Noted sociologist and Vice-Chancellor of Mahatma Gandhi University, Rajan Gurukkal has stressed the need for evolving sustainable institutional measures for tackling the spurt in suicide cases among farmers in Kerala. According to Prof. Gurukkal, the government should draw insights from the academic studies in this regard. Such studies were already with the government and probably dusting in the State Planning Board, he said.

According to him, the spurt in suicide again among farmers of Kerala cannot be contained through usual bureaucratic measures, since it is not merely a fallout of economic crisis, unlike often made out to be.

Such a conclusion is often drawn on the basis of statistical correspondence between the Suicide Mortality Rate (SMR) of farmers and their debt rates. SMR of farmers is very high in Kerala, but the volume of their debt is far below that of rural Karnataka or Tamil Nadu, where farmers face confiscation, suffer extreme level solvency crisis and often go homeless due to debt. “However, their SMR is significantly lower,” Prof. Gurukkal said and pointed out that this would mean that higher SMR of Kerala, especially Wayanad farmers, was not only due to crop failure, price fall and debt traps.

Socio-cultural factors

The average per capita indebtedness of the farmers who committed suicide was not more than Rs.2 lakh, he pointed and said it could not even be attributed to most of the other reasons being put forward including higher cost of agricultural inputs, specialization in commercial crops, dependence on high yielding variety seeds and their spurious counterparts, or extreme fluctuations in market prices.

“There are various other socially contingent factors that push the frustrated farmer into self immolation,” Prof. Gurukkal said and added that various socio-economic and politico-cultural developments of the last three decades act as a contingent milieu of rising SMR in Kerala.

The shrinking of productive land due to population growth, fragmentation and non agricultural land uses, the move from traditional agriculture into a speculative, export oriented, high cost cash crops; the extensive media promotion of a homogenised culture of consumption, aspirations, ambitions and desires irrespective of economic unevenness; the pressure to ensure enhanced liquidity even at the mercy of informal credit sources with high rates of interest-in short the incompatibility between the growing ambitions and scarce landholding in the landscape of erstwhile forest areas like Wayanad, has made the third generation migrant population socio-culturally vulnerable, Prof. Gurukkal said.

Prof. Gurukkal pointed out that humiliation and shame were found to drag people belonging to middle class into suicides. “Such SMR is on the rise among the educated middleclass people from rural areas. It is not more in urban centres probably because of their characteristic anonymity and opaqueness,” he said. A confiscation, a police case, a scandal, a case of harassment, a corruption charge, all could lead to suicide under the discursive compulsion of self respect and fear of humiliation and shame. It is a very difficult exercise to probe into the background of a suicide through interrogation with family members and close relatives who seldom wish to discuss the issue as it was a matter of sorrow, shame and disgrace.

According to Prof. Gurukkal, the previous government had proved the efficacy of preventive measures recommended by academic studies that had gone into cases of suicides. It was high time that the present government have evolved sustainable institutional measures for the mounting suicide to a halt, drawing insights from such studies already with them.

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