Staff Reporter

Bangalore: It is possible to infer from records with the National Crime Records Bureau that “at least” two lakh farmers committed suicide in the last 12 years, but these statistics are ridden with errors as they often exclude women, Dalits, Adivasis and tenants, said P. Sainath, author and Rural Affairs Editor with The Hindu.

Despite their overwhelming share in agricultural work, most women farmers for instance, do not qualify as farmers because the land is not in their name. “So when a woman farmer takes her own life, it is considered a ‘suicide’, but not a ‘farmer’s suicide’,” said Mr. Sainath, delivering the keynote address at the 36th National Annual Conference of the Indian Association of Clinical Psychologists on Monday.

Adivasis and Dalits similarly seldom figured on the farmer’s suicide list because their land titles were often unclear. “We do not really know how many farmers have taken their lives over the last decade,” he said. Coerced into high-risk cash crop farming, made to shoulder staggering input costs and trapped in debt, the farmer has changed from someone resilient to the vagaries of this inherently risk-prone occupation to “someone soaked in pessimism.”

The “Big Five States” – Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Chattisgarh – account for two-thirds of all farmers’ suicides in the country. “We are looking at the worst agrarian crisis since the eve of the green revolution.” The number of households in debt rose from 26 per cent to 48.6 per cent between 1991 and 2001 as banks withdrew from rural India, he said. Mr. Sainath added that expenditure on rural development fell during this period – from 14.5 per cent of GDP in 1991 to 5.9 percent in 2004.

The increase in farmers’ suicides must be seen in the context of the decrease in the number of farmers in the country: over 80 lakh farmers quit cultivation between 1991 and 2001, he said.

The three-day annual conference, organised by the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS) will look at “Clinical Psychology for a Changing World: Practice, Training and Research” this year. The session will discuss child and adolescent mental health, substance abuse and the psychology of aggression among other topics.