Famed American writer and satirist H. L. Mencken once noted that “no one hates his job so heartily as a farmer.” When it comes to describing the sentiments felt by farmers toiling the fields of India, nothing could be closer to the truth. A recent report released by the comptroller and auditor general of India has determined that suicide rates among farmers in India’s Vidarbha region have skyrocketed nearly tenfold in recent years—from 146 incidents reported between 2003 and 2004 to a stunning 1,414 documented between April 2006 and March 2007. Furthermore, the problem isn’t just isolated to one area. The government estimates that since 1997 more than 160,000 farmers across the country have taken their lives, some in drastic fashion. Many have eaten pesticides used to fertilize crops, others have been known to drink hair dye, while in March one man simply poured kerosene all over himself upon returning to his house—then lit a match.
The problems that are propelling Indian farmers to kill themselves are numerous. Natural causes like drought, an absence of proper irrigation facilities and increased cultivation costs are partly to blame. But the government’s attempts at setting up relief agencies has also failed to reduce the crisis as those
organizations have been deemed inefficient and erratic. Another major obstacle is the prominence of moneylenders who charge outlandish interest fees to desperate farmers that are virtually impossible to repay. To curb the epidemic, India announced a $15-billion debt-relief package for 40 million farmers in March, but it came with the condition that only proper existing bank loans would be written off. To put it another way, nearly a quarter of those farmers are ineligible, thus increasing their frustration. M
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