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Suicides

During the 2003-2007 drought in Bundelkhand, there were frequent reports of farmers committing suicide in Bundelkhand. But no systematic study was done either by the government or by non-government organisations to establish numbers, causes and trends. What we have are only press reports of specific cases and some highly questionable figures (see Note at end of text). Some of the suicide cases from Banda district, reported in newspapers and magazines, were as follows:

- In Paduee village, 18 km from Banda town, six persons committed suicide between the year 2000 and 2006, in the same manner - by hanging to death from a tree. The village had a population of around 4000 persons; the majority belonged to SC groups. The total agricultural land here was around 1000 acres, and most families had marginal or no holdings. Only around a dozen farmers had over 10 acres. According to the village pradhan, most families were heavily indebted, and this was the main reason for the suicides.

Babli Yadav, aged 18, hung himself to death from a tree in the year 2000, leaving behind five brothers and an ailing father. Babli had taken a loan of around Rs 20,000 for treating his father's sickness. He had also taken another loan of Rs 25,000 from a local bank. Babli reportedly took his own life because he was unable to even buy clothes for himself.

In 2001, Bindu Yadav, also aged 18, hung himself to death from a tree. His family owned around five acres of land, and he had taken loans from a few people in the village.

In 2004, Ramashankar, the 16-year-old son of Rajkishore Saini, hung himself to death from a tree along a canal. He was reportedly addicted to gambling. His father had taken a bank loan of Rs 20,000.

In early 2006, 21-year-old Babu Raidas from a landless family hung himself to death from a tree. He had reportedly taken a loan to treat some unspecified illness he was suffering from.

Some months before this incident 25-year-old Kamla, wife of Avdesh Sahu, committed suicide, leaving behind four children. Economic distress and problems at home reportedly led her to take this step.

On July 6, 2008, 46-year-old Kishorilal Sahu, father of four unmarried daughters, committed suicide. He had less than one acre of unirrigated land and had taken a loan of around Rs 10,000 from a bank, and borrowed around Rs 50,000 from local moneylenders. He had also reportedly borrowed money often from his in-laws. (Amar Ujala, Kanpur edition, July 7, 2008).  

- On October 6, 2003, Ameena Begum, a panchayat member of Badhokar Bujurg village, killed her son Hasan Ali with an axe, then burnt alive her daughter Ameera Bano, before pouring kerosene on herself and setting herself on fire. According to her husband, she was driven to desperation because she had been unable to find any work in the village, and did not even have money to buy rations. (Outlook Saptahik, January 26, 2004).

- On January 8, 2004, 16-year-old Mula, son of Devi Shankar in Gadariya village hung himself to death from a tree. His family owned hardly any cultivable land, and Mula reportedly took the extreme step because he was fed up with the family's poverty. (Outlook Saptahik, January 26, 2004)

- On January 9, 2004, Mangal Singh, a person with disability from Duredi village, jumped on to a rail track before a moving train and killed himself, leaving behind three daughters and a wife, reportedly because he was unable to find enough work to feed them. (Outlook Saptahik, January 26, 2004)

- On June 11, 2006, two persons from the district committed suicide (Dainik Jagran, Allahabad edition). The first, Ramkailash Yadav alias Munim, a 57-year-old resident of Doha village, was reportedly suffering from a burden of debt and was unable to face creditors. At around 8 pm, he went out of his house with a can of kerosene, poured it over himself, and set himself ablaze. The other person was 27-year-old Yogita, wife of Rakesh Mishra, in Asva village. She also set herself on fire, in her own house, reportedly because she was finding it difficult to run the house on the family income. Her husband ran a small grocery shop and was in debt.

Extreme poverty and/or high debt are the most common features in all such reports, but not all the victims have been marginal farmers or landless people. In several cases, the cause of debt was a loan taken for a tractor, a status symbol. Here are some cases presented at a public hearing organised by ABSSS at Chitrakoot on December 17, 2007 (read a report of the public hearing in the ABSSS website):

- Thirty-five-year-old Shivpujan Pal, resident of Khairada village in Banda district, owned around 15 acres of land. He had taken loans amounting to Rs 1 lakh from moneylenders, at an interest rate of 3 to 4% per month. He also had to repay a bank loan of Rs 2 lakhs he had taken earlier for purchase of a tractor. Every year he had to incur an expense of around Rs 50,000 on his fields, as cost of production. After drought struck the region in 2004, there were no net returns.

In these circumstances, he fell for a tractor exchange offer made by a local agency. In exchange of  his old tractor, he got a new tractor, for an additional loan of Rs 2 lakhs, which he took without consulting his father, who was livid when he came to know what Shivpujan had done.

Shivpujan then decided to cancel the deal. The agency was ready to take away the new tractor and give back the old tractor, but it would not cancel the loan of Rs 2 lakhs. While his loan on account of a tractor rose to Rs 4 lakhs, moneylenders he had borrowed from accosted him frequently, and even beat him up on a few occasions. Unable to face this situation, Shivpujan hung himself from a tree in his field on November 21, 2007.

- Thirty-year-old Gopal Singh of Alipura village in Mahoba district had taken a loan of Rs 3.50 lakhs from a bank by mortgaging his land, for purchase of a tractor, apparently with the hope of earning some money by lending the tractor. However, this business idea didn't work and he could pay only a few instalments. The bank officials told him they would be forced to take away the tractor and also auction his land. Unable to face this torture, he decided to kill himself, and told his wife about his plans. In April 2006, they walked to a nearby railway station and jumped before an oncoming train. Gopal Singh's wife died instantaneously. He survived, but without an arm.

- Chandu alias Tulsidas, 55, of Kasba Sarila, Hamirpur district, had around 12 acres of land, which supported a family of 17 members, including three married sons and their wives and children. However, illness, and the drought, led to diminishing earnings from the land, forcing Chandu to taken loans from moneylenders. Some tractor dealer agents approached him and sold him the idea of taking a bank loan for a tractor, to increase income. As an incentive, the agents offered some cash upfront, whereby Chandu could pay some instalments of old debts. Chandu fell for the offer, but in the drought situation, the tractor brought in no income, and Chandu's total debt burden stood at Rs 8 lakhs.

As he was unable to repay any of this money, some moneylenders took possession of part of his land. Chandu approached his relatives for help, but nobody could help him. On May 8, 2007, after meeting some relatives in a nearby village, he killed himself by jumping into a well. 

None of such cases can be strictly termed as hunger or poverty-related deaths. Rather, they indicate gullibility. They also indicate high degree of desperation in a land where there appears little opportunity for quickly increasing one's income through legal means.

Note:

Some NGOs have claimed that many thousand suicides took place in Bundelkhand in 2003-2007. Quoting one NGO, Dainik Jagran (Kanpur edition, July 8, 2006) reported that around 1200 suicides took place in Banda district, from the start of 2004 till June 2006. The figure is highly abnormal.

National Crime Bureau Records show that in 2007, in India as a whole, the suicide rate was around 11 per 100,000 population. Among states, the rate was highest in Kerala, at around 26 per 100,000 population. UP, along with Jammu and Kashmir, Manipur, Nagaland  and Bihar ranked among the states with lowest suicide rates - in UP  it was only 2.1 per 100,000 (in MP it was 9.2/100,000). Going by the UP ratio and Banda district's Census 2001 population figure of 15.37 lakhs, one can expect around 30 to 40 suicides a year in the district. The figure quoted by Dainik Jagran implied that in 2004, the number of suicides in Banda was over ten times the 'norm'.

On the other hand, press reports of farmer suicides and poverty-related deaths collated by ABSSS from 2005-06 onwards indicated that around 40-50 such cases took place every year, across all UP Bundelkhand districts—which suggested that total number of suicides in UP Bundelkhand during the 2003-07 drought would have been around 200.

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