Sunday, June 24, 2007

Society And Suicide

By Amit Chamaria

22 September, 2006

Certainly, a significant attention specially the PrimeMinister Manmohan Singh's attention towards Vidarbha district of Maharashtra is a welcome sign but of the consequences of unpleasant incidents. Obviously, not only the farmers of Maharashtra but the farmers of all states of India are under distress. But the problem of farmer suicides in Maharashtra has acquired the greater length. The number of suicides particularly, in Maharashtra has risen from1083 in 1995 to 4,147 in 2004.However recent announcement of relief package worth of rupees 3750 corers by the Prime Minister to solving the egregious condition of farmers has compelled to do a comprehensive debate by raising the question that-"Is this relief package a satisfactory solution of the problem of farmer suicide?"

Now, it is essential to understand the social analysis of suicide as a social problem. In this situation the significant work of Emile Durkheim, a French sociologist can't be forgotten. As per Durkheim's view simply, 'suicide' means 'self destruction'. But it reveals something lots. At least after the serial suicidal death of Vidarbha's farmers, it didn't remain confine to merely 'self destruction'-the simple means of suicide. If we go by Durkheim, suicide is a social fact and not simply an individual act but a product of social forces external to the individual. In fact, He rejects the various extra social factors such as heredity, climate, mental alienation, racial characteristics and imitation as the cause of suicide. Even 'Poverty' - the most general cause of suicide, as presented by media and politicians behind the every case of suicide, has been utterly rebutted by him. He, for simple understanding, argues that the greater the integration of individuals within the social group the less likely they are to commit suicide.

Apparently, one thing must be raised in our mind that why Durkheim negates poverty as one of the causes of suicide. If we believe at least some amount on a survey report conducted by the agency of the Govt. of India that reveals most developed states have more suicide rate as compared to the most backward states. In 2001, Maharashtra (14618), Karnataka (11881), Tamil Nadu (11290), Andhra Pradesh (10522) have highest suicide rates respectively. On the other hand all tribal dominated states like Arunachal Pradesh (111), Manipur (41), Mizorum (54), Sikkim (94), and the most backward states like Bihar (603) and Jharkand (250) have very less suicide rate. The place Kalahandi in Orissa at one time was the center of attention in media only because of serial deaths of persons and children due to hungry and malnutrition respectively. But it is quiet surprising that no suicide case was reported from Kalahandi at that time.

In addition to this, as per the ' Situation Assessment Survey of Farmers' conducted by National Sample Survey Organisation in 2003, the average monthly income (excluding rent, interest, dividend etc.) from all sources per farmer household ranged from Rs.1, 062.00 in the state of Orissa to Rs. 5,488.00 in the state of Jammu and Kashmir during the agriculture year of 2002 -03 and the all India average are Rs.2, 115.00.

To compare the average monthly income of per farmer household in Maharashtra (Rs.2, 463.00) and Gujarat (Rs.2, 684.00) from backward states like Bihar (Rs.1, 810.00), Orissa (1,062), Rajasthan (Rs. 1,498) and Madhya Pradesh (1,430.00), it can be easily revealed that lower monthly income is not a causative factor of suicide. By analyzing these statements it can be said that Durkheim is very close to the truth.

Then, what are the causes of farmer suicides?

According to him, this kind of suicide falls within the purview of 'Anomic Suicide' - one of the classifications of suicide. In fact, anomic suicide results from normlessness or deregulation in society. Although this kind of suicide occurs during industrial and financial crises, it is not because they cause poverty, since crises of prosperity have the same result but because they are crises of the collective order. If poverty and starvation are really the adequate causes of suicide then the suicide rate in all backward and northeastern states should have been high but it is not. Further he says that poverty protects against suicide because it is a restraint itself. The less one has the less he is tempted to extend the range of his needs. Sociologically, the incident of farmer suicides in Punjab, Andhra Pradesh, and Maharashtra due to indebtedness is actually the result of the combined effect of 'Relative deprivation' and 'Sudden crises', which came in the category of anomic suicide. Significantly, the feelings of relative deprivation are the outcome of the first green revolution and these feelings has been augmented by the present market policy of Globalization. And it is one of the major drawbacks of the first green revolution. One thing that is essentially noticeable that mainly middle class peasants have committed suicide in that the effect of relative deprivation has fallen greater on them. The big achievement of the first green revolution was the enhancement of crops only by quantitatively not qualitatively.

Now, what should be the solutions of this menace? There are certain measures that should be adopted while formulating the new agriculture policy. Firstly, it is essential to provide better irrigation system and adequate rural infrastructure. So for better farming, farmers should be self-dependent and it can be achieved by maximizing the expenditure on irrigation and other basic facilities. Ironically, India has yet only one rural management institute IRMA after the 57 years of independence though major part of GDP depends on agriculture. Secondly, the causes should be found out that compel the farmers to taking debt either from moneylender or private and govt. banks. Essentially, farmers take debt mainly for boring well and for purchasing seeds and fertilizers.

So govt. should provide adequate irrigation system without disturbing the ecological cycle and a training camp must be organized in various places to provide the knowledge of rain harvesting system. And a comprehensive seed policy should be formulated but not under the pressure of WTO so that farmers could easily get seeds from their own product. The role of moneylender should be the least and in this place co-operative bank come should forward. One thing that is the most vital solution to the distress of farmers is to provide a better market without the intervention of mediators. A policy-"farmer's approach to market directly" should be adopted. But market should not be under the control of MNCs and some big business elites. The concept of market must be based on co-operative principle. Apparently the cotton cultivators committed suicide due to lack of proper market. Undoubtedly agriculture is the biggest source of employment generation. But the employment in agriculture is reducing gradually in accompanying with green revolution and increase in agricultural technology. Significantly the rate of development of employment in agriculture sector has reduced to 0.18 in 1994 from 2.17 in 1988, according to national sample survey report. The people are leaving off the practice of cultivation day by day. The situation of our agriculture will be improved only and only when people come forward for farming with their own pleasure but not as perfunctory. If the second green revolution would be the offshoot of the first green revolution then there is no need of second green revolution because we all have seen the aftermaths of first green revolution. Now it is time to frame a comprehensive policy for the development of sustainable agriculture with considering the every pros and cons in Indian perspective. A policy should be for "Aam Kisan" in that they are the real cultivators.

Amit Chamaria is a freelance journalist.He has done PG in Sociology From PU.
Amit Chamaria
C-251, Sector-19
Rohini; Delhi-85
Ph: - 9868457198


Suman Nath said...

Thanks for an wonderfully grounded article. It helped. Recently I did some fieldwork on cold storages of West Bengal. I noticed storage politics has a stake in farmers' suicide in West Bengal. If anyone interested. Please have a look. I am trying to convert my experience into a paper. But before that one can have an idea about what happens there.

Follow the link.