Farmer Suicides in India

According to the 2018 National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data, even though the suicide rate among Indians sadly remains a constant, farmer suicides have actually gone down.

Key Findings

The 2018 National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data shows a decrease in the rate of farmer suicides in India over the last few years. This is despite the overall suicide rates remaining reasonably constant and the rise in rural poverty. 10.2 suicides were lodged for 100,000 Indians in 2018, which is in line with the estimates by the World Health Organization on global suicide rates. In contrast, a much lower rate of 3.6 suicides for 100,000 farmers and farm laborers were also lodged.

Dissecting the Data at a State Level

National data oftentimes cloaks a significant angle, the variation of suicide rates across states. For example, the states of Karnataka, Maharashtra, and Kerala reported the highest suicide rates in the country. A study conducted in 2014 found that between 1997-2012, these three had the most major problem with farmer suicides. Punjab towards the beginning was included in the group of states with the lowest farmer suicide rates, however, it has seen a five-fold increase over the years.

Confusion Within The Data

Some states like Odisha, West Bengal, and Bihar have reported zero cases of farmer suicide. However, the National data does not support those claims. There is a discrepancy between perception and reality. A better way to understand the severity of farmer suicides will be to compare the state numbers to the number of suicides committed in that state. There are contradictions if one compares these two rates. For example, West Bengal reported a high number of suicides in 2018, yet no farmer suicides. Punjab and Mizoram were the only states to have reported a higher number of farmer suicides than overall suicide rates.

Inaccuracy Within The Data

The suicide data is collated from suicide cases reported to the police. There is a good chance the National Crime Report is underestimating the actual rates as many suicides go unreported. In 2014, about 9.4% of all suicides were listed as farmer suicides. By 2018, this number had dropped to 7.7%. However, a sharp rise in suicides is daily wage earners have been observed.

Understanding The Root Cause

As farmer suicides have increased in the last few years, we can only assume that the reason behind it is more complex than just declining incomes or rising debt. Researchers argue that farmer suicides are a result of mainly three factors – existing vulnerability in a region, agrarian crisis, and lack of alternative opportunities

There can be social factors as well. Patriarchy in societies, which makes the man of the house solely responsible for providing for the family, farmer suicides are an act of patriarchal honor. The government needs to make comprehensive, multifaceted policies that address all these issues in order to successfully tackle the larger issue of farmer suicide.

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