Crisis of survival
Satinder K. Girgla

Farmers Suicide in India: Dynamics and Strategies of Prevention
Ed. Dr Gyanmudra. Deep & Deep Publications, New Delhi. Pages 170. Rs 520.

THE Indian peasantry is currently facing an epidemic of suicide, which reveals the poignant tales of our country and the desperation that marks the lives of so many millions. Suicides by impoverished farmers are new to our country, as it was only in the 1990s that India woke up to a spate of suicides by farmers. The first state where suicides were reported was Maharashtra. And soon after, the similar occurences were reported from Andhra Pradesh, followed by Karnataka, Kerala and Punjab.

What are the factors that pushed farmers to their breaking point? Are the causes merely economic in nature—easy access to credit, greedy moneylenders and corrupt middlemen—or involve social reasons, too? How can we prevent our producers from taking this extreme step? These are the few questions which the book under review attempts to answer.

The book, which is an end product of the papers presented by various social science researchers at a national workshop held at the National Institute of Rural Development, Hyderabad , has two parts. While the first part focuses on the present state, causes and impact of farmer suicides, the second deals with the strategies of prevention.

While discussing the concept of suicides in general, Dr Gyanmudra highlights the Durkheim’s idea on suicide that states that it is more than an individual act and larger forces of integration and regulation affect it. Thus, the book looks beyond individual and economic factors and attempts to identify the malady with a holistic approach and suggests suitable action programmes, which go beyond merely announcing financial packages for farmers.

Among economic reasons, Dr Gyanmudra sees the opening of the seed sector to MNCs and intellectual property rights for various seed and plant varieties as the biggest threat to Indian agriculture. Rising input costs and diminishing returns push farmers into debt, while the poor loan management system further adds to their woes. However, the absence of adequate social support infrastructure seems to be the main culprit.

A study in Andhra Pradesh reveals that no suicide case out of distress was reported from joint family background.

One of the papers looks at this issue from gender perspective and discusses the impact of suicides on women in terms of socio-economic and psychological factors and suggests strategies to protect the vulnerable victims and empower women in particular.

One of the strategies to check farmer suicides is by making financial institutions more socially responsible. Easy crop insurance claims, revival of the borewell insurance scheme and the introduction of social security schemes are other areas which need attention. Moreover, a lot needs to be done for the families of deceased farmers and their relief and rehabilitation should focus on economic, social and psychological aspects.

While discussing how farmers fell into the poverty syndrome, the book highlights various problems surrounding the producers and suggests a two-fold solution—preventive and curative. The former focuses on helping the farmers from falling prey to depression, while the latter stresses on the rehabilitation of the families of the farmers who take this extreme step.

However, despite the good work done, the book centres around Andhra Pradesh and not all states which are also facing the similar problem. All the case studies pertain to this state only and many facts are repeated time and again. Despite its limited scope, it is a must read for progressive farmers, social scientists and policy makers to understand this problem from a holistic approach.