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Farmers' Suicides in Punjab: A Census Survey of the Two Most Affected Districts

This is a report on the first-ever census survey conducted on suicides by farmers in the two most affected districts of Punjab, Sangrur and Bhatinda. It tries to arrive at the number of farmer suicides, the reasons (whether they were caused by economic distress alone or they were due to the interplay of the forces of economic distress, social conflict, cultural backwardness and lack of community/state support) and also the present economic status of the families of the victims.


Farmers’ Suicides in Punjab: A Census Survey of the Two Most Affected Districts

R S Sidhu, Sukhpal Singh, A S Bhullar

This is a report on the first-ever census survey conducted on suicides by farmers in the two most affected districts of Punjab, Sangrur and Bhatinda. It tries to arrive at the number of farmer suicides, the reasons (whether they were caused by economic distress alone or they were due to the interplay of the forces of economic distress, social conflict, cultural backwardness and lack of community/state support) and also the present economic status of the families of the victims.

Authors are thankful to all the teaching/ research faculty and technical staff members of the Department of Economics and Sociology, Punjab Agricultural University, Ludhiana, who supported us in the collection and digitisation of the data. We are also grateful to the families of the suicide victims, who cooperated with us during data collection despite such tragedies in their households. Our thanks are also due to the elected representatives and other peers of the villages of the two districts, where this study was carried out. We are also thankful to the Government of Punjab for providing financial support for this study.

R S Sidhu ( is with the College of Basic Sciences and Humanities, Sukhpal Singh and A S Bhullar are with the Punjab Agricultural University, Ludhiana.

unjab agriculture has been passing through a difficult phase since 1997. First, the productivity of cotton failed putting the entire cotton belt under stress, and then, the minimum support prices (MSP) of wheat and paddy were almost frozen due to falling international prices between 2000-01 and 2004-05. As a consequence, the economic distress of farmers in the state increased manifold, which is argued to have led to a large number of farmers’ suicides in the state.

Suicide is a complex phenomenon largely associated with economic, social and psychological distress of the family as well as of the victim. In recent years, many farmers in the state have committed suicides, most of which are linked with the problem of indebtedness (Jaijee 1999; AFDR 2000; Iyer and Manick 2000; Kumar and Sharma 2006) though there may be many other factors operating at the grass root level causing economic, social and psychological distress to the farming families. The National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) estimates have also revealed that the level of debt is the highest in Punjab among all states of the country. Further, the share of non-institutional debt, on which the rate of interest is very high, was around 57%. The studies conducted by the Punjab Agricultural University (PAU), have estimated the level of debt in the farming sector of the state around Rs 21,064 crore in 2006, out of which Rs 13,047 crore came from non-institutional sources (Singh et al 2007). Their coercive methods of loan recovery also cause psychological and social distress. The diversion of loans from productive to non-productive activities is also argued to cause loan default leading to suicides.

Because of the complexity of different factors involved in suicides, it is not appropriate to say that all suicides were committed due to indebtedness unless an objective assessment is made about the real cause(s) of suicides. The estimates on farmers’ suicides also vary widely, police records putting the number at 136 (19902008), while the Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) estimated that farmer suicides over the same period numbered more than 30,000 suicide cases. This study was initiated because of the very large difference between the BKU estimates and those of police records.

This census is a professionally conducted enumeration of the suicides committed by the farmers in the two most affected districts of the state, namely, Sangrur and Bathinda districts. The study objectively tries to assess the prime reasons for committing suicides among farmers and brings out how many of these were committed due to indebtedness.

1 Approach to the Study

Basically it is the “census” on suicides committed in rural areas conducted from village to village. This census survey was primary in nature and was conducted by our research team visiting every village of these two districts. To ascertain the exact number of suicides, village panchayat, chowkidar and elders of the community were contacted on the basis of which a list of suicide victims for each village was prepared and then families of each suicide victim was visited to identify the cause(s) of committing suicide. A questionnaire was specially structured for this purpose and was administered through personal interview method. Each victim’s family was approached personally and then an effort was made to assess the level of economic, social and psychological distress of the victim and his/her family at the time of the suicide. The information was collected on the level of debt (unpaid) from institutional and non-institutional sources owed by the victim’s family, the economic position, level of income and assets (including land) owned and assets sold by the family to pay-off the debt. The information on social aspects of the victims’ family such as social/marital discords among family members, mental stability of the victim, addiction to drugs, etc, was

Economic & Political Weekly Supplement

june 25, 2011 vol xlvi nos 26 & 27


obtained from the family. Then this infor- Bathinda. The groundwater is sweet and
mation was verified from the key inform fit for irrigation in the entire area of
ants of the village such as the sarpanch, Sangrur district, while water is brackish in
other elected members of the village or large parts of Bathinda district, and surface
elder persons of the village for its correct water and groundwater are the main sources
ness, as a process of authentication. If the of irrigation. Where groundwater is unfit
information came out to be contradictory, for irrigation, cotton-wheat rotation is fol
other peer members were contacted to find lowed. The south-western districts are
out the truth. The questionnaire was spe also characterised by low level of human
cially developed for collecting information. development indicators.
The data collection process was monitored The number of suicides committed by
and supervised by the expert teams, mov farmers in these two districts between
ing from village-to-village and randomly 2000 and 2008 was very high (Table 1).
cross-checking the data for authenticity. Table 1: Magnitude and Proportion of Farmers’ Suicides
If the information looked doubtful, the in Bathinda and Sangrur (2000-08)
concerned households were revisited by District No of Suicides Proportion of Suicides Per Thousand Cultivators
expert teams. Bathinda 773(44) 5.19
1.1 Criteria for Identification Sangrur 984(56) 6.20 Total 1757(100) 5.71
for the Cause Total suicides in percentages are given in parentheses.
Classification of suicides on the basis of Source: Field survey.
one factor is a difficult task. Identifying In total 1,757 farmers committed sui
the cause of a suicide in the context of cides, which was 5.71 suicide cases per
debt is extremely cumbersome. We used a thousand of agricultural cultivators in
number of economic indicators for this these districts. This clearly indicates a
purpose. Debt was viewed in the context grim situation in the farming sector of this
of ownership of land and other assets and region. The suicides did not show any pat
the level of income to pay off the debt. The tern across the years. In most of the years
indicators included the total size of the it was in the range of 8% to 12.5% in both
debt, level of debt/acre, value of assets sold, the districts except more than 14% in
size of land owned, family size, annual level 2008 in Bathinda and 13.28% in 2000 in
of income, level of per capita per month Sangrur (Table 2).
income, the debt-income ratio and obser- Table 2: Year-wise and Age-wise Distribution of
vations of the investigator and key infor- Farmers’ Suicides in Bathinda and Sangrur Districts
mants of the village community on the Year Bathinda Sangrur Total No of Suicides No of Suicides No of Suicides
prime cause of suicides for each victim. Year-wise distribution
There were many clear-cut cases of 2000 85(11) 136(13.82) 221(12.58)
suicides not related to debt as reported by 2001 84(10.87) 123(12.5) 207(11.78)
field investigators and authenticated by the village community members. In these cases, family conflict, marital discord, drug addiction, long illness, failure in ex 2002 96(12.42) 110(11.18) 206(11.72) 2003 86(11.13) 117(11.89) 203(11.55) 2004 86(11.13) 105(10.67) 191(10.87) 2005 78(10.09) 86(8.74) 164(9.33) 2006 64(8.28) 84(8.54) 148(8.42)
aminations, etc, were the factors leading 2007 83(10.74) 101(10.26) 184(10.47)

years accounted for about 65% of the total suicide cases. The economic loss to the society in general, and to the family in particular, can therefore, be well-imagined.

Economic distress is argued to be the most important d eterminant of suicides not only in the farming class, but in other sections of the society as well. Therefore, the suicides were directly linked with the asset/income position of the farmers (Table 3). Around 79% of the suicide victims belonged to the small and marginal farm size category owning less than five acres of land. Around 44% of these farmers came from the marginal farm category which highlights the economic position of such households with respect to their capacity to cope with economic distress in the environment of commercialisation of agriculture and growing social expenditure due to increased market connectivity of rural-urban areas. Only a small proportion of suicide victims (6%) came from large size farm households having more than 10 acres of land, indicating that the suicides had a very strong negative linkage with the income-generating capacity of the farm households.

Table 3: Farmsize-wise Distribution of Farmers, Who Committed Suicides in Bathinda and Sangrur Districts

Farm-size (Acres) Bathinda Sangrur Total No of Suicides No of Suicides No of Suicides

<2.5 316(40.88) 449(45.63) 765(43.54)
2.5-5.0 287(37.13) 335(34.04) 622(35.4)
5.0-10 113(14.62) 153(15.55) 266(15.14)
>10 57(7.37) 47(4.78) 104(5.92)
Overall 773(100) 984(100) 1,757(100)

Percentages are given in parentheses. Source: Field survey.

Suicides were committed through various modes, but the most common mode was by consuming insecticides, which are freely available in every farm household in Punjab (Table 4). Around 74% of the

Table 4: District-wise Mode of Suicides (in numbers)

to suicide. Such cases were categorised as 2008 111(14.36) 122(12.4) 233(13.26) Mode of Suicide Bathinda Sangrur Total
“non-debt” suicides, irrespective of the Total 773(100) 984(100) 1,757(100) Insecticides 563(72.83) 738(75) 1,301(74.05)
size of the debt. Age-wise distribution Hanging 94(12.16) 99(10.06) 193(10.98)
< 20 yrs 52(6.73) 64(6.5) 116(6.6) Jumping before
2 Extent of the Problem of 20-30 yrs 279(36.09) 383(38.92) 662(37.68) the train 44(5.69) 37(3.76) 81(4.61)
Farmers’ Suicides The districts of Bathinda and Sangrur are hotspots for farmers’ suicide cases since 31-40 yrs 201(26) 290(29.47) > 40 yrs 241(31.18) 247(25.1) Overall 773(100) 984(100) Figures in parentheses are in percentages. 491(27.95) 488(27.77) 1,757(100) Jumping in the canal/well BurningElectric shock 24(3.1) 21(2.72) 1(0.13) 29(2.95) 21(2.13) 6(0.61) 53(3.02) 42(2.40) 7(0.40)
the mid-1990s. These districts are located Source: Field survey. Jumping from roof 1(0.13) 3(0.3) 4(0.23)
in the south-western part of Punjab. Wheat- A suicide represents an extreme case of Shooting 1(0.13) 4(0.41) 5(0.28)
rice is the most dominant crop rotation distress, which gets built up not in one or Any other 24(3.1) 47(4.78) 71(4.04)
of Sangrur, while wheat-rice and wheatcotton are the dominant crop rotations of two years but over time. Suicide victim in the most productive age group of 20 to 40 Total 773(100) 984(100) Percentages are given in parentheses. Source: Field survey. 1,757(100)
132 june 25, 2011 vol xlvi nos 26 & 27 Economic & Political Weekly Supplement

farmers committed suicides through this mode followed by hanging (around 11%), jumping in front of a train (4.6%), etc.

Debt was found to be positively associated with suicides in both the districts. In about 59% cases of farmers’ suicides, the debt was more than Rs 1 lakh, whereas for another 11% of the victims, the debt was in the range of Rs 50,000 to Rs 1 lakh. Suicide victims owed relatively higher debt in Bathinda than Sangrur districts because of the failure of the cotton crop during 1997-2003 (Table 5).

Compared with debt, low income was the main characteristic of most of the suicide victim households. In 46% of such households, the annual income was lower than Rs 50,000. Around 21% of the victims, households were so poor that their annual earnings were lower than Rs 25,000. Another 26% of households earned income between Rs 50,000 and Rs 1 lakh. Yet, 27.5% of households where such suicides were committed had an annual income of more than Rs 1 lakh.

To disaggregate the findings further, the frequency of suicide victim households was examined on the debt-income axis. About 30% of the victims owed debt more than Rs 50,000, while their income was less than Rs 50,000. Another 16% victims’ annual income was in the range of Rs 50,000 to Rs 1 lakh, while their debt was more than Rs 1 lakh. The average debt on these households was Rs 3.79 lakh, while their annual income was only Rs 63,000. The level of debt was very high in high income earning households, which pushed the victims towards suicide. In such households, the average annual income was Rs 1.61 lakh and the average debt was Rs 4.58 lakh. Such victims constituted 18% of total suicides. Cases of suicides were also witnessed in low income-low debt households. In about 15% of the total suicides, the average income as well as average debt was lower than Rs 50,000. But when we looked at their average income and debt figures, it was seen that their annual income was much lower than their debt. The debt was almost two to four times the average income. In fact, the income of such households is so low that they do not generate any surplus income after meeting their consumption needs to

etc, were the other important reasons leading to suicides in the farming families of rural areas.

2.1 Farmers’ Suicides Due to Indebtedness

The victim farmers were classified into “debt” and “other (non-debt)” categories on the basis of debt, income, assets sold, non-productive expenditure, etc, as well as on the basis of information gathered from the victims’ families and other key informants of the village. This classification shows that a very large proportion of suicides were caused by the indebtedness in both the districts (Table 6). Such proportion was 75% in Sangrur district and 71% in Bathinda district. Most of the victims were married. The size of the farm

Table 6: Debt and Income Profile of Suicide Victims under ‘Debt’ and ‘Others pay off the debt. Once (Non-debt)’ Categories

debt is incurred, it Particulars Bathinda Sangrur Total
starts building up and further pushes the family into debt trap. Total no of suicides Average family size Average no of earners Debt 550 3.98 1.64 Others223 4.24 1.33 Debt738 4.08 0.97 Others 246 4.62 1.29 Debt 1,288 4.03 1.26 Others 469 4.44 1.31
Apart from the large Average farm size (acres) 3.16 7.11 2.92 5.88 3.02 6.46
size of debt, low in- Mortgaged land (acres) 0.44 0.18 0.25 0.11 0.33 0.14
come, crop failure, es- Married (no) 400 165 533 214 933 379
pecially in case of Average income (Rs) 38,034 1,00,558 73,652 1,53,333 58,443 1,28,240
cotton, sale of assets Average expenditure (Rs) 1,11,732 57,657 1,65,714 76,571 1,42,662 67,577
(especially land), domestic conflict, pro- Average debt at the time of suicide (Rs) Debt-income ratio 2,94,907 7.75 85,825 0.85 3,36,220 4.57 79,935 0.52 3,18,578 5.93 82,735 0.68
longed illness due to cancer, permanent dis- Debt (Rs/acre) 1,15,289 (Debt+assets sold) Rs/acre 1,53,380 16,749 20,658 1,15,208 2,12,819 13,601 23,522 1,15,242 1,87,437 28,784 22,160
ability of the victim, Source: Field survey.

Table 5: Debt and Income-wise Distribution of Suicides Victims

Income Group (Rs/annum) < 25000 25000-50000 50001-100000 > 100000
No of Average Average No of Average Average No of Average Average No of Average Average
Suicides Income (Rs) Debt (Rs) Suicides Income (Rs) Debt (Rs) Suicides Income (Rs) Debt (Rs) suicides Income (Rs) Debt (Rs)
Bathinda District
< 25000 39 (5.05) 8,810 16,125 25 (3.23) 7,980 40,760 25 (3.23) 8,180 78,200 83 (10.74) 4,063 3,82,386
25000-50000 35 (4.53) 38,643 16,375 16 (2.07) 36,394 40,750 39 (5.05) 38,474 80,462 118 (15.27) 38,960 3,32,129
50001-100000 31 (4.01) 59,097 19,800 11 (1.42) 55,273 40,000 27 (3.49) 68,056 79,370 131 (16.95) 54,538 3,27,457
> 100000 42 (5.43) 1,42,176 20,000 11 (1.42) 1,28,636 45,273 12 (1.55) 1,86,000 84,167 128 (16.56) 1,04,852 4,21,960
Overall 147 (19.02) 64,622 18,067 63 (8.15) 44,521 41,413 103 (13.32) 56,063 80,058 460 (59.51) 55,435 3,64,863
Sangrur District
< 25000 61(6.20) 10,966 21,250 18 (1.83) 14,111 43,889 16 (1.63) 13,125 73,563 101 (10.26) 10,119 33,6218
25000-50000 50 (5.08) 40,834 19,300 22 (2.24) 36,627 48,364 27 (2.74) 39,748 70,706 133 (13.520 30,783 39,6162
50001-100000 61 (6.20) 74,133 21,500 6 (0.61) 70,263 45,000 33 (3.35) 75,576 74,316 150 (15.24) 70,500 42,1580
> 100000 80 (8.13) 2,60,285 22,900 14 (1.42) 1,64,071 45,057 22 (2.24) 1,50,046 71,722 190 (19.31) 1,98,564 47,8561
Overall 252 (25.61) 1,11,332 21,497 60 (6.10) 62,973 45,913 98 (9.96) 72,227 72,600 574 (58.33) 93,063 42,2804
< 25000 100 (5.69) 10,125 19,251 43 (2.45) 10,546 42,070 41 (2.33) 10,110 76,390 184 (10.47) 7,387 3,57,044
25000-50000 85 (4.84) 39,932 18,096 38 (2.16) 36,529 45,158 66 (3.76) 38,995 77,500 251 (14.29) 34,627 3,65,068
50001-100000 92 (5.24) 69,067 20,865 17 (0.97) 60,564 41,765 60 (3.41) 72,192 77,282 281 (15.99) 63,059 3,78,618
> 100000 122 (6.94) 2,19,625 21,970 25 (1.42) 1,48,480 45,152 34 (1.94) 1,62,736 76,700 318 (18.10) 1,60,843 4,57,742
Overall 399 (22.71) 94,123 20,233 123 (7.00) 53,522 43,608 201 (11.44) 63,944 77,040 1,034 (58.85) 76,323 3,97,707
Percentages in parentheses.
Source: Field survey.
Economic & Political Weekly Supplement june 25, 2011 vol xlvi nos 26 & 27 133


holding was small, debt was large and the level of income was low. Therefore, such farming families were unable to repay the debt, which caused severe distress in these families. Per acre debt was as high as Rs 1.15 lakh in such victims in both districts.

In Bathinda district, 550 cases of suicides out of a total of 773 cases were found due to indebtedness. The average debt was Rs 2.95 lakh as compared to annual income of Rs 38,000. The debt- income ratio was as high as 7.75 indicating’ the household’s inability to pay-off the debts. Such households were mainly marginal and small holders cultivating on an average 3.2 acres of land. In Sangrur district, 984 farmers committed suicide, out of which 738 farmers (75%) committed suicide due to indebtedness, while the remaining 246 farmers (25%) committed suicide due to other reasons. In the case of debt-caused suicides in Sangrur district, the average size of the farm was 2.92 acres, which indicates that a very large proportion of such suicide victims belonged to small holders. Seventytwo per cent of the victims were married. The average level of debt in case of these households at the time of the suicide was Rs 3.36 lakh, which indicates that they were heavily indebted. The average annual income of such families was little more than Rs 73,000. After meeting their family needs, they were left with nothing to payoff debts. The debt-income ratio was as high as 4.57.

2.2 Sale of Assets

Suicide victim households tried to repay the debt by selling their assets like land, machinery, gold, etc, but the size of debt was so large that even disposing off assets did not help them. Rather sale of assets put more pressure on them because assets’ sale in the sociocultural milieu of rural areas is looked down upon. Table 7 reveals

Table 7: Value of Assets Sold by the Suicide Victims due to Debt

Particulars Number Total Value (Rs) Average
Value (Rs)
Land 227 7,36,06,500 3,24,258
Machinery 28 35,25,000 1,25,893
Others 58 1,47,40,500 2,54,147
Land 353 19,05,82,000 5,39,892
Machinery 22 48,44,000 2,20,182
Others 36 16,49,300 45,814

Source: Field survey.

Figure 1: Trends in Productivity of Cotton, Bathinda (1990-91 to 2007-08, Kg/ha)

that 227 suicide victim

American cotton Desi cotton
households (41%) sold 800
land with average value
of Rs 3.24 lakh and 28 600
households (5%) sold
machinery with average 400
worth of Rs 1.25 lakh in
Bathinda district. The sit
uation was similar in
Sangrur district, where
42% of suicide victims 0 1990-91 1992-93

sold land and 3% sold machinery to payoff the debt.

2.3 Farmers’ Suicides Committed due to Other Reasons

In these two districts, 469 suicides (26.7%) were committed due to social and other reasons such as family conflict, marital discord, prolonged illness, drug addiction, etc (Table 6). In case of such suicide cases, the size of landholding was relatively large, size of debt was lower and the average level of income was higher compared to debt caused suicides. Such households were by and large comfortably placed so far as repayment of debt was concerned.

In 223 such suicide cases in Bathinda district, the average debt was only Rs 85,825 and the debt/acre was only Rs 16,749. The average income was more than Rs 1 lakh and the debt/income ratio was 0.85, which clearly indicates that farmers were in a position to repay the debt from their incomes/savings in a few years and the main cause of suicide was not debt. In Sangrur district, 246 farmers committed suicide due to other (non-debt) reasons. Their average debt was about Rs 80,000 and per acre debt was only Rs 13,600. Compared with this, the average level of income was Rs 1.53 lakh and these farmers were capable of repaying the debt. Their debt-income ratio was as low as 0.52 (Table 6).

3 Nexus between Economic Distress, Sociocultural Backwardness and Suicides

The tragedy of suicides in rural areas is largely concentrated in south and southwest areas of the state. Suicide is not a simple phenomenon, which can be explained with single cause but it is the broad landscape of socio-economic and cultural forces, which prevail in rural areas

1994-95 1996-98 2000-01 2002-03 2004-05 2006-07 2007-08

and cause severe distress to the farming families culminating to suicides. Therefore, the problem has to be viewed in that context. French sociologist Emile Durkheim remarked that suicide is the outcome of weak social bonds and the rate of suicides increases with the occurrence of extremities in both the social integration and social regulations (Durkheim 1897). Social factors, cultural backwardness and lacking social and institutional mechanisms for coping with stress aggravate economic distress ultimately leading to tragic events of suicides.

Fall in income and increase in farm investments were the two most important factors, which caused an economic squeeze in farming households in this belt. In Bathinda district, cotton was the predominant kharif crop occupying 55% area and its productivity drastically fell during the period of 1997 to 2002 causing an erosion in farm incomes. The productivity of cotton was more than 600 kg of lint/ha in 1992-93, which continuously declined to touch the lowest level of below 200 kg of lint/ha in 1998-99 due to the severe attack of American cotton bollworm (Figure 1). It started improving thereafter but remained lower than the level of 1991-92 till 2003-04. The introduction of Bt cotton has lately revived the cotton productivity. The total economic loss to the farmers during 1997-98 to 2002-03 due to fall in productivity in comparison to the average productivity of 1990-91 to 1992-93 was Rs 1,188 crore. Such losses shattered their economic sustenance and their dependence on credit increased manifold. The average productivity levels of wheat were also lower than the state average in the Bathinda district, which further aggravated their economic squeeze.

In Sangrur district, the crop patterns are dominated by rice-wheat rotation due

june 25, 2011 vol xlvi nos 26 & 27


Figure 2: Trends in Productivity of Wheat (1990-91 to 2007-08, Kg/ha) district. The number


Punjab Sangrur
of tube wells and trac


tors in the district is very high and has in


creased over time causing heavy expenditure on farms. Such heavy investments were beyond



the financial capacity


of small and marginal

3200 1990-91 1992-93 1994-95 1996-98 2000-01 2002-03 2004-05 2006-07 2007-08 farmers and most of

them borrowed mon-

Figure 3: Trends in Productivity of Rice (1990-91 to 2007-08, Kg/ha)

ey from commission


agents and banks for






this purpose. On the other hand, the MSPs of wheat and paddy increased marginally at the annual rate of 2.0% and 1.5% during the period of 2001-02 to 2005-06.

This belt of the state is also considered to

2004-05 2006-07 2007-08

be socially and culturally backward. The level of literacy is low, the expenditure on conspicuous consumption such as marriages, consumer durables, etc, is high and the consumption of toxi-

Bathinda Punjab

1990-91 1992-93 1994-95 1996-98 2000-01 2002-03

to availability of groundwater. The productivity levels of wheat and rice are very high as compared to other areas (Figures 2 and 3). However, the use of inputs is very high in the district leading to higher expenditure on variable and capital inputs. The groundwater is extracted indiscriminately resulting in a very sharp decline in the groundwater table. During the last eight years, the annual fall has exceeded more than one metre.

The continuous fall in water table compelled farmers to deepen their wells at regular intervals, putting financial pressure on small and marginal holders. In recent years, farmers had to convert their centrifugal pumps into submersible pumps to lift water from deeper aquifers (Table 8). More than 90% of the bore wells are submersible pumps, which cost around Rs 1 lakh. This has increased the quantum of investments manifold in the

Table 8: Farm Mechanisation Index in Sangrur District

cants is more. This survey data also showed similar results (Table 9). It was observed that 47% of the suicide victims were illiterate and another 11% had education less than or equal to five years. About 35% of the victims had education between 6th and 10th classes. Therefore, a large proportion of victims (around 83%) were either uneducated or had very low level of education. Drug addiction rate was also reported to be high in such victims. Forty

one per cent of the victims were drug addicts in Bathinda district and 35% in Sangrur district. However, it is contrary to the earlier sample-based studies that majority of the suicides were committed by

Year Tractor Intensity Tube Wells Intensity Water Table Annual Fall (No) (Tractors Per (No) (Tube Wells Per Depth (mts) during Preceding 100 ha of NSA) 100 ha of NSA) 10 Years (cms)

drug addicts (AFDR 2000; Iyer and Manick 2007). In earlier times the community support mechanisms during the period of economic/social distress were strong to prevent occurrence of such events, which had weakened over time under the influence of commercialisation of agriculture and cross-culturalism between rural and urban areas. Further, there were no state institutional mechanisms to address these issues.

On the basis of the human development index (HDI) for income, literacy and health, these districts were ranked low among all the districts of the state (Table 10, p 136). Among 17 (erstwhile) districts, Sangrur district was ranked at 15th place, while Bathinda district was ranked 13th. According to 2001 Census, around 60% of population in Sangrur district and 61.5% of Bathinda district was literate. The literacy levels were still lower in rural areas at around 56% and 55%, respectively against the Punjab state average of 65% (rural). Sex ratio was highly skewed in these districts and their respective ranking was 13th and 14th among 17 districts. On educational index, Sangrur was placed at 16th ranking and Bathinda at 12th ranking, while on health index Sangrur occupied the lowest ranking at 17th place and Bathinda at 13th

Table 9: Human Development of Suicide Victims (in number)

Education Level Bathinda Sangrur Total
Illiterate 366(47.35) 462(46.95) 828(47.13)
Up to 5 85(11) 115(11.69) 200(11.38)
6 to 10 276(35.71) 330(33.54) 606(34.49)
10+2 39(5.05) 62(6.3) 101(5.75)
Graduation 7(0.91) 15(1.52) 22(1.25)
Overall 773(100) 984(100) 1,757(100)
Drug addiction
Drug addicts 317(41.01) 346(35.16) 663(37.73)
Non-drug addicts 456(58.99) 638(64.84) 1,094(62.27)
Overall 773(100) 984(100) 1,757(100)
Percentages in parentheses.
Source: Field survey.

place. On the basis of income, Sangrur occupied fourth place, while Bathinda ranked at 12th place. These results conformed to our explanation that economic factors coupled with social and cultural backwardness led to very high number of suicides committed by the farmers in these two districts.

1980-81 8,802 1.92 (2.84) 83,300 18.19 (14.32) 5.85

4 After-effects and Rehabilitation

1990-91 32,724 7.13 (6.85) 1,94,836 42.45 (19.00) 8.38 25.3 2000-01 48,500 10.64 (10.29) 1,83,799 40.31 (25.25) 12.97 45.9 Suicide is a very tragic event and poses se

2007-08 52,857 16.94 (11.64) 1,56,693 50.22 (29.85) 23.61 106.4 rious difficulties for the surviving mem-

Figures in the brackets indicate the intensity for whole state of Punjab.

bers of the victims’ families. The level of

Economic & Political Weekly Supplement

june 25, 2011 vol xlvi nos 26 & 27


Table 10: HDI-based Ranking for Different Districts in Punjab under severe distress. It was seen

Districts Education Health Income Overall Index Ranking Index Ranking Index Ranking Index Rank that in many such cases, the chil-

Northerndren had dropped from schools Amritsar 10 3 14 9and started working on their own Gurdaspur 3 2 16 4farms or on the farms of other

Hoshiarpur 1 14 13 5 people as well as the wives of de-Central

ceased took up petty jobs to earn

Kapurthala 7 11 5 8

their livelihood. About one

Jalandhar 2 16 7 6

fourth of the families sold land

Nawan Shahar 5 15 6 7

and other assets to meet con-

Ludhiana 8 1 3 1

sumption needs and repay the

Moga 13 6 11 13

debt. Due to economic hardship,

Patiala 9 10 10 11

the access to health services also

Roopnagar 4 5 2 2

dwindled and family members fell

Fatehgarh Sahib 6 8 8 3

seriously ill or suffered depres-

Southern Ferozepur 14 4 9 12

sion in 17% of the victim families.

Faridkot 11 9 1 10In a few cases, social tension also

Mukatsar 15 7 17 16cropped up between the widow

Bathinda 12 12 12 14and other family members over

Mansa 17 13 15 17property and other social issues

Sangrur 16 17 4 15 (Table 11). Institutional or social Source: Human Development Report, 2006.

support for the rehabilitation of hardship further increases when suicide is such families was found to be missing. committed under economic hardship. Un-F amilies were found to be fighting with fortunately, since most of the victims were poverty, access to health and education coming from resource-poor farming fami-facilities and looking for financial and lies, the economic implications for the sur-livelihood support from the state. A very viving members were severe. Even the few social organisations were making very existence of such families got endan-efforts in their rehabilitation in some gered in most of the cases. About 50% of pockets but the effort was too little against the families lost their sole bread-winner a very large number of suicides and no putting the remaining family members state support.

Table 11: After-effects of Suicides (Multiple Responses)

After-effects Bathinda Sangrur Total No of Victim Families No of Victim Families No of Victim Families

No earning member 342(44.24) 527(53.56) 869(49.46)

Families were seen to be struggling for survival and demanded various facilities and services for their rehabilitation. Most measures varied from direct one time financial support to long-term arrangements for livelihood as well as capacitybuilding of surviving members to secure living in future. More than 72% of the families wanted one time monetary support to lessen the burden of economic hardship, while 37% wanted long-term financial help in the form of pension for the surviving members (Table 12). About one-fourth of the families sought a job for one of the surviving members to earn a living. Free education for the children and free access to health services were also sought in case of 17% and 11% of the victim families, respectively. Since debt was the primary reason for committing suicides, the relief from institutional and non-institutional debt was also demanded by a large number of families. Though the loan for small and marginal farmers were waivedoff by the Government of India in the year 2008, but it was the default only which was waived-off and the benefit of this waiver to the Punjab farmers was very small due to better recovery and a large proportion of loans by small holders taken from non-institutional sources. Although the Government of Punjab also announced monetary support of Rs 2 lakh to the families of suicide victims in April 2009, the money has not been disbursed as yet.

Schooling of the children stopped 124(16.04) 64(6.5) 188(10.7) 5 Conclusions and

Land sold 210(27.17) 215(21.85) 425(24.19)
Other property sold 82(10.61) 137(13.92) 219(12.46)
Postponement of daughter’s marriage 41(5.3) 48(4.88) 89(5.07)
Family member fell seriously ill or
gone under depression 152(19.66) 148(15.04) 300(17.07)
Tension in the family 71(9.18) 62(6.3) 133(7.57)
Any other 23(2.98) 15(1.52) 38(2.16)

Percentages in parentheses. Source: Field survey.

Table 12: Victim Families’ Response Regarding the Help They Want from Government/NGOs

Particulars Bathinda Sangrur Total No of Victim Families No of Victim Families No of Victim Families

Policy Implications

Suicide is a very complex phenomenon largely associated with economic, social and psychological distress of the victim as well as family. In recent years, many farmers in the Punjab state have committed suicides, most of which are being linked with the problem of indebtedness, though there are many other factors also causing economic, social and psychological distress to the farming families. This study enu-

Direct financial assistance 580(75.03) 690(70.12) 1270(72.28) merates all the farmers who have commit-

Pension 353(45.67) 297(30.18) 650(36.99) ted suicide in the two most affected dis-

Job for family member 177(22.9) 266(27.03) 443(25.21)

tricts of the state between 2000 and 2008

Free education for children 156(20.18) 149(15.14) 305(17.36)

as well as it tries to document the

Free health services 107(13.84) 89(9.04) 196(11.16)

reason(s) for suicides. The census was

Waive-off institutional loans 316(40.88) 269(27.34) 585(33.3)

conducted from village to village covering

Solution for non-institutional loans 361(46.7) 302(30.69) 663(37.73)

876 villages. The association of suicides

Percentages are given in parentheses. Source: Field survey.

with indebtedness was studied examining

june 25, 2011 vol xlvi nos 26 & 27


the size of the debt, value of assets sold, debt-income ratio and the observations of the key informants of the villages.

In total 1,757 farmers committed suicide in these two districts, out of which 1,288 (73.3%) were committed primarily due to indebtedness, while 469 (26.7%) were committed due to other reasons such as marital discord, drug addiction, property dispute within the family, prolonged illness, etc. Most of the victims (79%) belonged to small and marginal farmers’ category and were resource-poor. Their level of education was low and about 38% were drug addicts. The average size of debt was relatively higher and incomes lower in the “debt caused suicide” cases. The average size of holding in such cases was three acres and the average debt was Rs 1.15 lakh, while average income was only Rs 58,000. A significant fall in cotton productivity during the period of 1997 to 2003, heavy investments on digging/ deepening of bore wells due to a steep fall in the groundwater table and unproductive expenditure on social ceremonies were primarily responsible for causing economic distress in these farming families in these districts. Social and cultural backwardness in this belt coupled with economic distress resulted in the occurrence of a large number of suicides in the farming sector.

The after-effects of suicide in these families were catastrophic and rehabilitation measures were largely missing. Most of the families lost their breadwinners and were fighting poverty. The children had dropped out from schools, land and other assets sold for living, marriage of daughters postponed and family members suffered depression in a large number of cases. There was almost no state or social support for such families. These families wanted one time financial support in the form of lump sum money or continuous support in the form of pension or jobs for the next of kin of the deceased farmers, besides free access to educational and health facilities. The Government of Punjab announced a relief of Rs 2 lakh for such families, but has not yet paid anything to them.

The problem of suicides in farming community needs, therefore, to be tackled in a holistic way. Awareness among farmers will have to be created to avoid unproductive expenditure as well efficient use of investments in irrigation structures through adopting water use efficiency measures. Crop insurance programme need to be strengthened, especially in cash crops like cotton, where the yield and price variability are relatively high. Innovative loan settlement mechanisms need to be developed in the case of crop failure so that the farmers can cope with falling incomes and tide over financial crises. Regulation of non-institutional lenders is necessary to prevent them from charging exploitative rates of interest from farmers and pushing them into a debt trap. Government and social institutions should be made proactive in addressing the economic distress of farmers during the economic squeeze arising out of climate change or market failure. Education is very important for human resource capacity-building in economic activities as well as coping with social problems. The government should, therefore, strengthen the educational network in these areas to improve literacy levels of rural people in order to equip them for better livelihoods and to cope with economic distress.


AFDR (2000): “Suicides in Rural Punjab – A Report” (in Punjabi), Association for Democratic Rights, Patiala Unit, Punjab.

Durkheim, Emile (1897): Suicide (New York: The Free Press), reprint 1997.

Iyer, K G and M S Manick (2000): Indebtedness, Impoverishment and Suicides in Rural Punjab (New Delhi: Indian Publishers and Distributors).

Jaijee, Inderjeet Singh (1999): “Rural Suicides: Punjab”, North American Sikh Journal, Vol 3 (1), pp 7-12.

Kumar, P and S L Sharma (2006): Suicides in Rural Punjab, Institute for Development and Communication, Chandigarh.

Singh Sukhpal, M Kaur and H S Kingra (2007): “Flow of Funds to Farmers and Indebtedness in Punjab”, Research Report, The Punjab State Farmers’ Commission, Government of Punjab.

Economic & Political Weekly Supplement

june 25, 2011 vol xlvi nos 26 & 27

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