25,000 Indian Farmers Are Threatening to Kill Themselves Tomorrow

Heavy rains, low wages, high debt, and government destruction of farmland all add up to an increasingly desperate situation for India's farmers.
August 14, 2015, 7:10pm
Photo via EPA

Farmers in India are demanding compensation from their government for ruining their farmland — and they are putting their lives on the line.

Twenty-five thousand farmers signed a petition to India's President Pranab Mukherjee saying they will hang themselves on India's Independence Day — Saturday, August 15 — if the government does not meet their demands, reported the Times of India.

The farmers are from the rural district of Mathura and are protesting a bridge that the government constructed in 1998 and that submerged 700 acres of the farmers' land. The farmers are seeking eight billion rupees from the government in compensation.

The group is being represented by Bharatiya Kisan Sangh, a farmer's coalition.

The government promised it would address similar protests in February, Kunwar Nishad, a representative of Bharatiya Kisan Sangh, told the Times of India, "but the promise was never fulfilled."

"On the contrary, several protesters were falsely implicated for loot and dacoity," Nishad said. Dacoity is a Hindi term for banditry.

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Mathura district officials responded to the suicide threat by agreeing to pay the farmers. "The state government is ready to pay four times extra compensation to the farmers," announced a district magistrate, according to International Business Times. "We have already submitted our files. The funds will be released soon."

Farmers killing themselves is a troublingly common issue in India. In 2012, 13,754 farmers committed suicide, representing 11 percent of all suicides,the government reported. In 2015 so far, 1,300 farmers have committed suicide in the Maharashtra state alone, according to the Times of India.

There are multiple reasons to explain this suicide trend, in particular the financial pressure farmers often face from high debts, according to al-Jazeera. This past spring, thousands of people gathered in the capital of New Delhi to protest a controversial land reform bill that seeks to ease land purchasing for larger corporations. Critics of the proposed law, which was put forth by Prime Minister Narendra Modi's party, the Bharatiya Janata party, say that it would allow bigger companies to acquire land at the expense of poor farmers and push them further into debt.

Farmers in India are also particularly vulnerable to bad weather and heavy rains, which can destroy crops and ruin their only source of income. Less than 20 percent of farmers are insured, according to India's Chamber of Commerce.

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In April, a farmer publicly hung himself at a protest against the land reform bill, after heavy rains destroyed his crops and left him in financial ruin. "I was driven out of my home after my crops were destroyed [by bad weather]. Please tell me how I go home," he wrote in his suicide note.

The farmer's suicide sparked further outrage toward the government, prompting Modi to respond on Twitter:

Gajendra's death has saddened the Nation. We are all deeply shattered & disappointed. Condolences to his family.

— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi)April 22, 2015

At no point must the hardworking farmer think he is alone. We are all together in creating a better tomorrow for the farmers of India.

— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi)April 22, 2015

Almost 60 percent of rural households in India rely on the agriculture sector, yet it only makes up 16 percent of the country's total GDP. Rural wage growth is at its lowest in 10 years, according to India's Labor Bureau, and unseasonably strong rains this past spring destroyed many crops in northern and western portions of India.

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