The hollow relief of fewer farmer suicides
New government data show India saw fewer cases of farmers taking their lives in 2018 than the year before. But this doesn’t mean rural distress is down. Much needs to be done
It is tempting to relate the decline in the number of farmer suicides in 2018, as reported by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), to an abatement in rural distress. Such a temptation should, however, be tempered. There have been periods of crop failure in specific regions during which farmer suicide rates have spiked locally. Yet, on a broad national level, there is a very loose link between rising farm income levels and falling suicide rates. The incidence of farmers taking their own lives has been declining over the years, with an occasional spike in rainfall-deficient years, such as in 2015, which marked a second consecutive year of below-average monsoon rains. In 2018, according to NCRB data, self-inflicted deaths on farms accounted for 4.3% of all suicides reported in India. This was the same share as in 2014 and bears no relation to agricultural output in the intervening years. In general, suicide is much too complex a phenomenon to be slapped with reductionist causes. A financial crunch can, at best, be one of several determinants. More people kill themselves in India’s relatively prosperous cities than in the countryside, where two-thirds of our population resides.
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Livemint.com, 9 January, 2020, https://www.livemint.com/opinion/online-views/the-hollow-relief-of-fewer-farmer-suicides-11578591693832.html