The NCRB recently released the ‘Accidental Deaths and Suicides in India’ report for 2016 after a long delay. The total number of reported suicides of farmers/agricultural labourers came down in 2016 and this number is the lowest-ever since 2000. Maharashtra still accounts for 1/3rd of all such suicides in the country. Among the bigger states, Telangana reported a 54% decrease in suicides in 2016.
The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) released yet another important annual report, ‘Accidental Deaths and Suicides in India’ (ADSI) of 2016 earlier this month after the elections in Maharashtra. The government & the NCRB faced severe criticism for the long delay in the release of this report. Along with other data such as natural and unnatural deaths, this report presents the details of suicides including farmer suicides across India in a calendar year. The 2016 report, despite the delay, had omitted the reasons behind the suicides of farmers such as distress, drought, etc. which were part of the earlier reports.
It is a known fact that the vast majority of the rural population is still dependent on agriculture for making ends meet. Year after year, thousands of farmers succumb to the agrarian crisis and give up their lives, for varied reasons.
ADSI 2016 has omitted key sections related to Farmer Suicides
The older ADSI-2015 report contained a separate section for reporting farmer suicides. The report presented details regarding the causes of farmer suicides such as personal issues, health issues, financial issues and crop related reasons. Data at both State/UT level and the national level was given for farmer suicides on the basis of landholding size. This included marginal, small, medium and large farmers. These sections have been removed in the 2016 report.
The number of suicides in the agriculture sector touched a 16-year low in 2016
According to the ADSI report of 2016, a total of 11,379 persons involved in the farming sector have taken their own lives. The number of ‘Farmers/Cultivators & Agricultural Labourers’ suicides reported in the year 2016 is the lowest reported in the 16 years since the year 2000.
Number of such suicides has reduced by almost 33% in 2016 when compared to the year 2006. Compared to 2015, the number of cases has reduced by almost 10%.
The suicides in the agriculture sector account for about 8.7% of the total number of suicides (131,008) reported across the country in 2016. The specific reasons for suicides of those in involved in the agricultural sector have not been mentioned in the 2016 report unlike in the older reports. Indebtedness, crop failures or even personal issues could have led to these suicides if one were to go by reasons mentioned in the previous reports.
Male Farmers & Labourers account for 92% of suicides in the sector
Out of the total 11,379 suicides reported in this sector, females constituted hardly 8% while males constituted the remaining 92%. No transgender in this sector was reported to have committed suicide.
However, in this year’s report, separate data has been provided on the basis of land ownership, in other words if the person cultivated own land or leased land and data on agricultural labourers.
55% Suicides by Cultivators & remaining 45% by Labourers
Of the total suicides in the farming sector, farmers and cultivators accounted for 6,270 or 55% of the suicides while the remaining 45% of the suicides in this sector were that of agricultural labourers.
Among the farmers, 275 suicides were of women farmers and among the labourers, 633 were of women labourers. In other words, 4.3% of the farmer suicides and 12.4% of the agricultural labourers’ suicides were of women.
84% of the farmer suicides are by those who own the land they cultivate
The category of farmers/cultivators includes both farmers who cultivate on their own land and farmers who cultivate on leased land (land which does not belong to them). The 2016 data reveals that majority of the suicide incidents (84%) were that of farmers who own the land they cultivate. A total of 5,052 male and 219 female farmers who own the land which they cultivate have committed suicide in 2016. Furthermore, 943 male and 56 female farmers who cultivated on leased land took their lives in 2016.
Maharashtra yet again accounts for the maximum number of suicides in this sector
A state wise analysis of the available data shows that Maharashtra continues to report the maximum number of farmer suicides in India. The suicides in Maharashtra (2550) account for almost 41% of the total farmer suicides in the country despite a reduction of 15% in such incidents. In 2015, Maharashtra reported 3030 such cases.
Karnataka reported 1212 suicides (19.3%) followed by Telangana with 632 (10%) incidents. These three states together have reported 70% of the total farmer suicides in the country. The states of Bihar, West Bengal, Goa, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Mizoram, Nagaland and Uttarakhand have not reported any such incident.
In the case of agricultural labourers as well, Maharashtra again has reported the maximum number of incidents (21.7% of the total incidents) reported in 2016. Karnataka reported 867 cases (17%), Madhya Pradesh- 722 cases (14%) and Andhra Pradesh- 565 cases (11%). States of Arunachal Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Manipur, Nagaland and West Bengal have reported zero incidents. All the suicides reported in Haryana (250) are that of labourers.
One out of three deaths in farming sector is reported in Maharashtra
If the total number of suicides of persons involved in the agriculture sector is considered, it is observed that the suicides in Maharashtra amounted to 32% of the total suicides in the country. This can also be interpreted as one out of three suicides of those involved in agriculture takes place in Maharashtra.
States which have reported more than 100 cases each have been represented in the above chart. Maharashtra, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh together account for 69% of the total suicides in this sector. The suicides of farmers and agricultural labourers in Maharashtra is almost 21% of all the suicides in the state whereas the national average is 8.7%. The drought prone Marathwada and Vidarbha regions are in Maharashtra from where the majority of these suicides are reported.
Karnataka witnessed an increase of 1,311 suicides in the sector since 2014
Looking at the number of such suicides reported by each state in 2015 and 2016, one can observe that among the bigger states, in Karnataka, the number of incidents has shot up by 510 (32.5%). In fact, Karnataka had also witnessed a 104% increase in 2015 as compared to 2014. Other states which reported an increase are given below.
In the states of Haryana, Madhya Pradesh and Punjab, it was observed that even in 2015, the number of suicides reported in the agricultural sector had increased by 36.1%, 7.7% and 93.8% respectively compared to 2014.
Telangana has reported a reduction in suicides by 54% in 2016
States which reported reduction of more than 50 suicides are listed below along with the percentage reduction. Telangana has witnessed a decline in suicides in farming sector by 54% and 755 cases compared to 2015.
In 2015, among these states, only Tamil Nadu had reported a decline by 32.3% compared to 2014. The number of suicides decreased from 895 in 2014 to 606 in 2015 and 381 in 2016. A net decrease of more than 57% has been recorded.
What about other studies?
A study on farmer suicides was conducted by ISEC, Bengaluru in 2017, commissioned by the ‘Department of Agriculture’ of Government of India. The study was conducted across 13 major states in the country which reported high number of suicide cases. A total of 528 victims’ households were surveyed. Causes of farmer suicides were classified broadly into three categories- social, farming and debt related causes.
In terms of farming related causes, expectation of non- institutional credit was the reason behind 37% of deaths while failure of rain resulted in 36% of deaths. 44% of the victims’ households claimed institutional loans to be the reason. Alcoholism/ drug addiction also accounted for 26% of the deaths. Other reasons include illness, fall in reputation, daughter’s wedding, family quarrel and more. It has to be noted that the study recorded debt related issues, farming related issues and social causes separately for each of the suicide cases considered for the study. Hence there could be multiple reasons attributed to a suicide from amongst the various categories. The study mentions that the act of committing suicide was a combination of several cumulative causes which can be grouped into social, farming and debt-related.