Over 42,000 workers from informal sector allegedly die by suicide

As the NCRB presented the latest data on suicide deaths revealing highest number in last three years, SabrangIndia spoke to experts about the rising suicide rates among farmers, labourers and daily wage workers.

Image Courtesy:forbes.com

As many as 42,844 suicide deaths were recorded in 2019 of people involved in farming or daily wage work, as per the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) report released on September 1, 2020.

According to the report, out of the 1,39,123 deaths in India, 32,563 deaths were of daily wage workers with 29,092 men, 467 women and 4 transgenders, amounting to 23.4 percent of the total deaths. Similarly, 10,281 persons involved in farming sector, such as famers, cultivators, agricultural labourers died by suicide last year, making up for 7.4 percent of the total deaths in India. Out of 5,957 farmers or cultivator deaths, 5,563 deaths were of men and 394 deaths were of women. Moreover, out of the 4,324 agricultural labourer deaths 3,749 deaths were of men and 575 deaths were of women.

Together these two sectors accounted for nearly 31 percent of suicides in India with farming problems as one of the prime reasons of death by suicide.

Moreover, Maharashtra recorded the highest deaths in the farming sector – 1247 deaths – while Tamil Nadu recorded the highest number of deaths of daily wage earners – 5186 deaths. Both these States are deeply invested in farming wherein many daily wage workers are also engaged as agricultural labourers.

However, Bihar, Manipur, Odisha, Uttarakhand and West Bengal recorded zero farmer suicides and no union territory recorded a single farmer suicide.

According to General Secretary of the All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) Hannan Mollah said, that the data is inaccurate because there have been suicide deaths in nearly every State of India.

Talking about Maharashtra specifically he said, “There are two major reasons why farmers in this state die by suicide. The first reason is the inaccurate rate that is given for their crops. The second reason is the loan that the farmer is unable to repay due to the inaccurate rates.”

Mollah said that even banks have started putting undue pressure on farmers to repay loans which leads the farmer to take extreme decisions.

When asked about the role of cash crops in farmer suicides, he said “Wherever there are cash crops, you can see a high number of suicide deaths.”

Maharashtra Treasurer of the AIKS Umesh Deshmukh agreed with this statement as he described how improper prices of sugarcane and cotton in Maharashtra make the production cost and loans seem overwhelming.

“Production and income play a big role in causing depression among farmers. The inability to pay loans and the prices eventually make the farmer take such steps,” he said.

Nowadays, Deshmukh said the price of sugarcane is Rs.2,800 per tonnes instead of the ideal Rs. 4,500 per tonnes. Similarly, cotton should be sold at Rs.5,000 per tonnes but is sold at half the price.

The suicide figures for people engaged in farming sector in 2018 showed 10,349 deaths – 7.7 percent of the total – indicating that the plight of farmers has not changed over the years.

Regarding deaths of daily wage earners, Tamil Nadu had the highest number of 5186 deaths followed by Maharashtra’s 4128 deaths while Jammu and Kashmir (then a state, now a Union Territory) recorded 0 deaths. Among Union territories Delhi recorded the highest deaths of 548 persons.

In the case of daily wage earners, it is much more difficult to ascertain the cause of suicides. However, according to Chairperson of the Jawaharlal Nehru University’s Centre for Informal Sector and Labour Studies Dr Santosh Mehrotra, the cause may be related to the stagnant wage curve of the workers.

“It is difficult to determine the cause for the high suicides rates in the States without proper data. However, if we consider the wages of these workers over the years, we see that their earnings have either decreased or become stagnant,” said Mehrotra.

Drawing his data of casual worker wages between 2012 and 2019 he said that the real wages of workers in rural areas was extremely low. In urban areas, the wages had increased at a snail’s pace. In fact, the wage curve for daily wage earners was better prior to 2012.

“One can imagine the impact of such a stagnancy in one’s daily wage. The slightest nuisance can unsettle their lives,” he said.

Talking about daily wage workers as agricultural labourers, General Secretary Mollah said that the number of agricultural workers is increasing. However, the helplessness of not being able to find a job acts as a heavy depressant.

In 2018, as many as 30,132 daily wage earners died by suicide.

Looking at the general trend of deaths by suicide in India, the number of deaths had increased from 1,29,887 deaths in 2017 to 1,34,516 deaths in 2018 to 1,39,123 deaths in 2019. Daily wage earners and housewives – 15.4 percent – accounted for the highest deaths.

The Indian helpline number for suicides is 915298782, while an NGO called AASRA offers a 24×7 helpline number, 91-9820466726 in both English and Hindi.


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