Kanchan Vasdev, Tribune News Service
Chandigarh, May 26. Forced by financial crunch, an estimated 5,000 farmers and farm labourers committed suicide in the agrarian state of Punjab, popularly known as grain bowl of India, in the last decade – 2000 to 2010. This works out to 500 suicides a year or three suicides every two days.
Of these 5,000, about 3,000 have committed suicide in just two districts – Bathinda and Sangrur.
About 38 per cent of these persons were in the prime of their life (20 to 30 years old) while 60 per cent had unpaid debts. In all, about 47 per cent of the 3,000 persons who committed suicide were illiterate.
These are the startling findings of a state government commissioned survey conducted by three universities of the state – Punjabi University, Patiala; Punjab Agricultural University, Ludhiana; and Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar.
In addition to reaffirming that the ‘land of plenty’ is passing through an agrarian crisis, the survey has also flagged some serious social and lifestyle issues — the gradual rise in drug addiction, diseases like cancer and AIDS and a growing trend among farmers with small land holdings to borrow large sums of money to organise ceremonies like weddings and other family functions.
The failure to pay back the mounting debt forced them to embrace death following which nearly 25 per cent of the families affected have since sold off their land.
The majority of the suicides (about 4,500) have occurred in the six Malwa districts of Sangrur, Bathinda, Ludhiana, Moga, Barnala and Mansa, according to preliminary findings of the PAU which was entrusted with conducting the survey in these districts.
The two districts of Sangrur and Bathinda alone have reported 3,000 suicides between 2000 to 2009. Sources said that by the time the compilation, currently under way, gets completed, the total figure could exceed 5,000.
The figures in the other districts are far less. For example, the Punjabi University’s survey conducted in seven districts – Faridkot, Fatehgarh Sahib, Hoshiarpur, Muktsar, Mohali, Patiala and Ropar reveals that only 332 farmers (including some labourers) committed suicide during this 10-year period.
Out of these, the maximum number of suicides was reported from Patiala (126) followed by Muktsar (102) while the minimum number was reported from Ropar (4). The university has already submitted its final report to the government.
Similarly, 226 farmers and labourers had committed suicide in the seven districts that Guru Nanak Dev University was tasked to survey. The break-up is Ferozepur (66), Amritsar (62), Gurdaspur (40), Tarn Taran (33), Jalandhar (11), Kapurthala (9) and Nawanshahr (5), said Dr Gian Kaur, senior economist and Principal Investigator, GND University.
Gian Kaur said that their survey had revealed that the state’s cotton belt had recorded the maximum number of suicides and that too by farmers with land holdings of less than five acres.
“It is not only the input cost that had led the farmers to take to this fatal route. According to my survey, 90 per cent farmers were into drugs and were unable to sustain the habit. In several other cases, they borrowed money to enjoy the luxuries of life. In other cases, farmers had been reeling under debt due to diseases such as cancer and AIDS which are very expensive to treat,” she said.
Moreover, she said, new-generation farmers neither wanted to work nor did they want to go for other options. “In present times, one cannot eke out a living on five acres of land. They have to look for other options,” said Dr Gian Kaur.