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The role of lenders and loans in Maharashtra’s farmer suicides

Published by Global Ground Media
 
Shankar Bhaurao Chayare left behind a wrinkled suicide note with countless creases and folds, indicating that he had long been contemplating suicide. The 50 year old farmer from Rajurvadi village, Yavatmal district died by consuming poison on 14th April, 2018.
 
Chayare owned nine acres of land on which he cultivated cotton and soybean – both crops failed because of drought in the years of 2014-2016 and 2019. Chayare had a loan of Indian Rupees 100,000 (US$ 1412) from Yavatmal District Cooperative Central Bank (DCCB) and borrowed Rs 70,000 (US$ 988) from relatives. The bank waived the loan following his suicide.
 
His wife Alka says to Global Ground Media: “His wrinkled suicide note showed he had been thinking about suicide since long. He must have been depressed but could not share it with his family.”
 
Alka, who now tends to the farm, is not aware of the loan interest rate or if Chayare could repay any of the loan. She received ex gratia compensation — due to families of farmers who killed themselves — of Rs 100,000 (US$ 1412) from the Maharashtra government.
 
Similarly, a mix of loans from a bank and private lenders drove a father son duo from Bothbodan village, Yavatmal district to suicide within months of each other according to family members. The father, 50-year-old Charan Dagadu Rathod, committed suicide on 30 January 2017 by consuming poison. His son Lahu Dagadu Rathod, barely 23, too consumed poison and died on 24 March.
 
Charan Rathod’s other son Ankush, a farmer, lamented that private lenders regularly threatened his father, who owned 5 acres of land. “His crops had failed due to drought. My father had a loan of over Rs 70,000 (US$ 988) from Yavatmal DCC Bank and loans of over Rs 150,000 (US$ 2119) from three private lenders who charged interest rates of 20 percent to 30 percent. The private lenders threatened to take away his agricultural land and the land on which his home was built. He consumed poison following one of the threats.”
 
About his brother Lahu’s suicide, Ankush says: “Being the elder brother, Lahu felt the responsibility of repaying our father’s loans and taking care of the family. He was hardly 23. Under pressure, he committed suicide.”
 
The state gave Rs 100,000 (US$ 1412) as compensation to the family and the Rs 70,000 (US$ 1059) loan of the Yavatmal DCC Bank was also waived. But no compensation was given for Lahu’s suicide since the land was in his father’s name.
 

Indebtedness and suicides

 
The above suicides represent a smattering of the actual numbers.  A series of interviews conducted by Global Ground Media in the Amravati region in July 2019 with families of farmers who killed themselves, showed that farmers committed suicide following the failure of crops — mainly cotton and soybean — over consecutive years, drought and failing to pay off loans from a range of sources. 
 
Right to Information (RTI) information requests filed by activist Jeetendra Ghadge revealed that 11,995 farmers in Maharashtra committed suicide during the period of  January 2015 to the end of 2018— marking a 91 percent increase over the previous three year period. 36.5 percent or 4384 suicides took place alone in Maharashtra’s Amravati region which includes Akola, Yavatmal, Buldhana and Washim districts.
 
Meanwhile, National Crimes Records Bureau’s (NCRB) data on accidental deaths and suicides last released for 2015 stated that ‘bankruptcy or indebtedness’ was a major cause of suicides among farmers/cultivators. Maharashtra had among the highest number of suicides due to bankruptcy or indebtedness – 1293 suicides or 42.7 percent of all suicides in Maharashtra.
 
In all, the NCRB data showed that 3097 suicides were committed by farmers or cultivators due to bankruptcy or indebtedness. Of these, 2474 farmers/cultivators or 80 percent had loans from financial institutions like banks/registered microfinance institutions (MFIs). 302 farmers had loans from money lenders and 321 farmers who committed suicide had loans from both financial institutions and money lenders or non-financial institutions.
 
Agricultural labourers who committed suicide owing to bankruptcy or indebtedness from financial institutions and non-financial institutions/moneylenders were 155 and 100 respectively.
 
NCRB defined farmers/cultivators as those cultivated their own land with or without assistance from agricultural labourers while agricultural labourers are those whose main income is from agricultural labour activities.
 
NCRB data on accidental deaths and suicides has not been published after 2016. The most recently released NCRB data for 2016 mentions 11,379 farmer suicides; a decline of 9.7 percent compared to the 12,602 cases in 2015. Unlike in 2015, the statistics for 2016 do not show farmers suicides per state.
 
Institutional sources, according to the NABARD All India Rural Financial Inclusion Survey 2016-17, emerged as more preferred sources with close to 60.5 percent of agricultural households with institutional loans in 2015-2016. A significant 30.3 percent of such households took loans from non-institutional sources, like relatives & friends, landlords and money lenders, while 9.2 percent had loans from both institutional and non-institutional sources.
 
Prof R. Ramakumar an agricultural economist at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences says: “The agricultural crisis is expanding to include more farmers from different classes, castes and who farm different crops. Their loans are also from multiple sources. Often the loan from one source is taken to repay loans from another. This is how cash is kept in rotation. Even if the moneylender is not directly involved, there may be a second or third loan involving the moneylender.”
 

 
If you need help or know someone who does, please reach out now through a suicide hotline near you.
 

Article by Urvashi Sarkar.
Editing by Mike Tatarski and Anrike Visser.
Fieldwork by Varsha Torgalkar.
Research by Peter Allen Clark.

 
This article was developed with the support of the Money Trail Project (www.money-trail.org).

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