Chhattisgarh has highest rate of Farmers' Suicide: But the figures are fudged!

Chhattisgarh has highest rate of Farmers' Suicide: But the figures are fudged!

Shubhranshu Choudhary

I would like to begin today with a story- about Sharma ji and Verma ji. Of course it is all in my imagination- but what happened to them was indeed terrible.

One day Sharma ji's son committed suicide. Much hue and cry was made over why a young boy would commit suicide. The media considered the issue at length. The Prime Minister personally visited Sharma ji with compensation. The reason behind the suicide, according to the inquiry
commission, was that the boy studied in a co-ed school. Co-ed school is one where girls and boys study together. The report elaborated thus- The girls had ridiculed the boy for some reason, and his sensitive nature could not bear the trauma.

The issue was hotly debated in the Parliament- how to save our youth from recurring suicides- but clearly the option of immediate closing down of co-ed schools could not be considered.

Some years passed by.

One day Sharma ji's friend Verma ji's son also committed suicide.

It was a sad occasion. People had gathered to console Verma ji, who was desolate. But he said he had read all the reports of Sharma ji's son's suicide. His own son was not studying in co-ed school. So Verma ji felt that the doctor was fudging facts by suggesting that his son had committed suicide.

The body was there, right in front of him, but Verma ji would not report suicide. And thus the Prime Minister did not visit Verma ji for compensation.

Sharma ji lives in Vidarbha and Verma ji in Chhattisgarh.

I don't know if this point is going across to the reader or not- but the conditions in Chhattisgarh today are very similar to Verma Ji's.

Two weeks earlier, on 8th of february, I had written in this column that according to the figures available with the National Crime Record Bureau of the Central Home Ministry, approximately 1400 landholding farmers commit suicide in Chhattisgarh every year- ie 4 farmers per day.

This does not include the numbers of those Farmers who commit suicide but are not landholders.

The reaction in Chhattisgarh was similar to the one of Verma ji.

It was said that the farmers of Vidarbha and Andhra cultivate cash crops for which they take loans. But as the farmer in Chhattisgarh cultivates paddy, for which the labour requirement is high, however high loans are not required, so the figures of farmers' suicides are fudged.

Minister of Agriculture, Sharad Pawar has accepted in the House that the figures of farmers' suicide provided by the National Crime Record Bureau are accurate. (30th November, starred question number 238, the Agriculture Minister responds to Ram Jethmalani.)

The Bureau figures do not claim that the farmers are committing suicide due to reasons related to farming. And I am not claiming that here either.

I am only requesting for a study of these figures, to probe and understand what is happening.

Rhetoric of the kind- "Are we blind, that 4 farmers committed suicide everyday and we did not know", does not serve any purpose. For seven years these figures have been available with the National Crime Record Bureau. Not a peep from any Chhattisgarhiya in the direction!

I then began an exploration for any earlier study of Farmers' Suicides in Chhattisgarh.

I know of Verier Elwin's book Maria, Murder and Suicide, in which he studied the issue of Suicide amongst the Tribes of Bastar, and found that suicide is more prevalent in Maria tribe as compared to the Muria Tribe.

Subsequently I also found out about Professor Jonathan Perry of London School of Economics. He conducted a study in 2003, about suicides in the Bhilai Region. I contacted him and he told me, "Some years back I was in Bhilai for a research project and I found that in the settlements of Bhilai where I was carrying out my survey, the incidence of suicide was above average. In fact the figures were so significantly high that I started collecting figures from the hospitals and Police Stations , although this was not the subject of my study".

Professor Perry added, "This was about the same time as news of Andhra Pradesh Farmer suicides had started streaming in. I always felt that the conclusion that loans were at the root of the Farmers' Suicides was coming from a very superficial type of study. After my Bhilaiexperience I am not surprised by the figures you quote to me about Chhattisgarh Farmers."

In the meantime, my friend Yuvraj Gajpal who is pursuing his PhD in Canada, took a deeper look at the figures of National Crime Record Bureau. He calculated the rate of Farmers' suicides in the various states, and points out the following:

That in Chhattisgarh, 6.29 farmers commit suicide per lakh of population. Maharashtra follows at 4.59, Andhra Pradesh is next with 3.42, and Karnataka stands at 3.25.

He questions why so much attention is given to suicides in Maharashtra by journalists whereas he has not read anything about suicides in Chhattisgarh!

Yuvraj continues, "In Chhattisgarh, the percentage of landowning farmers is 17% of the total population. However the figure for farmers committing suicide as a percentage of total suicides is 33%, i.e, compared to other professions, twice as many farmers in Chhattisgarh take their own lives. What is the reason?"

I thought it might be a good idea to share these figures with Professor K Nagaraj of Madras Institute of Development Studies as he has been studying the subject for many years now. Professor Nagaraj said that he has recently received the figures for the year 2003 onwards, and his analysis will be ready in a few weeks. On the face of it, he sees no mismatch in the figures.

I asked Prof Nagraj, that people in Chhattisgarh say that this is a paddy cultivation area, and not a cash crop cultivation area. So how can Farmers be committing suicide?

He laughed and said, "Please go to Thanjavur district of Tamil Nadu, which is a paddy cultivation area. Many Farmers are committing suicide there. As opposed to this, the rest of Tamil Nadu has substantial cash crop production. But the rate of farmers' suicide is much lower here.

The reason is that the road network is excellent and upon crop failure, the farmer is able to find other livelihood. The only conclusion which can be drawn from this is that every problem is unique in itself."

I asked him, "Bihar and Uttar Pradesh are also paddy cultivation areas, but not many farmers commit suicide in those states as compared to Chhattisgarh"?

Prof Nagraj told me, "Chhattisgarh needs to be studied. But it is obvious that it is not comparable to the areas along the Ganga and Yamuna. Secondly a farmer does not commit suicide only because of agriculture loans- though loans may be a predominant reason. If you examine India after 1991, State help for the common man has reduced steadily, whether it is irrigation, or education. Suicides are caused by a mix of these problems."

In the end I called P Sainath of the "Hindu" newspaper who has been writing on this subject for many years. I told him that journalists in Chhattisgarh are saying these figures are fudged. Sainath said, "Its like the election results - if they do not match our expectation we say the elections are rigged. Please quote me in your article that if anyone has conducted a study and found that only one farmer is committing suicide in Chhattisgarh every year, then this State is a heaven on earth. I will advise farmers in Europe and America to shift to Chhattisgarh, because even there more farmers commit suicide than this "study" is showing".

It seems, the journalists in Chhattisgarh are behaving like Verma ji- who could not believe that his son had committed suicide because he was not studying in a co-ed school.

But will the leaders of Chhattisgarh please look into the matter? The assembly session is on, will someone please raise this issue?

Shubhranshu Choudhary