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A Clear Emergency - Every 30 Minutes an Indian Farmer Commits Suicide

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Indian farmers are committing suicide at a rapid rate. Despite protests, their voice appears to be unheard by those in the corridors of power. Suicides have been reported since the 1990s . Veteran journalist P. Sainath rightly stated

"We are talking of the largest recorded rate of suicides in human history".

On discovery of this emergency situation, Mr Paul Marsden, a former UK Member of Parliament and Shadow Health Minister recently decided to create a petition with a view to raising international awareness and instigating immediate action.

He stated;

"More than a quarter of a million farmers in India have been driven to suicide in the past 15 years due to financial hardship leaving behind distraught families. Their innocent children are left vulnerable, compromising their futures and putting them at risk of long term poverty. It is staggering that no effective action has been taken to halt the awful deaths of these hard working rural people. It is time the Government of India set up a parliamentary inquiry and released new urgent funds to assist those in hardship. The stigma of debt must be tackled and practical help given to local communities in need. Both State and Federal Governments need to work together on improving mental health support to people in rural areas. I trust the UK Government will back new measures to alleviate the suffering of farming families in India"

Approximately one farmer commits suicide every 30 minutes according to the Centre of Human Rights and Justice . Their report can be accessed here. It cites the matter as a human rights issue, also reiterating the phenomena as the largest recorded wave of suicides in history. The number of suicides in farmers may well be underestimated. Supporting this view, the research paper Suicide in the Indian subcontinent stated "Data collection poses formidable challenge with underreporting, misdiagnosis, stigma, and legal issues being important factors.

A leading activist in India, Mr Amit Srivastava outlined the current situation very succinctly. He had the following to say :-

"The greedy promises from genetically modified seed companies and government agencies are the main reason for farmers' suicide. To be more precise, the issues related to Bt cotton alone has caused thousands of deaths as it failed to deliver what it promised. Interestingly, instead of regulating these seed companies, the local politicians promote them. This helps in growing their money lending business. Many farmers clearly blame the ruling Congress party for their grave economic conditions in their suicide notes. The roles of media and civil society too have been dubious, as the issue was suppressed, instead blaming several other sociological and psychological perspective. Needless to say, the Indian media has been siding with ruling regime so do the NGOs. Being an economic researcher on the same region, I must say: a little attention could have saved thousands of innocent lives"

A summary of the situation featured by the media can be read here.

From a psychiatric point of view, the situation constitutes a mental health emergency - making the current socio-economic environment a clear and present danger for Indian farmers. This has been debated by psychiatrists writing in the Indian Journal of Psychiatry [1 and 2] . When considering the risk factors for suicide, Indian farmers fall in the highest risk category. Research demonstrates high levels of depression/anxiety involving multiple complex factors in this group. Rural Indians show a more stigmatizing attitude towards severe mental illness, with approximately sixty percent never seeking medical assistance. This may be one of the many multiple factors leading to such a high suicide rate. Further research in this area is definitely required.

The plight of Indian farmers appears to have disappeared from the public eye despite occasional features in the media. The matter has been ongoing for such a length of time that it is now an accepted fact leading to chronic lethargy from all quarters. These leaves voluntary organisations with the responsibility to do what they can.

The report "Every Thirty Minutes" was critical of India's Government :-

"At this point, India's pledge to take steps to remedy the problems associated with these suicides rings hollow at best. The frequency of farmer suicides in India continues unabated and India has neither taken sufficient steps to address the underlying causes, nor sufficiently regulated the activities of multinationals who increasingly exercise tremendous control over multiple aspects of India's cotton and other cash crop sectors"

It is clear that the international community and the United Nations should encourage the Indian government to take effective action immediately to prevent these unnecessary deaths. The situation is now a clear emergency requiring urgent intervention.