Just how much debt does it take for a farmer in the Vidarbha region of Maharashtra to take the extreme step of killing himself? The shocking findings of a new study reveal it could be as little as Rs 10,000.
Days after fresh data from the National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB) revealed that Maharashtra has the highest number of suicides by distressed farmers among all states, a new analysis of farmer deaths over the past three years reveals just how deep despair runs in Vidarbha, where the main crops include cotton, soya beans and oranges.
The analysis, conducted by several farmers’ organisations under the banner of the Kisan Mitra, a farmers’ collective, revealed the conditions in which many farmers kill themselves – often over small loans. The study looked at the reasons for each suicide and threw up some grim numbers.
From 2012 to April this year, a total of 3,145 farmers committed suicide in the six districts in Vidarbha region – Amravati, Yavatmal, Wardha, Washim, Akola and Buldhana.
The study found that more than 900 of these farmers, or nearly one in three, had outstanding debts ranging between Rs 10,000 and Rs 15,000.
This debt, the study found, was enough to drive farmers into a state of helplessness, especially when they are trapped in a vicious cycle of crop damage and losses.
“We found that in many cases, even a loan as small as Rs 10,000 was enough to push the farmer over the edge. This figure says a lot about how little faith farmers have in the ability and willingness of the state to help them,” said Madhukar Gumble, director of Kisan Mitra.
For a country where 65% of the population is under 35, the survey had some other humbling findings.
One in four farmers driven to suicide was under 30, the study found.
Young farmers (aged between 18 and 30) accounted for the second-highest number of suicides, after those in the 31-45 range, who comprised 35% of the total.
The study showed, however, that the crisis has spared no one. Of the farmers who killed themselves in the past three years, 208 were over 65. “Most youngsters refuse to take up farming but the few who do are immensely aspirational and want to make a difference. When they face losses and see the lack of government support, their enthusiasm turns into frustration very quickly," said Gajanan Kale, a member of Kisan Mitra.
The study sought to understand the primary causes of these suicides. While most farmers have some debt, the suicides are generally a cumulative result of various factors, experts said.
Of the 3,145 suicides, the study found that at least 925 occurred directly because the farmer felt the government was apathetic to the crisis.
Less than 10% blamed factors such as drought, excess rainfall and hailstorms.
The families of 117 farmers who committed suicide said they did so because they were worried that crop failure would affect the marriage prospects of their daughters, while 296 were ill when they committed suicide.
Another 12% that committed suicide were driven to it by family troubles, the study showed.
According to the NCRB, most farmers who committed suicide in 2014 were from Maharashtra. Of the 5,650 farmers who ended their lives across the country, a total of 2,568 were from the state.
Maharashtra was followed by Telangana, with 898 suicides, and Madhya Pradesh, with 826.Of the total suicides, 5,178 were men and 472 women. Most who took the drastic step were between 30 years and 60 years and many were driven by bankruptcy and family problems.