Of all subjects, farmer suicides is one in which the sanctimoniousness of politicians and mental bankruptcy of intellectuals have reached scandalous proportions. Unsurprisingly, the reaction to Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan Singh’s factual statement in Parliament is being cited as an instance of the iciness of the Narendra Modi government.
“According to the National Crime Records Bureau, causes of [farmer] suicides include family problems, illness, drugs… dowry, love affairs and impotency,” the Minister said in the Rajya Sabha. Opposition leaders and poverty-selling intellectuals pounced on him at once.
“I advise the PM to tell his ministers to go to the house of farmers and see what’s going on,” Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi said. “The Central government is kisan virodhi [anti-farmer]… Modiji is only concerned about five or six of his industrial friends.” CPM general secretary Sitaram Yechury, JD (U) MP K.C. Tyagi, and former AAP leader Yogendra Yadav also expressed similar sentiments. I say sentiments, because these are often occasioned by misinformation; in this case, they surely are.
The latest NCRB annual report, ‘Accidental Deaths & Suicides in India,’ says, “A total of 5,650 farmers have committed suicides during 2014, accounting for 4.3% of total suicides victims in the country.” In an earlier article, I had argued that there is no cause-and-effect relationship between suicides and economic misery. Further, it needs to be understood that the number of farmer suicides does not indicate rural distress. In a country where almost half the people are dependent on agriculture, if of all the people killing themselves 4.3 per cent are farmers, nobody can say that these are disproportionate to their population. There is rural distress but the farmer suicide figures do not suggest that; if at all, they suggest the opposite.
We are told that all farmer suicides are the result of bad agricultural policies; other factors like imprudence, profligacy, alcoholism, and ignorance don’t matter, I wrote (http://jagohindu.in/article-details.aspx?id=120, April 27, 2014). “But according to the NCRB, almost every second Indian who committed suicide did so because of either of the two reasons—family problems (25.6 per cent) and illness (20.8 per cent). There are no disaggregated figures for the causes of farmer suicides, but it will not be unreasonable to assume that the same set of causes applies here too. This assumption is supported by the NCRB finding that poverty was the cause of just 1.7 per cent of suicides. In the case of farmer suicides, too, it has been observed that it is relatively more prosperous ones who kill themselves, also evident from the low suicide rates in general in Bihar and Jharkhand.”
The latest NCRB report states that during 2014 ‘Bankruptcy or Indebtedness’ caused 21.5 per cent farm suicides. This means that in most cases the factors like those mentioned by Agriculture Minister Singh were at play. The popes and archbishops of public discourse want everybody to say only those things which are compliant to their own ideology, socialism; but the reality does not get straitjacketed by any ideology; and when it breaks free, thus shattering the chains of dogma and shibboleths, the self-appointed conscience-keepers scream in full fury. Singh has become the victim of this fury.
In this context, it may be recalled that many careers have been made by selling the myth of farmer suicides; there are high stakes involved in perpetuating this myth. This is the reason that the voices of reason and the views of experts are rarely heeded to. Recently, prominent agriculture economist and Central University of Punjab chancellor S.S. Johl dismissed the viewpoint that debt was the only reason for farmer suicides in the state. “Debt is just one of the many factors. There are multiple factors that drive a farmer to suicide,” he said (Hindustan Times, July 23).
Questioning the studies on farmers suicides in Punjab and linking it solely with the debt factor, Johl said, “Farmers in Rajasthan or say Gujarat own less land and that too which is not fertile and are poorer than the Punjabi farmer, but yet the suicide rate here is higher.”
He also underlined the ill effects of populism and sanctimoniousness; the instances he cited were from Punjab but were valid for the entire country. He pointed out that Punjabi farmers are spendthrift, yet they get loans from banks. “The loans being given to farmers who only sow wheat and paddy is on the higher side. The amount of loan should depend on the number of crops a farmer sows. So our banks don’t give credit but debt.” To make the matters worse, he said, banks don’t monitor loans.
The real culprits, however, are not banks but politicians and the intellectuals who continue to peddle socialist policies that are predicated upon subsidies, controls, and largesse distribution—the very policies that are responsible for the sorry state of the farm sector. These folks want to perpetuate these policies; and since they don’t have any arguments to meet their objectives, they resort to crass sentimentalism and keep the phony issue of farmer suicides alive.
(Pic: Courtesy, Wikipedia)