Vidarbha farmer suicides have been a matter of shame for our nation for quite some time. And they still happen. It dates back to 2006 when in the six districts of Vidarbha, suicides were the order of the day. In one year there were 600 deaths!
These incidents also forced the then Finance Minister Chidambaram to declare a loan waiver scheme for farmers. While the US protects its 20,000 cotton growers with subsidies of $4.7 billion in 2004-05, our governments take away support prices and bonuses. The value of crop that year in the US was $3.9 billion. The subsidies meant cheaper cotton in the international market which destroyed the cotton farmers from Vidarbha to West Africa.
Take the minimum support price (MSP). This Congress-NCP came to power in October 2004 on the promise that it would restore the MSP of cotton to Rs 2700 per quintal. Then, within a year, the government dropped the MSP to Rs 1700 per quintal. Just restoring it to the pre-2005 level would have saved lives that year. Then, they withdrew the advance bonus of Rs 500 per quintal which would have cost the government Rs 1100 crore a year. Its was decision which cost many a farmers lives. On top of it, the chief minister kept saying suicides had nothing to do with prices! What a shame! Monsanto made easy money on royalty and technology costs while the Indian farmer was killing himself over the high seed prices. The local seeds were Rs 7 a kilo in 1991, the commercial varieties cost Rs 80-100 per kilo even ten years back. Monsanto seeds cost nearly Rs 3800 a kilo, now they cost about half. Similarly, all input prices were allowed to explode. Water and electricity costs exploded. To add charm to it, the government went around balbbering on the depressing output prices and hence withdrawing advance bonus. What did the farmers do? They sold their kidneys to fill their stomach. In the vicious cycle of loans and tortures, they preferred to kill themselves!
On this note, let me take an opportunity to introduce Mr Sharad Pawar who was the BCCI chief first and union agriculture minister later! In any case, cricket is more profitable than agriculture. Mr Pawar had missed cabinet meetings on agricultural issues, but he did make the time to attend meetings on cricket all over the world. The chief minister of those days- Deshmukh and union agriculture minister Pawar who themselves were Maharashtrians had not even visited a single suicide affected family or village till they were forced to accompany the PM in June 06. That itself shows how serious the state government and state leaders perceived the situation to be.
When 200 journalists were covering Mumbai fashion week, there were only 2 journalists covering 8 suicides everyday in Vidarbha. Does that strike hard enough? Media needs to grow out of the nutshell it lives in. One engineer committing suicide due to recession makes it to BBC news, whereas lakhs of farmers dying over a decade is unheard of by many of my own classmates. Sala kya karein?
A question may arise- what can we do for these farmers? It’s just the government’s responsibility. Isn’t it? Wrong! It is the middle class of India that can change this scenario. We purchase Levis t-shirts for thousands of rupees and never ask for discounts (against our prestige). The same consumer fights for 2 rupees with a poor sabziwala, or an auto driver! Why can’t we value Indian goods? The clothes we wear are foreign products, and the Indian farmers who could have grown that cotton- are committing suicide!! Think about it…
Note- I have borrowed facts extensively from my favourite journalist- P Sainath.