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Until Debt Do Us Part

Updated: Jan 8, 2023

India’s farmers are living idols of the nation, known for their hard work as they toil to produce crops day in and day out. They are the reason for the assured livelihood of every Indian out there.

“The farmer has to be an optimist or he wouldn’t still be a farmer,” Will Rogers once said. However, the situation in India is such that even if farmers wish not to farm, they will go hungry due to a lack of alternative jobs and starve the rest of their families to death as well. Being an optimist in such conditions is challenging to say the least.

The plight of farmers is not something that hasn’t been spoken about in ample volumes. However, the need for change is still a growing concern. Our country ranks at number 2 in the world when it comes to farm output.

However, an average Indian farmer's yearly wage is about Rs 77,124 in a year, translating to Rs 6,427 monthly, barely enough to cover the average monthly expenditure of Rs 6,223. I wish not to compare our farmers' wages with that of the wages of farmers in different countries. Instead, I would like us to focus on just this data.

A farmer, every month, has only about 200 rupees to spend on needs apart from subsistence. May I point out here that a fancy Dairy Milk Silk Chocolate is about the same price. Just think about it. May I also point out that this data is based on averages, a form of calculation that hides differences and disparities between the incomes. Hence, we can justly say that there are farmers who can’t even spend minimal money of Rs.200 on their personal needs.

Take a minute to let that sink in.

As a girl whose native village is a farmland, I have had the opportunity to witness and observe the psychology of different farmers with different yearly incomes in the village. For starters, we have my very own grandfather who left his home and settled in a city to earn his livelihood. Post-retirement, he went back to his native village and continues to live there with my grandmother. He has the largest farmland in his village since he was able to save and invest enough on his land due to his previous job in the city. He also has a building in the city which he has let out for rent. He invests the money that he receives as rent on his land as working capital. He visits us once every couple of months. During this duration of time, he hires a particular man to take care of his piece of land.

Now, in the same village lived a man with his wife, two daughters and mother. This man committed suicide around 11 years ago in the month of September. He did not have any serious monetary issues. He was, however, facing issues with his daughter’s marriage. This was because he wanted to get her married to a man in the city with the belief that she would have a better life.

He was however overcome with ‘shame’ since he wanted to celebrate his daughters wedding in a very grand manner for which he did not have enough money. He hence took a loan which he was never able to pay back since the rate of his crop that year dropped tremendously. He was under constant pressure from the lender to pay back the loan. At the same time, he was at constant rifts with his wife and so his personal life was not on the best terms. He took to alcohol addiction and boozed himself to bed every night.

He was one day, found hanged to a hook in his living room.

How do I know all this? Let us just say my grandfather has many nosy sisters! On a serious note, I would like us to make note of the causes for his death:

1) Failure of crops

2) Marriage of daughter to a respectable boy

3) Debt burden

4) Family issue with a spouse

5) Alcohol addiction

Now here is where it gets interesting. The most prominent causes for farmer suicide are the above causes. Here’s a look at some stats from 2002, which have remained largely unchanged.

Failure of crops - 16.84

Family problems with spouse, others - 13.27

Marriage of daughters - 5.31

Debt burden - 2.65

*The data for alcohol consumption was proven to be non-valid hence does not exist

Although the cause of death due to debt burden was only 2.65%, we must realise that when crop failure takes place, when parents are in huge need for money to get their children married or when alcohol consumption empties one's savings, they turn toward taking loans. At the end of the vicious cycle lies the debt burden.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is the story of a man that lived just 2 houses next to that of my grandfather’s. While my grandfather was fortunate enough to have good savings, his neighbour tells a tale of his own as a bad father to his daughter, an incompatible husband to his wife, and a burden to his land and moneylender.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is the true plight of farmers in India.

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