If someone says that farmers’ suicides have really not increased, they would be hounded out or perhaps some ‘five star’ NGO will file a case for spreading rumours. Reporting on increasing farmer suicides has become fashionable for the media for obvious TRP reasons. It is also politically suitable for some to use it as a stick to beat the present ruling political party.
After ruling the country for the better part of 65 years, the Congress party is driving home the point that farmers have had a bad deal thus far. They are crying foul that the new government is now preparing even to take away their right to say ‘no’ while acquiring their land for infrastructure development.
According to Wikipedia, “In fiscal year ending June 2011, with a normal monsoon season, Indian agriculture accomplished an all-time record production of 85.9 million tonnes of wheat, a 6.4% increase from a year earlier. Rice output in India also hit a new record at 95.3 million tonnes, a 7% increase from the year earlier. Indian farmers, thus produced about 71 kilograms of wheat and 80 kilograms of rice for every member of Indian population in 2011. Just a year later, in 2012, the National Crime Records Bureau of India reported 13,754 farmer suicides.
Quoting arguments from a field-based research study in The Lancet, Swaminathan S. Anklesaria Aiyar, India’s leading economic journalist, indicates that farmers committing suicide in India is due to depression and they need treatment. The argument of “depression” being one of the major causes is fine to a large extent. It may not be wrong to ask the question, “where is the depression coming from?”
Is the depression coming from aspiration, or even greed? The desire to have and own what is advertised in the media, especially television? Like the big cars or TV sets, air-conditioners, well-furnished bedrooms, kitchen appliances? The poorer farmer feels inadequate in the eyes of richer relatives, neighbours or even his own children and wife.
Ill-equipped and ill-prepared to provide expensive utilities out of a small farm income or even a farm loan, the head of the family naturally gets depressed and finally commits suicide.
If this is true, what is the answer? There seems to be none and it may be too late in the day for about 119 million farming families. The graph will surely rise in the coming decades until there is a correlation between capability and capacity to earn.
In the early 90s, when scores of private television channels were allowed to beam advertising supported programmmes, social scientists expressed a fear. They said that “Exposure” to glitzy advertising of ostentatious products and life-style was likely to create a sense of frustration among viewers. That frustration was likely to lead to either depression or crime.
Others argued that such exposure to ‘good’ life and out-of-reach products may lead viewers to work harder to earn and buy more. Alas, life is not about sociological study alone. Contrary to expectations, the “Exposure” first brought in white collar crime within the upper middle class. This became the role model for those who could not skew policy in their favour to have a level playing field. It then percolated down the line within the bureaucracy and small time politicians. Greed took centrestage. Naturally, ill-gotten money flooded the economy. The poor remained poor and marginalised. The markets got overwhelmed with expensive products.
Today, the most visible repercussion, unfortunately, is at the bottom of the pyramid, in the farm sector. Where land holdings have only diminished with every generation. The impact of that decision and the flawed policy is visible decades later. Any way, the farmers will remain a TRP highlight.