‘The Lockdown Killed My Father’: India’s Suicide Is Included in Farmer Suicides


SIRSIWALA, India – Randhir Singh was already in debt when the coronovirus epidemic occurred. Seeing his palatial cotton field on the side of a railway track, he walked hopelessly into the circle. In early May, he killed himself by lying on the same track.

Mr. Singh’s 22-year-old son, Rashpal Singh, said, “This is what we feared, shedding tears at his family’s home in Sirsiwala, a small village in the northern Indian state of Punjab.” “Lockdown killed my father.”

Months ago, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi imposed one of the world’s strictest lockdowns to stop the spread of coronovirus, Mr. Singh’s livelihood crashed. His one-acre farm produced barely enough cotton to cover the costs of growing it, and the lockdown robbed him of his job as a bus driver as well.

India now leads the world in new daily reported coronavirus cases and has the second highest number of cases globally, surpassing Brazil on Monday. In Punjab, where cases have increased, lockdowns have been imposed again. Economists say, millions of families are in poverty and are contributing to a long-lasting tragedy: farmer suicide.

Farm bankruptcies and loans such as Mr. Singh have been a source of misery in the country for decades, but experts say the victims in the epidemic have reached new levels.

Vikas Rawal, professor of economics at the Jawaharlal Nehru University in the capital, Delhi, said, “This crisis is the result of this government.” Mr Rawal, who has been studying the agrarian crisis in India for the past 25 years, said he believes thousands of people who live and work on farms have killed themselves in the last few months.

He said that after the lockout of India for the third time, Mr. Singh was convinced that by shutting down the economy he would never get himself out of debt. Paramjit Kaur, wiping her widow’s tears, said, “She kept saying, ‘It won’t open now.” “Now, what will happen to us? Who will feed us? “

India has one of the highest suicide rates in the world. In 2019, a total of 10,281 farmers and agricultural laborers across the country committed suicide, according to data from the National Crime Records Bureau. Taking his own life is still a crime in India, and experts have said for years that the actual number is far higher because most people fear the stigma of reporting.

According to Mr. Rawal, there have been some reports of recent instances among farmers in the Indian news media. “It is difficult to say that the deaths occurred on a large scale, and even the media could not reach due to the lockdown,” he said.

A spokesperson of the Ministry of Agriculture in New Delhi refused to answer questions about farmer suicides. The Punjab chief minister’s office also declined to comment, citing demands for a coronovirus crisis.

According to government data, in the last five years, farmer suicides in Punjab have increased more than 12 times. Nearly three to four farmers die every day in local news.

The state’s lush green fields that spread debt and land misuse in decades of terrible mask. In the 1960s, the government introduced high yielding varieties of rice and wheat which eventually made India self-sufficient in grains. But groundwater plunged to a serious level over the years.

The farmers, struggling to save their crops, deepened their bore wells. And to prevent attacks from growing pests, they loaded their fields with chemicals. The skyrocketing agricultural costs forced many farmers to borrow more, and crop failure over the years eventually destroyed generations of rural families.

Twenty years ago, Nirmal Singh’s father drank a bottle of pesticide after he lost most of his land with a huge debt of about two million rupees worth about $ 26 million. Then Mr. Singh’s sister took her own life as the family could not bear the cost of their marriage.

In 2016, Mr. Singh’s son died on his way to a train after his cotton fields were eaten by whitepapers. “He was just 23 years old,” Mr. Singh said, pointing to a framed portrait of his son.

Mr. Singh is stranded because of a $ 20,000 penal debt he had accumulated over the years to run his farm. But farming, he said, is more unprofitable than ever. In the afternoon of June, he would walk gingerly through his wooded fields. “Have you ever heard of a politician or an industrialist committing suicide?” He asked. “It is always a farmer or laborer.”

In his village alone, a suicide occurs almost every month, he said. “We’re not leaving any tears,” he said. “It has stoned our hearts.”

Mr. Singh says that he is spending even more money to run his farm these days as Mr. Modi’s government raised fuel prices amid the epidemic citing the cost of the lockout. “Modi. Promised better days, but they have brought the worst days ever, ”said Mr. Singh, adding that prices of fertilizers and pesticides have also gone up under Mr. Modi.

When farmers in Punjab started sowing rice in the epidemic, they had no means to work in the field. They scrambled to arrange and pay for buses, tractors – whatever they could find – to bring in workers who usually traveled from the northern states of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh every year.

Desperate and unemployed for nearly three months due to the lockdown, workers sought to double and triple their normal rates.

In the early days of lockdown, the farmers were so constrained that they were able to bring only a small portion of their produce to the market. Unable to sell their crops, they set their fields on fire and threw millions of dollars worth of fruits and vegetables on the streets or mortgaged them back into the fields.

Leela Singh, a farmer from the village of Akanwali, feared that his farm would be confiscated and tried to borrow a few thousand rupees, about $ 100, to help preserve it. Unable to secure the loan, he hanged himself in June, Gurpreet Singh said, his 24-year-old son, who dropped out of school so the family could save on tuition fees. “We are now begging for money from someone or something,” he said.

“He just wanted to save his farm,” he said.

In early June, Mr. Modi’s government exercised its executive powers through sweeping changes aimed at privatizing agriculture. It promised farmers greater freedom to sell their produce outside the large agricultural markets imposed by state governments.

In August, thousands of farmers gathered to protest the new orders, Burning their copies in the street And arguing orders can expose the monopoly of corporate buyers rather than empower them.

On a recent afternoon in the village of Nirmal Singh, dozens of women and children led a procession to mark an ancient ritual: the cremation of a doll made of dry twigs and wrapped in fine silk. It is believed that the funeral forces the gods to reduce rain and suffering on earth.

“Look, what have you done to our daughter,” the women sing in unison, some saddened, beating their breasts and throwing their hands in the air. After the ceremony, it started raining. The ritual worked, Mr. Singh said. Some of his sufferings had gone away.

“Now, we hope that Modi will get the message.”

If you are considering committing suicide, call the US National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 (TALK). SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources For a list of additional resources.

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