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“It’s Always a Farmer or a Labourer”: Lockdown Aggravates Farmer Suicides

Nayana Dhanya

16th September 2020


Farmers and farm labourers have been forced into poverty with the onset of the pandemic. (Source: The New York Times)

As the duration of the lockdown grew week after week, Randhir Singh’s hopes about life going back to normal kept falling. In early May, he took his own life by laying on the train tracks near his paltry cotton field in Sirsiwala, Punjab.


New York Times reports that Singh was in deep debt when the pandemic struck. As months passed, it grew harder for him to maintain his one-acre farm because of reduced cotton sales, which in turn impacted his ability to produce cotton. His second job as a bus driver was of no help as the lockdown placed strict travel restrictions that are yet to be lifted.


“This is what we feared,” said Singh’s son, Rashpal Singh amidst tears. “The lockdown killed my father”. According to the National Crime Records Bureau, in 2019, more than 10,000 farmers and farm labourers took their own lives.


Vikas Rawal—an economics professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University who has specialised in Indian agrarian distress—is of the firm belief that thousands of farmers and labourers have killed themselves in the past few months. “It’s hard to say exactly how many because there was massive underreporting of deaths, and even the media could not reach the hinterland because of the lockdown,” Rawal elaborated.


“The strict lockdown measures are forcing farmers that are already struggling financially into poverty,” says Jayati Ghosh, a prominent Indian economist. She has termed the current economic conditions as ‘unprecedented in modern Indian history’.


Nirmal Singh, another debt-stricken farmer from Punjab, laments that he has had to endure extra costs due to raised fuel prices implemented by the government during the pandemic. He demands where the ‘better days’ promised by the government are, stating that PM Modi has only brought the worst days so far. Have you ever heard of a politician or an industrialist committing suicide?” he asked with contempt. “It’s always a farmer or a labourer”.


In June 2020, the government announced its plans to privatise the agriculture sector, consequently bringing about drastic changes that would provide farmers with the opportunity to sell their yield at broader markets that would be taxed by the government. However, farmers are wary of the scheme, claiming that it would end up exposing them to monopolies instead of empowering them.


(Sources: The New York Times, NCRB, Journal of Industrial and Business Economics)


Edited by Pratheek S

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