While indebtedness is one common factor that unites the poor in rural India, the burden is doubled if one is a woman or belongs to certain caste groups, P.Sainath, Rural Affairs Editor, The Hindu, said.
While statistics of the National Crime Records Bureau put the number of farmer suicides as 2.6 lakh between 1995 and 2010, this still did not count the vast majority of suicides that take place in rural areas in the farming sector.
One group that is not counted is women farmers who do the bulk of the work in the fields, and are driven to suicide by poverty and loans they could never repay. They are not considered farmers because the land is not in their name, and in most States they do not have land rights. Mr. Sainath was delivering the 16th Mary Clubvala Jhadhav Endowment Lecture, organised by the Madras School of Social work in the city on Monday.
Suicide by the elder son of a family who took over the land of his father, and his debts too, is not counted either, for the same reason that the land is not in his name. Dalits and Adivasis who commit suicides are not part of the official statistics as most of them do not have clear titles to the land they farm on.
From 1991, one of the fastest growing heads of expenditure in the country has been ‘health'. It is the second fastest growing component of rural spending in India, Mr. Sainath said. According to the National Sample Survey, the average farm household spends on health double the amount it spends on education.
One indicator would be to watch what the members of the household, particularly women, are eating. Their diet had shrunk so much, what with the prices of agricultural commodities rising as a consequence of futures trading. The price rise is never matched by commensurate compensation for farmers, he added.
The entry of corporates into agricultural retail will also lead to the closure of several small shops that provide employment to a large number of people.