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135 Suicides In 58 Days! What Is Killing Our Farmers?

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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.

Picture Credit: Wikicommons
Picture Credit: Wikicommons

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.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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