Farmer Suicide Rates Are Rising. Can India End Its Agrarian Crisis?

We all grew up reading the great writer Munshi Premchand’s stories in our childhood. Most of his stories were based on the suffering of the peasants and farmers during the British rule. Be it his stories like “Poosh Ki Raat“, “Kafan” or the epic novel “Godaan“. Premchand, very poignantly described the sorrows and grief of the farmers when they lost everything, just to get a fistful of the crop in return. These stories were not fiction, they were the documentation of rural India at a time when the Englishmen were ruling what today is the world’s largest democracy.

Mahatma Gandhi, who dreamt of a developed India, started his journey to fight against the English from Champaran. He knew that farmers were the backbone of the country. He understood that a nation cannot prosper without thinking about the welfare of the cultivators. It was not just the British eating up all the revenue of the farmers, but also the Zamindars and other powerful upper caste men. It has been more than 70 years since the British left the country. We are now sending satellites to Mars but the circumstances of our farmers are the same as they were before 1947. Our leaders have replaced the British and Premchand’s novels still remain relevant for our farmers today.

Today, farmers in several parts of India are surviving under the pressure of debts and struggling to get the proper amount for their produces. They are demanding that their loans be waived, as they have lost everything. They have been fighting for their demands since Independence, but their voices remain unheard.

It was in April when around 100 farmers from the state of Tamil Nadu gathered at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi demanding a drought relief package from the Centre. As a mark of protest, they carried skulls of deceased farmers, drank their own urine and ran naked in front of the Prime Minister’s residence. In May, it was a farmers’ protest in the BJP led state of Madhya Pradesh which turned violent. At least six people were killed as the police fired at the protesters. While in another BJP-led state, Maharashtra, farmers emptied milk containers and dumped vegetables on roads to show their disagreement. They claimed that they were being offered a price lower than the input cost of their produces. Now in Rajasthan—which is yet again a BJP led state—farmers are sitting on an indefinite strike.

Apart from this, they are also angry over receiving cheque payments made by traders for their produce and are demanding for cash instead. Haryana also saw a mass protest in recently. The farmers blocked the state highways, demanding appropriate price for their sunflower seeds, potatoes, and maize, and also demanded a loan waiver. Uttar Pradesh is another state which may join the movement.

These protests are the result of the government’s failure to address the severe agrarian crisis in India. Are natural calamities like drought alone responsible this crisis? This is a result of the government policies that failed to address the issues plaguing the farming sector. Farmers have always just been vote banks for political parties. The Narendra Modi government, which had promised relief to farmers prior to the general elections, is more interested in fulfilling the demands of the corporate sector. Nearly 83% of the farmers who have less than two hectares of land are ignored. They continue to be major victims of this agrarian crisis. Our farmers have been attempting suicides in large number for decades. According to the reports published by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), a total of 296,438 farmers committed suicide in India between 1995 and 2013. The main reasons behind these suicide attempts are the burden of debts, increased production costs and selling prices that are lower than the input cost.

The government has failed to implement proper plans to increase crop production, despite the fact that there is a rise in food demands. One reason behind the government’s failure in achieving appropriate agricultural growth is the lack of proper research. It hasn’t managed to provide a proper solution to end the sufferings of the farmers. Loan waivers can relax the farmers to an extent but it won’t end the existing crisis.

Before a policy is implemented a framework needs to be created, that would help in the implementation. The framework should be made after consulting smaller farmers from every state and the research should focus on increasing crop productivity and its market value. Gandhi believed that farmers are the backbone of Indian economy and we require some serious humane efforts to strengthen this backbone. To promote native agricultural practices, we need to educate our farmers so they know what is good for them and what isn’t. A well-informed and skilled farmer can fight issues like crop failure to a major extent on his own.

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