoy access to formal credit as they do not have title to land (property rights). Being a signatory of International human rights treaties, the Government of India has been appealed by the present report to end, investigate and undertake proper steps regarding caste/ gender factors related to farmer suicides.

In order to make the point that families of farmers who committed suicides owing to debt burden in the midst of agrarian crisis, face social injustice and discrimination to access relief schemes of the government, the report has provided several examples. The report mentions the story of Kalawati. The patriarchal society in India often deprives the women of their rightful access to land title and in the midst of agrarian crisis the impact may be fatal. The Government of Maharastra provides a compensation of Rs. 1 lakh to the family of a farmer who has committed suicide on the basis of three conditions. The first condition is that the farmer must have titled land; the second is he must be indebted at time of committing suicide; and the third is indebtedness must be the primary reason behind his suicide. Despite fulfillment of the above 3 conditions, families of farmers who committed suicide are still deprived of the compensation by the Government.

The story of Kalawati Bandurkar is similar to this. In 2007, her husband committed suicide. Kalawati is a mother of nine children and grandmother of five children. Apart from working as a labourer on others’ field, she farms on a separate cropping field of 9 acres size. After the death of her husband, Kalawati did not receive any compensation because the piece of land (9 acres) on which her family cultivates is not owned but has been taken on lease.

The truth revealed by this report is unquestionable. According to a news report by The Hindustan Times [see link no. 3], death toll due to suicide could have reached 28 in Vidarbha by the month of May, 2011 due to agrarian crisis and economic distress. So far, the number of farmers who have committed suicide from Vidarbha is 203 this year. Government’s claim that its two relief schemes worth Rs. 5050 crore have been able to reduce the incidents of suicide is false.

According to statistics provided by the National Crime Records Bureau during the year 2009, 348 persons committed suicide everyday out which 48 were farmers. Since 2004 on an average 47 farmers commit suicide every day which means every 30 minutes a farmer commits suicide (please check the links below).

Key findings of the report- Every Thirty Minutes-Farmer Suicides, Human Rights, and the Agrarian Crisis in India:

  • Statistics compiled by the Government of India reveal that 241,679 farmers in India committed suicide between 1995 and 2009. According to P. Sainath (journalist from The Hindu)—who has documented the crisis since it first started—the 2010 figures will likely bring this number up to more than 250,000.

  • In 2009 alone, the most recent year for which official figures are available, 17,638 farmers committed suicide—that’s one farmer every 30 minutes.

  • According to national census figures, between 1991 and 2001, eight million Indians left farming. While forthcoming data from the 2011 census will provide updated figures for the total number who have left farming since 2001, there is no indication that this move away from farming has declined in any way.

  • Records show that the suicide rates are highest where cotton production is highest. Though the Indian government has long been alerted to the cotton farmer suicide crisis, it has failed to respond with solutions that adequately address the issue. Cotton is a cash crop, which makes it particularly vulnerable to fluctuations in the global market. Cotton stands in as a prime example of India’s general move away from food production toward cash crop cultivation, a shift that has contributed significantly to farmer vulnerability, as evidenced by the fact that the majority of suicides are committed by farmers in the cash crop sector. The cotton industry, like other cash crops in India, is one that has been dominated by foreign multinationals.

  • Farmer suicide counts have been tragically high in the states of Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, and West Bengal. These states are among the highest cotton producing states in the country. In Andhra Pradesh alone, at least 17,775 farmers committed suicide between 2002 and 2009. There, Bt cotton crops generated much lower yields than non-Bt cotton crops for smallholder farmers during years with drought. The use of Bt cottonseed, contrary to advertising, also failed to reduce pesticide usage for many farmers. Moreover, high seed prices raised the farmers’ input costs, while sale prices remained low. In the state of Maharashtra, more than 2,500 farmers committed suicide each year between 2002 and 2009.

  • In 2006, the national government flagged funds from the Prime Minister’s Relief Fund to relieve farmers of debt, but there has been little enthusiasm about its results. In 2008 the Finance Minister enacted the Agricultural Debt Waiver and Debt Relief Scheme. The scheme provided debt waivers for marginal and small farmers, defined as owning two or fewer hectares of land. For other farmers, the relief scheme provided a 25 percent debt relief. Many farmers, who own more than two hectares but still suffer from extreme indebtedness, were unable to pay the remaining 75 percent needed to qualify for the program. In either case, the scheme only applied to loans from banks and not to loans from informal moneylenders. Farmers who took out loans from moneylenders to pay for expensive inputs are excluded from the government’s assistance program. An additional important shortcoming of the debt waiver scheme is that it did not distinguish between irrigated and non-irrigated land.

  • Although farmers’ credit sources vary from state to state, the farmers who do depend on rural banks are feeling the effects of the ten percent decline of rural banks nationwide in the past decade, a problematic trend that the Indian government has failed to address.