In the last five years, 135 debt-ridden farmers committed suicide in Gujarat because there was no help forthcoming from the state government. But the government refuses to accept that so many farmers killed themselves because they were unable to pay off debts caused by crop failure and fodder shortage. Instead, the government prefers to dismiss reports of farmer suicides as part of a larger ‘Congress conspiracy’ against it.
On the other hand, experts and activists working among drought-affected farmers of Gujarat say that the figure of 135 deaths in five years is just the tip of the iceberg. They insist that the actual number of farmer suicides in the state is much higher.
In its reply to an application filed under Right to Information (RTI) by activist Bharatsinh Jhala, the state government had revealed that between January 1, 2008 and August 20, 2012, a total of 115 farmers had committed suicide in Gujarat. And most of them had ended their lives because of growing debts caused by crop failure, the RTI reply said.
Further, according to an internal report of the state government, some more farmers killed themselves in Gujarat after August 2012. “Around 40 farmer suicides were reported between September 2012 and December 2012. In Rajkot, some farmers committed suicide even in January 2013,” he added.
Taken together, the government’s reply to Jhala’s RTI query and its own internal report unwittingly make it ‘official’ that more than 135 farmers had killed themselves in the state in the last five years. Most of them had ended their lives because of increasing debts caused by the drought of 2012.The drought had caused crop failure and created fodder shortage putting livestock in peril.
In 2008, 37 agriculturists killed themselves; in 2009 there were 28 farmer suicides; in 2010 and 2011, 18 and 13 farmers respectively ended their lives.
Magan Patel, president of Gujarat unit of Bharatiya Kisan Sangh (BKS), said that the figure of 135 deaths in five years is ridiculously low. “The real picture is different and the number of farmers who had killed themselves in the state is actually much higher,” Patel said. He added that in many cases, the relatives of the deceased farmers had not approached the police or the police had not mentioned the exact reason for the deaths.
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The state government, however, refuses to accept that farmers in Gujarat had been killing themselves because of indebtedness. Gujarat’s agriculture minister Babu Bokharia sees the entire issue as a ‘conspiracy’ of the Congress party to malign the state government.
“Every time someone commits suicide in a village, Congress workers rush to the home of the deceased and persuade his family to sign a paper saying their family member had committed suicide because of crop failure,” Bokharia said. The minister refused to accept that any farmer had killed himself in the state because of crop failure.
However, Congress leader Arjun Modhwadia told DNA that a large number of people who had ended their lives in the villages were connected to farming activities. “The government’s claim that it is all a Congress conspiracy is nonsense,” Modhwadia said.