Content from the Brookings Institution India Center is now archived. After seven years of an impactful partnership, as of September 11, 2020, Brookings India is now the Centre for Social and Economic Progress, an independent public policy institution based in India.
Brookings India and IDFC-U held a private roundtable on “A Reality Check on Suicides in India” by Brookings India Fellow Dr. Shamika Ravi, who is also a Visiting Fellow in Political Economy at IDFC Institute.
Dr. Ravi questioned the popular perception that farmer suicides are a result of indebtedness and highlighted startling new findings with particular emphasis on Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.
Using NCRB data, Dr. Ravi analysed suicide mortality rates (SMR) for categories such as farmers, housewives, students, public sector and private sector employees in the four Indian states. Her analysis revealed that Maharashtra and (undivided) AP have consistently witnessed high SMR, whereas UP and Bihar have consistently witnessed low SMR. In fact, almost 80% of all farmer suicides in Maharashtra are concentrated in six districts. Additionally, 80% of suicides are committed by farmers who hold more than 2 acres of land and 60% of suicides by those who hold more than 4 acres of land.
Dr. Ravi further highlighted interesting statistics regarding debt and suicides in general in Maharashtra. The state has the highest share of institutional credit at 87% against a national average of 57%. Her research revealed that people in Maharashtra have better access to credit than the rest of India. Yet, not just farmers, the state ranks high in SMR across all demographics – housewives, public and private sector employees, and students.
The national average for “debt” as a reported reason for farmer suicides is at 5%. In Maharashtra and AP 4-6% of all suicides are due to debt whereas in UP and Bihar the number is less than 2%. Highest demographic for suicides in India is housewives, accounting: they account for 20% of all suicides. Illness, both mental and physical, is reported as the leading cause for farmer suicides; the national average is at 20% and in Maharashtra it is between 25-30%. Dr. Ravi stressed upon the fact that suicide due to illness is seven times as much as due to debt. Cluster behaviour was seen as a reason for the high SMR in the six districts of Maharashtra.
Dr. Ravi also suggested that sensitive media reporting is extremely crucial in preventing ‘copy-cat’ suicides. She reiterated that media houses must avoid simplistic explanations and excessive detailing on farmer suicides.
Policy interventions such as higher institutional credit spending, promotion of organic cultivation, assistance for subsidiary occupation etc. are taken to tackle farmer suicides. Yet, as Dr Ravi’s analysis of the NCRB data suggests, it is mental and physical health which is the silent killer, and the government first needs to accept this fact in order to make some policy interventions to tackle this issue.