ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Agrarian Crisis and Agricultural Labourer Suicides in Punjab

Punjab’s economy is engulfed in a serious agrarian crisis. The capitalisation of agricultural production processes has squeezed employment opportunities and wage rates in the farm sector. The agrarian crisis in the state has pushed the agricultural labourers towards low earnings and debt traps, which have led them towards death by suicide. Based on a door-to-door and village-to-village survey of 2,400 villages falling in the jurisdiction of six districts of Punjab, the present study reveals that 7,303 agricultural labourers died by suicide in the state during 2000–18. The financial compensation, debt waiver, provision of healthcare and education of victim families along with safeguarding of legal entitlements regarding wage enhancements and land rights, and agro-industrialisation are main policy measures for addressing the act of suicide by agricultural labourers.


India is an agrarian economy as over half of the total workforce of 48.2 crore is engaged in agriculture. Of the total agricultural workers of 26.3 crore in the country, over 45% are cultivators and the remaining around 55% are agricultural labourers (GoI 2011). Despite being a noteworthy size of workers and population of agricultural labourers, their socio-economic conditions have deteriorated over time and have reached a level that raises alarm. Victims of dire economic hardships, a large proportion of them are subject to misery; subsequently, many are ending up taking their own lives. During the last two decades, more than 3.50 lakh farmers died by suicide in India. This issue has often been discussed and debated on various platforms, but unfortunately, agricultural labourers plight has been ignored for long. For instance, the data of suicides of this stratum of the country was not published and available till 2013. In India 6,750 agricultural labourers died by suicide in 2014, which declined to 4,595 in 2015 and increased to 5,019 in 2016. However, this number further declined to 4,324 in 2019 (NCRB 2020: 237). The phenomenon of rural suicides is more prevalent in the green revolution belt of the country. All the so-called agriculturally developed states, namely Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Punjab, are the worst-hit areas. The extent of socio-economic sufferings of agricultural labourers in these states has reached a critical phase. So much so, the green revolution has been arguably considered to be responsible for adversities among the rural working class.

In Punjab, out of total workforce of 99 lakh, over one-third is engaged in agriculture either as cultivators or agricultural labourers, which is much lower than that for India as a whole (54.6%). Among the total agricultural workforce of 35 lakh in the state, 15 lakh (43%) are agricultural labourers. Around two-thirds of these agricultural labourers belong to the Scheduled Caste (SC) category (GoI 2011), which is considered as the lowest in the caste hierarchy in the state. The mechanisation of agriculture, though enhanced crop productivity, reduced the work opportunities in the farm sector, consequently generated surplus labour. As a result, the problems of unemployment, underemployment and low labour productivity has grown in the agricultural sector.

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Published On : 20th Jan, 2024

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