The study, which has also been presented in the form of a paper recently, is based on a project primarily sponsored by the state government to assess the magnitude of agricultural labourer suicides in Punjab.
A STUDY led by professors of Punjab Agriculture University (PAU), Ludhiana, has shed light on the plight of women working as farm labourers in the state. It states that the suicide rate among women farm labourers is 1.5 times higher than among women farmers; around 12 per cent of school children of the victims’ families drop out and the marriages of their children, particularly girls, are interrupted due to such suicides.
As per the study, 12.43 per cent of the farm labourers dying by suicide in the state are women, and this suicide rate was high against that of women farmers, which was recorded at 8.2 per cent.
The study, which has also been presented in the form of a paper recently, is based on a project primarily sponsored by the state government to assess the magnitude of agricultural labourer suicides in Punjab. On the basis of a door-to-door and village-to-village survey of 2,400 villages falling in the jurisdiction of six districts — Barnala, Bathinda, Ludhiana, Mansa, Moga and Sangrur — the study was carried out to examine all the labourer suicide cases that occurred in 2000–18.
Every village was visited repeatedly to cover all the cases. A list of all suicide cases was prepared with the help of the sarpanch, panchayat members and chowkidar of the village. Data was collected from family members of all suicide victims with personal interviews through a pre-tested schedule to analyse the exact cause of suicide and assess various dimensions of the crisis of the family at the time of suicide along with the aftermath on the victim family.
The study was been led by Prof Sukhpal Singh, principal economist, PAU, Ludhiana and coordinator of the research project, ‘Farmers’ and Agricultural Labourers’ Suicides in Punjab’, Government of Punjab, and Manjeet Kaur, principal economist and H S Kingra, a senior agricultural economist, PAU, Ludhiana.
The study further says that the children of 12 per cent of victims’ families left school due to the deplorable conditions after the suicide.
The study says that the phenomenon of death by suicide of agricultural labourers as a trend has prevailed in Punjab ever since the mid-1980s. As many as 7,303 suicides of agricultural labourers were recorded in the study period 2000-2018.
Generally, agricultural labourers were placed quite low in the caste hierarchy. But this study shows that 9 per cent of the victims belonged to the upper caste, while around 83 per cent belonged to SC category and 8.76 per cent to the backward class (BC).
Out of these suicide cases, around 79 per cent happened because of the heavy debt burden on the labourer families, while the remaining 21 per cent occurred due to other socio-economic factors.
Suicides by agricultural labourers exhibited an irregular trend across the study period and varied between 230 and 501 cases per year in Punjab. The total number of agricultural labourer suicides was lowest in 2016 with 230 suicides including 202 debt-related, which may be the reason for the debt waiver announcement made in 2016 by the ruling Congress in its election manifesto of Punjab Legislative Assembly.
But this debt-waiver announcement remained an unfulfilled promise. Unfortunately, the number of suicide cases increased to 303 in 2017 and further to 392 in 2018.
Out of a total of 7,303 suicides, 5,765 occurred due to debt and the remaining 1,538 due to other reasons.
Sangrur district was at the top the list in terms of suicide mortality — number of suicides per lakh workers — was the highest with 20.80 farmers followed by Barnala district (19.05) and Mansa district (18.62), Ludhiana and Moga districts have low suicide mortality, at 6.50 and 8.73 suicides per lakh workers, respectively. The proportion of debt-related suicide cases was the highest (90.17) in Barnala
district and the lowest in Ludhiana district (56.52).
As per the human development index (HDI) in 2001, Ludhiana district was placed at the top, whereas Mansa and Sangrur were positioned at the bottom in Punjab.
However, agricultural labourer suicide cases were the lowest in Ludhiana district and the highest in Sangrur, closely followed by Mansa district. This indicates that the proportion of debt-related suicides is directly related to the level of development of the district.
Impact on family
In many families, the trend was more ghastly, wherein two or more persons died by suicide. The economic distress was deep-rooted to the extent that three families had four or more suicide cases. Thus, the glory of the Green Revolution belt of the country failed to trace these grieving families.
Surprisingly, nearly half of the deceased households had no earning member left in the family. “One can imagine the current situation of the family which was already deprived at the time when the sole earner was alive. That is why they had to take their life. How family is currently coping without any source of livelihood? This self-explanatory question clears the issue that the victim family has been passing through a critical juncture of life.
In the case of about 44 per cent victim families, the members were pushed towards the state of depression. About one-third of the families encountered serious illness of the family members. It is essential to know that the aged persons in the agricultural labour suicide victim families have been facing dire psychological consequences of this crisis,” the study said.
Dr Sukhpal said: “There are several short and long term policies to rehabilitate these families by providing free education with scholarships along with extending socio-psychological support to the children. Free and quality medical services should be made available to victim families so that they can live a healthy life and avoid taking huge loans for the treatment of illness. A reasonable financial compensation along with permanent source of livelihood like family pension, employment to next kin of the victim must be provided and the government should make the prevailing Shagun (gift) scheme effective on the marriages of girls of these poor families.”
‘Farm laws will aggravate issue’
He added that the three farm laws of the centre government will aggravate the farm labourer suicide problem further because it will convert several small farmers into labourers and then the suicide rate will increase manifold.
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