India: What drives farmers to kill themselves?

Published on OneWorld South Asia, by Amitabh Patra, January 23, 2012.

Successive crop losses, mounting debts and rising health and medical expenses lead yet another farmer to commit suicide. Here is the story of Dayasagar Sahu from one of India’s most backward districts, Bargarh (also, home to Maoists, or a violent internal conflict against the Indian state) in the state of Orissa along India’s eastern coast:

Sixty-year-old Dayasagar Sahu, a small farmer of village Sukuda in Bhatli Block of Orissa’s Bargarh district committed suicide on January 20. He has left behind his wife and a son.

Villagers say Dayasagar Sahu was missing for two days before his body was found dangling by the neck from a tree outside the village on the morning of January 21. He had to arrange money for his son’s marriage as he was reeling under debt ever since he married his daughter, then witnessed a crops fail one-after-the-other, and of not the least due to a progression of health ailments and demises in the family.

That was not all – he lost his bullocks and had to invest in buying another twosome to yoke his wooden plough for work on his field.

Eventually, the personal loans kept increasing by the day. The loans came at a steep interest – five rupees every month for every hundred rupee borrowed. And compounded! There was (and, in most cases in the countryside, is) no other way for a villager to borrow in the absence of easy to access institutional loans. In some cases, farmers borrow money at even higher interests, so high that the debt doubles in the space of a year.

The loan was to be repaid once his crop was harvested. But that was not to be as he lost his paddy crop to un-seasonal rain … //

… Questions are beginning to be asked: Can the administration wash its hands off its responsibilities with a payment of Rs10,000? Why are the local officers of the agriculture department silent? What has the government done for irrigation?

None of these questions are new – these have been asked over and over again. In fact, the questions repeat every time a farmer kills himself.

These questions will repeat again because Dayasagar Sahu will not be the last farmer to die due to debt. Bargarh has seen over 35 farmer suicides. (full text).

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