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As 46 Farmers Commit Suicide Daily, Why India’s Agrarian Crisis Is Bigger Than We Think

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By Anwarul Hoda

Farmer_Ploughing_IndiaFarmers are those who work in acres, not in hours. Their day starts with the earliest rays of the sun and ends when it sets beyond the western horizon. Little do they know that no matter how hard they work, monetarily they will always be deceived. Sometimes hit by men or else by nature, they still continue to plough the earth and provide us with food.

Farmers in India have neither proper infrastructure nor the government’s support. They are continuously struggling for survival. But still they continue to cultivate food as they have no other option. Farmers have no right to determine the price of their produce. In fact, they are not even permitted to sell their goods where they want. Is it not an irony that one doesn’t even have such rights in a so-called liberal economy? Also, they are compelled to sell their commodities only through the local Agricultural Produce Marketing Committee (APMCs).

India is an agrarian economy and currently, the livelihood of 836 million people is dependent on agriculture. Farmers of India are the most marginalised section of the economy that earn less than 40 rupees a day. More than 3 lakh suicides by farmers have been reported by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) since India liberalised, privatised and globalised its economy. In a single day, 46 farmers give up their life; that means every 30 minutes, a suicide is reported. Please note that the data doesn’t include farmers whose lands are not registered in their names and the women farmers. As per 68th round survey conducted by the National Sample Survey Sample Office (NSSO) nearly 70% of rural women are engaged in agriculture but it’s highly ironical that our country doesn’t recognise women as farmers.

Agricultural infrastructure is so bad that even after 68 years of independence 61 percent of agricultural land depends upon the rain. Employment in agriculture is continuously shrinking as farmers are employing a lesser number of workers to minimise their cost of production. In an answer to students at Aligarh Muslim University, Yogendra Yadav, a renowned social activist and political figure said that “due to mechanisation of agriculture, unemployment in rural India is rising high which is a very serious issue, further causing migration and social disturbances in rural as well as in urban areas.”

The pressure of debt and continuous loss in farming is forcing farmers to either migrate to cities or commit suicide. No proper policy of government till today has been made to combat the agrarian crisis in India.

P. Sainath is a well-established rural journalist and the author of ‘Everybody Loves A Good Drought‘ which is based on his research on rural India. On several occasions, he pointed out that government is so much responsible for the prevailing agrarian crisis as its policies are never so effective to counter ground challenges facing by farmers. According to him, policies are made by those people who know nothing about farmers or farming. At the inaugural ceremony of the Vibgyor Film Festival in 2012, he talked about how the government put all its effort to save Kingfisher airline and spent millions in the name of subsidies and at the same time did nothing for millions of farmers of Karnataka or other states.

Inequality among rural-urban area is highly growing, migration is also an issue but the government is not taking proper measures to ensure a sustainable life for farmers. Late Sharad Anantrao Joshi, an economist, farmer leader and an activist found that the root cause of rural poverty was dry land farming. Dry land farming consists of cultivating land which contains less water; it depends mostly on the monsoon with less or no infrastructure for irrigation. Hence, the produce is less than what it could be in other forms of agriculture.

Indian farmers were the most exploited during the British regime but even then, suicidal tendency among farmers was not that prevalent. Then what has driven Indian farmers to this limit?

There are basically two factors responsible for the prevailing agrarian crisis in India. The first one is internal: after the green revolution in 80’s, suddenly, farmers realized that their lands had become less productive due to excessive use of fertilizers and pesticides and ironically, required even more fertilizers for continuing farming. At the same time, a massive increment in the price of agricultural goods like fertilizers, pesticides and other agricultural chemicals has been reported due to high market demand. That minimizes the gap between profit and cost of production and certainly agriculture becomes less profitable and less productive at the same time.

The second one is external which includes 1995 WTO agreement and neo-liberalization of Indian economy. After 1991 reforms, agriculture sector was exposed to the global economy and now local farmers have to directly compete with global farmers and markets for which they were not ready and are then forced to the gallows.

Among all the economic sector agriculture is most undeveloped. Drought, declining productivity and debt are factors which vastly affect the livelihood of farmers. Agriculture sector strongly needs reform in its policies to increase productivity of land. There is a need to shift heavy public investment to modernise this sector. Price mechanism and market structure should be reviewed and there is a need to establish provisions to eliminate the middleman, which eats up all possible profit of farmers. Representatives of farmers in parliament are also required as these existing parliamentarian are heavily burdened with lots of work.

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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.

Read more about her campaign. 

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.

Read more about the campaign here.

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.

Read more about the campaign here.

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 Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’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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