The Largest Wave Of Suicides In History

Published on Counterpunch, by P. Sainath, 13 February, 2009.

The number of farmers who have committed suicide in India between 1997 and 2007 now stands at a staggering 182,936. Close to two-thirds of these suicides have occurred in five states (India has 28 states and seven union territories). The Big 5 – Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Chattisgarh– account for just about a third of the country’s population but two-thirds of farmers’ suicides. The rate at which farmers are killing themselves in these states is far higher than suicide rates among non-farmers. Farm suicides have also been rising in some other states of the country.

It is significant that the count of farmers taking their lives is rising even as the numbers of farmers diminishes, that is, on a shrinking farmer base. As many as 8 million people quit farming between the two censuses of 1991 and 2001. The rate of people leaving farming has only risen since then, but we’ll only have the updated figure of farmers in the census of 2011…


… Maharashtra registered a fall of 215 farm suicides in 2007. However, no other state even touches the 3,000 mark. And AP (with 1,797) and Karnataka (2,135) – the next two worst hit states – together do not cross Maharashtra’s 4,000-plus mark. A one-year dip of 221 occurred in 2005 too, in Maharashtra, only to be followed by an all-time high of 4,453 suicides in 2006. The state’s trend shows no turnaround and remains dismal.

Maharashtra’s 2007 figure of 4,238 follows one and a half years of farm “relief packages” worth around Rs.5,000 crore ($1 billion) and a prime ministerial visit in mid-2006 to the distressed Vidharbha region. The state has also seen a plethora of official reports, studies and commissions of inquiry over 2005-07, aimed at tackling the problem. However, the 12,617 farm suicides in the same years is its worst ever total for any three-year period since the state began recording such data in 1995. Indeed, farm suicides in Maharashtra since that year have crossed the 40,000 mark. The structural causes of that crisis seem untouched.

Nationally, farmers’ suicides between 2002-07 were worse than for the years 1997-2001. NCRB data for the whole country now exists from 1997-2007. In the five years till 2001, there were 15,747 farmers’ suicides a year on average. For the six years from 2002, that average is 17,366 farmers’ suicides each year. The increase is distressingly higher in the main crisis states … (full text).

Link: Inheritors of debt and distress, by Jaideep Hardikar, February 16, 2009.

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