Recently I was happy to read in the newspaper that loans of the farmers were waived. By and large the farmers were delighted, that they would get the benefit of this Govt. venture. To their surprise, all were not given the privilege of waiving the loans. Again the rich farmers were the beneficiaries. This difference is not new to our country. Over the years the conditions of the farmers have remained the same. The frenzied slogans like sab saath sab ka vikas, mazbur kisan only become mere words in the mouth of well decorated (politically) politicians. Kisans continue to hear these slogans and wait for the ray of hope of relieving them from the misery.
Why are Indian farmers committing suicide on a mass scale? There are umpteen numbers of reasons. On an average around 15,400 farmers ended their lives each year between 1995- 2003. This number increased to more than 18,000 between 2004 and 2016. It is important to note that these suicides are happening on a decreasing base of farmers. Farmer count has fallen by 9 million since 2001 which makes the increase in suicide rates that much more alarming. There is no doubt that the agrarian community is facing a crisis.
Why is this happening in a developing country like India? In recent years, suicides among farmers have largely been attributed to debt, drought, crop failure or poor returns. But with such low income and high cost of cultivation, the farmers’ main source of capital for farming remains via loans and their main source of loans are money lenders. As they try to break even and somehow pay off their debts with exorbitant interests, a weather shock or fluctuation will push them into yet another cycle of borrowing. Unable to cope with the mounting debt and the inability to take care of their families, many choose to end their lives. A renowned physicist, environmentalist and feminist writer, Vandana Shiva, in her article “From seeds of suicide to seed of hope” tells that indebtedness is at the root of farmers’ taking their own lives. Debt is a reflection of negative economy. Two factors have transformed agriculture from a positive economy into a negative economy for peasants: the rising costs of production and the falling prices of farm commodities. Both these factors are rooted in the policies of trade liberalization and corporate globalization.
Theologian George Soares Prabhu names the Indian context as “Cry-for-life” situation. Such cry also involves “The cry for survival”, which arises from the massive economic deprivation. The situation of the farming community is one of such cries that affect our country. The bitter cry of the farmers has not been heard. If the government gets down to the grass root of the problems of the farmers community then by and large we will be able to see a ray of hope on the faces of the farmers. Hence, collective effort is the need of the hour. Instead of spending money for unnecessary projects that have no sustainable growth and development, the state should work out constructive strategies for the sustainable development programs towards the future of our farmers. Rectifying the situation of the agrarian community is a Himalayan task. Only if we generate love and compassion in our hearts and come together as one can we hope to make a change. All need to join their hands in working together to solve this crisis. Everyone who eats has a stake for the well-being of our hard pressed small earning farmers. Hence it is crucial for the government and NGO’s to work together, on a local, national and global level, to address and solve this critical issue.
Pradeep Crasta SJ
[ Pradeep is a 3rd year student of Theology at JDV]