By Aadya Sinha:
I have never believed in the power of statistics to sensitively and truly illustrate any issue, much less that of farmer suicides in India. However, even in their cold and quantitative capacity, they seem to be making an impassioned appeal to anyone willing to listen. With 135 cases of farmers’ suicide being reported in the first 58 days of 2015 in Maharashtra’s Aurangabad division, India is facing its worst ever agrarian crisis, and the political response has been abysmal.
The aforementioned statement is not meant to be a hyperbole that springs you into action. With India also following the West dictated path to modernisation, farming as a profession is unlikely to regain its lost lucrativeness. Further, with every successive government concentrating increasingly on the services and industry sector, processes such as the diversification of agricultural activity and efficiency in the sector have been reduced to nothing more than election rhetoric. It’s only fitting then, that it was recently discovered that one of the farmers who attended Narendra Modi’s 2014 ‘Chai Pe Charcha’ for farmers, committed suicide.
Since 60% of our population is involved in agriculture and related activities, this trend is a definite cause of worry. The arid Marathwada region, which accounts for 93 of the 135 reported deaths can be studied more closely to provide a better picture.
With traditional crops not bringing them suitable price in the market, a large number of farmers opted for water intensive orchards and perennial crops like sugarcane, grapes and banana, despite Marathwada being an arid region. The orchard farming being capital intensive, is fertile ground for debt traps. Further, cash-crops are long term investments and take longer to yield. This leads to a higher chance of harassment from money lenders. The whimsical nature of the crops also leads to most of them being farmed in mono-crop patterns, resulting in a larger likelihood of crop failure. Further, such areas, that are shifting from subsistence farming to cash crops, usually work on a contractual basis with MNC’s that have no liability and take no responsibility in the event of crop failure. In such ‘drought-prone’ regions, as Marathwada, the absence of contingency plans and farmer help care centers is entirely counter-intuitive and shows apathy on part of the government.
Thus starving, caught in a debt trap, ignored by the government and harassed by money lenders, the farmer feels driven to suicide.
This leaves 60% of the country’s population, majority of whom are small and marginal farmers, much like those in Marathwada, with a livelihood whose service value might be priceless but actual value is anything but. The reason for such a discrepancy in the worth of farming seems to lie not just in the inefficiency of government schemes, but our perceived value of professional farming.
Despite having faced agricultural crises even before adopting LPG (Liberalization, Privatization, Globalization) policies, the privatisation of agriculture has led to an attitudinal change in the government’s stand on farmers. The recent Land Acquisition Bill, and the following spate of ordinance have left the farmer’s lobby practically powerless. The changes reflect a shift in focus for the state, away from farmers. Attempts to make compensation non-justiciable, and the fudging of data related to farmer suicides, are two of the standouts that reflect this. The farmers are thus left in the hands of profit-driven MNCs that aren’t concerned with the welfare of the farming class.
This ‘commercialization’ of responsibility, along with hoarding of sustenance grains and an ineffective storage and delivery system, has severely hampered the viability of the farming sector, even when the monsoons permit a good harvest.
Beyond the government’s role, the ‘othering‘ of farmer groups from mainstream protests also contributes to this multifaceted problem. Despite their dismal conditions, farmers come under the ’employed’ classification of workers. Thus, they don’t find a voice in the popular workers’ movements or those of the unorganized sector. This has led to a further loss in the leverage that farming organisations hold as pressure groups.
Yet, as the mainstream media gets caught up in the recent flux caused by the din surrounding the government’s Land Acquisition Bill and the political mileage sought by the opposition, it’s dying farmers and their profession that get the worst end of the metaphorical stick, and become just another statistic.