A recent study conducted by Professor K Nagaraj, a senior economist specialising in rural development and agrarian issues at the Madras Institute of Development Studies on farmers' suicides, has come out with startling revelations.
His study says that 1.5 lakh farmers committed suicide between 1997 and 2005, and two thirds of them are from four states -- Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh (including the present Chhattisgarh).
In this interview with contributing editor Shobha Warrier, he talks in detail about the study and its findings.
Why did you do a study on farmers' suicides in India?
One of the reasons was that I have been working on rural development and agrarian issues for a very long time. In fact, that is my major area of specialisation. It was quite clear from the secondary data as well as the surveys I took that there was a deep crisis in the agricultural sector. I also felt that this crisis is related to the epidemic of farmers' suicides in the country.
It so happened that the Andhra Pradesh government set up a committee to study the farm conditions and suggest some remedial measures. They put me on the committee. When we went around the drier parts of Andhra Pradesh, we saw the depth of the crisis.
At that time, I was not contemplating working on the secondary data. Then Dr Lakshmi Vijayakumar of Sneha, an organisation that works with suicide victims, contacted me and asked me whether I could put together a study on farmers' suicide. That was because they were organising a seminar on pesticide-suicides, and pesticide suicides and framers' suicides are closely linked.
I then decided to see what the official government data said. That is how I started working on this study in March-April 2007.
What is the official data source that you based your study on?
Every year the National Crime Records Bureau comes out with a report on accidental deaths and suicides in India. This is a home ministry publication. They give reasonably detailed data on suicides for the entire country. Earlier they used to give suicide data in general but now, we get separate data from each state.
Why did you decide to make your study from 1997-2005?
It is only from 1995 that they have created a special category for farmers, what they call cultivators. Till then the category was not there. When I looked into the data of 1996 and 1997, I found that some of the states had not started reporting on the farmers' studies.
Image: A farmer ploughs his field on the outskirts of Chakdaha, some 50km north east of Kolkata.
Photograph: Deshkalyan Chowdhury/AFP/Getty Images
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