According to official estimates, more than a quarter of a million farmers have committed suicide in the last sixteen years-the largest wave of recorded suicides in the history of mankind. Most of the affected farmers are cash crop farmers and cotton farmers, in particular. Based on the available statistics, a farmer commits suicide every thirty minutes. While this is the official number, these statistics do not account for the actual number of farmer suicides taking place and the large number of lives that are affected due to the death of even single farmer in the family. Women, for example, are often excluded from farmer suicide statistics because most do not have title to land—a common prerequisite for being recognized as a farmer in official statistics and programs.
Cotton exemplifies India’s general shift toward cash crop cultivation, a shift that has contributed significantly to farmer vulnerability, as evidenced by the fact that the majority of suicides are committed by farmers in the cash crop sector. The cotton industry, like other cash crops in India, has also been dominated by foreign multinationals that promote genetically modified seeds and exert increasing control over the cost, quality, and availability of agricultural inputs.
This paper focuses on the human rights of Indian cotton farmers and of the estimated 1.5 million surviving family members who have been affected by the farmer suicide crisis to date. These farmers and their families are among the victims of India’s longstanding agrarian crisis. Economic reforms and the opening of Indian agriculture to the global market over the past two decades have increased costs, while reducing yields and profits for many farmers, to the point of great financial and emotional distress. Indebtedness is a major and proximate cause of farmer suicides in India. Many farmers, ironically, take their lives by ingesting the very pesticide they went into debt to purchase. The Indian government’s response to the crisis—largely in the form of limited debt relief and compensation programs—has, by and large, failed to address the magnitude and scope of the problem or its underlying causes.
This paper also aims to conclude with policy recommendations to address and uproot the agrarian crisis in India. Thus, the paper concludes that taking the steps necessary to prevent farmer suicides and ensure farmers’ rights is not just a matter of sound policy or basic humanity for the Indian government; it is also a matter of hard legal obligation.
India is a State Party to multiple international human rights treaties and however, India with its failure to address this nationwide crisis of farmers’ suicides has also violated a number of human rights including the rights to: life, health, water and food, an adequate standard of living, equality and non-discrimination, and the right to an effective remedy, all of which are enshrined under Part III of the Constitution. It is neither inevitable, nor lawful, that the conditions which have led to this wave of suicides continue. The Indian government can, and must, act to put an end to this tragedy.
Cite this article:
Akanksha Jumde. Cash Crop Crisis: Farmer Suicides, Human Rights and the Agrarian Crisis in India. Research J. Humanities and Social Sciences. 8(3): July- September, 2017, 332-340. doi: 10.5958/2321-5828.2017.00049.3