ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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The Signs of Persistent Agrarian Distress

Suicide by Maharashtra Farmers

The present paper relies on the census survey of the suicide-affected farmers’ households from the two most vulnerable districts of Maharashtra from 2014 to 2017 when the largest number of farmers’ suicide cases was reported after the 2008 farm debt waivers. A complex mix of social, economic, and psychological factors
play their role in translating into farmers’ suicide. The study covers the districts of Usmanabad from Marathwada and Yavatmal from the Vidarbha region of Maharashtra, respectively. 

The history of farmer suicides in India dates back to the 19th century. Predominantly, the cash crop cultivators of India during the 19th century were susceptible to suicidal beha­viour. Besides high suicide mortality rates, the economic frustration among them had caused the revolt against the state and rural moneylenders. High suicide mortality rates were observed among the cultivators who owed usurious private debts and land revenue. Reg­ardless of the effects of famines on the yields, the farmers during the 1870s were highly taxed; all those taxes were to be paid in cash. Droughts and the decline in farm yields, combined with colonial protection to usury moneylenders and landlords’ rights had contributed to the penury and frustration in the countryside. Hence, the agrarian suicide mortality rates in rural British India between the 1850s and the 1940s remained very high. However, starvation-related deaths exc­eeded the deaths accrued to farmer suicides.

The post-independence commercial turn of Indian agriculture exposed the cultivators to market vagaries, which witnessed an increasing number of farm suicides. Such cases were reported in the 1960s and the 1970s from Tamil Nadu (Ganapati and Rao 1966), West Bengal (Nandi et al 1979), and Karnataka (Hegde 1980). Suicide mortality rate for Karnataka was 5.7 (ratio of farmers suicides to the per lakh farmers population). During the 1990s, there was a sudden spurt in the number of farmer suicides across several states in India. In this period and then after, Andhra Pradesh (AP), Karnataka, Kerala, Maharashtra, and Punjab became the hotspots of farmer suicides. Vidarbha region in Mah­arashtra during these times remained the most affected by farmer suicides from where the highest numbers of cases at the all-India levels were reported and the trend continues. This was followed by the Marathwada region of Maharashtra. After 2012, the district of Yavatmal in Vidarbha and Usmanabad from Marathwada has recorded the highest number of farmer suicide cases.

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Updated On : 19th Dec, 2021

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