Farmers’ Suicides: Loans and social vices biggest killers

Everybody talks of farmers' suicides. Nobody talks about the real reasons. Ganjendra’s death in the AAP rally did not force analysts to analyse what makes farmers kill themselves. They are instead busy holding one party or the other responsible for the death. BJP refuses to admit the fact that the farmer belonged to Rajasthan where its government was in power, and the law and order is the primary responsibility of the police (again in the hands of BJP government at the Centre) and not that of the group holding a rally. AAP refused to admit its folly, continuing with the rally even after the tragedy.  

What requires attention, however, is that if farmers commit suicide in such big numbers --- about 300,000 in last 20 years-the reasons have to be found and solutions planned accordingly. Several studies have attempted to find out the reasons, with two major theories. According to a study conducted by Arvind Panagarya, the reasons are as listed in the following table:

Reasons for farm suicides. (in 2002)         Percent (of suicides)
 Habits like drinking, gambling, etc.                                    20.35
 Failure of crops                                                                      16.81
 Other reasons (e.g. chit fund)                                            15.04
 Family problems with spouse, others                              13.27
 Chronic illness                                                                       9.73
 Marriage of daughters                                                           5.31
 Political affiliation                                                                  4.42
 Property disputes                                                                  2.65
 Debt burden                                                                           2.65
 Price crash                                                                             2.65
 Borrowing too much (e.g. for house construction)          2.65
 Losses in non-farm activities                                              1.77
 Failure of bore-well                                                               0.88

According to Dongre and Deshmukh (“Farmers’ suicides in the Vidarbha region of Maharashtra, India: a qualitative exploration of their causes”), the reasons in order of importance behind farmer suicides were - debt, alcohol addiction, environment, low produce prices, stress and family responsibilities, apathy, poor irrigation, increased cost of cultivation, private money lenders, use of chemical fertilisers and crop failure. According to another study GM crops were especially responsible as the loans taken for these crops involve huge risks.

 What is clear from the studies is that loans and social vices are the biggest factors in the high suicide rates among farmers. If these are the major factors, they should have attracted greater attention as well. But again, I am tired of telling it almost every day, all these relate to dominance of the forces of economic fundamentalism. Of course, the corporates are the most lethal forms of the economic fundamentalists, but there are others as well. Banking sector too hurts more than it helps. The very idea of providing easy loans is bad. By providing loans, even the future incomes of the people are taken control of, and this money ultimately flows into the big market. People tend to take loans even where heavy risks are involved. I have been arguing since I authored “The Devil of Economic Fundamentalism” that the banks in the modern world have been created by the economic fundamentalists to facilitate the flow of money from the less-moneyed to the more-moneyed. I have also been arguing with my Islamic proponents of Islamic Banking that “Islamic” Banking is little Islam and more banking. While Islamic Banks are better than the traditional banks in many ways, they too do not reverse the flow of money. What Islam’s ban on interest implies in essence is not only that interest should not be charged on loans but also that loans should be avoided except for emergencies. But, unfortunately, in today’s world dominated by the market forces, loans have become one of the major money spinners, of course at the cost of the poor people. The very idea of giving easy loans has to be revisited afresh, and loans to the poor should be given only for purposes where risks are minimal.  

Alcohol and gambling, of course, remain major reasons of all forms of suicides, not just the suicides of farmers. Alcohol, in addition, is a major factor in deaths due to road accidents, and is also associated with the spread of killer diseases like AIDS. But these again are the leading markets, with bars and casinos mushrooming in every part of the country. And the market-controlled media, educational institutions, NGOs and government departments would not be allowed to discuss these. Even if there is a discussion, it would in all probability focus not on the problem itself but only on how the adverse effects can be managed.

The current political dispensation in the country takes pride in its affiliations with religion and culture. But unfortunately, they have become a corporate government more than a moral government. Religion to them does not mean the supremacy of moral, family and social values prescribed by religion, but hatred based on religious identity. If they can revisit their strategy, and take a bold stand against social vices, almost all the religious communities of the country, which means more than 95 percent of the people, will be standing behind them. But, unfortunately, they stand for the rest 5 per cent only.   

     Dr Javed Jamil is Delhi-based thinker and writer with over a dozen books including his latest, Qur’anic Paradigms of Sciences & Society (First Vol: Health). He may be contacted at

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 1-15 July 2015 on page no. 2

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