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January 22, 2017

अथ श्री सोशल मीडिया कथा

[ नवभारत में 22 जनवरी 2017 को प्रकाशित।] 

सोशल मीडिया क्या है यह समझने के लिए अभी हाल में बीएसएफ के जवान तेज बहादुर यादव का सीमा पर तैनात जवानों के लिए इंतज़ामात में बदहाली का वीडियो जारी कर देने पर उठे भूचाल से बेहतर कोई सूत्र नहीं है. दुनिया की किसी भी उग्र राष्ट्रवादी विचारधारा के लिए सेना से ज्यादा पवित्र कुछ भी नहीं होता, अपने देश की वर्तमान सरकार के लिए भी नहीं है. यही वजह है कि तमाम सरकार समर्थक बात बेबात किसी भी बहस में सेना को खींच लाते थे- वहाँ सीमा पर सैनिक शहीद हो रहे हैं और तुम... और लीजिये जनाब. बहस पलट गयी.
ऐसे में किसी जवान का ऐसा कुछ कर देना जो राष्ट्र भक्ति को सेना भक्ति में बदल देने की कोशिश वालों को उनके प्रति कम से कम लापरवाह साबित कर दे तो? तो वही हुआ जो होना था- एक के बाद तमाम जवान सामने आते गए, सरकार किसी भी तरह हालात सँभालने की कोशिश में लगी और सैनिकों के नाम पर राष्ट्रवादी बनते फिरते लोग एकाएक या चुप हो गए या फिर उन जवानों पर ही पिल पड़े. हाँ  दोनों हालातों में ही उनका मूल तर्क़ कि सेना महान है, अप्रश्नेय है भहरा कर गिर पड़ा.
पर ऐसा हुआ कैसे? अगर सोशल मीडिया न होता तो क्या किसी फौजी छावनी से ऐसी किसी खबर का छन कर बाहर निकल आना संभव था? सीधा जवाब है नहीं। इसलिए क्योंकि सोशल मीडिया ने सूचना के प्रवाह को अराजक सही, आजाद किया है. उस सूचना के प्रवाह को जिस पर नियंत्रण दुनिया के अब तक के इतिहास में सत्ता कायम रखने का सबसे बड़ा हथियार रहा है. जी, कोई भी तानाशाह, कोई भी सत्ता किसी और चीज से उतना नहीं डरती जितना वह सूचना के मुक्त हो जाने से डरती है- लोगों तक तमाम जानकारियों के निर्बाध पहुँचने की संभावना से डरती है. यही वजह है कि हिटलर हो या अमेरिका समर्थित निकारागुआ या अर्जेंटीना जैसे 'केला लोकतंत्रों' के मुखिया- सबकी कोशिश यही रही है कि सूचना संजाल पर एकाधिकार बनाये रखा जाय, जनता तक वही सूचना पहुँचने दी जाय जो वह चाहते हैं, जो उनकी सत्ता के लिए ख़तरा नहीं बनेगी।
इसी नियंत्रण की इच्छा वह कारण भी थी जिसने शीतयुद्ध में अमेरिकी और सोवियत दोनों खेमों को प्रोपेगंडा युद्ध में लगाया- जनता हमारी तरफ बेहतर है खुशहाल है की छवि गढ़ने की जद्दोजहद में लपेटा। उस वक़्त जनता के पास कोई तरीका नहीं था कि वह अपनी बात कह सके- वह सिर्फ श्रोता या 'ऑडियंस' थी. बेजुबान श्रोता जिसे सरकार जो भी कहे उस पर हाँ करना है. सोशल मीडिया के उदय ने सूचना पर सत्ता के एकाधिकार को ध्वस्त कर उसको जुबान दे दी. पहले आपके पास छापाखाने थे, जनता के पास कुछ नहीं। सोशल मीडिया का पहला रूप बन के ब्लॉग आये तो ये एकतरफा रास्ता दोतरफ़ा हो गया. दिलचस्प बात यह कि इसी वजह से ब्लॉग को अमेरिकी संविधान के प्रथम और क्रांतिकारी संशोधन के नाम पर 'फर्स्ट अमेंडमेंट मशीन' भी कहा जाता है. उसके बाद तो फिर खैर सिलसिला रेडियो को चुनौती दे सकने वाले पॉडकास्ट तक गया- अब यू ट्यूब से लगायत लाइव वीडियो तक अपने निजी चैनल जैसे कुछ तक आ पहुँचा है ये फ़साना फिर कभी. 
ब्लॉग के रूप में शुरू हो जाने के बाद फिर सोशल मीडिया को कहाँ रुकना था. ब्लॉग की अब भी एक सीमा थी- वहाँ जनता विचार रख सकती थी, टिप्पणियों में बहसें भी हो सकती थीं पर मामला अब भी तात्कालिकता से बहुत दूर था. सो अगली कड़ी में सोशल नेटवर्किंग साइट्स आयीं जहाँ दोस्त एक दूसरे से जुड़ सकते थे, उसी समय और काल में बातें कर सकते थे. यह शायद वह जगह थी जिसे सोशल मीडिया को बदल देना था और इसने बदल भी दिया। लोगों के आपस में जुड़ सकने की संभावना कभी भी परिचितों तक नहीं रूकती- वह हमेशा आगे बढ़ती है. छोटे से निजी घेरे से निकल मोहल्ले तक, मोहल्ले से निकल शहर तक, उससे भी आगे बढ़ किसी फ़ुटबाल टीम के समर्थकों तक, किसी राजनैतिक विचारधारा से जुड़ने तक, या यूँ ही किसी एक मुद्दे पर साथ खड़े हो सकने तक.
सोशल मीडिया ने यह तो किया ही, अनजाने में ही सत्ता के खिलाफ एक बड़ा हथियार भी बना लिया- अनाम होने का, अदृश्य होने का हथियार. आप ट्यूनीशिया की सड़कों पर तब के तानाशाह के खिलाफ कुछ बोलते ही चिन्हित कर लिए जाते थे, और फिर परिणाम भुगतने के लिए भी. चुप करा दिए जाने से लेकर मार दिए जाने तक. पर फिर आप सिर्फ एक प्रोफाइल हैं तब कोई फौज क्या करेगी? इस हथियार ने सोशल मीडिया को जैसा बदला वैसा किसी और चीज ने नहीं बदला. ट्यूनीशिया से शुरू हुई आग देखते ही देखते मामला इस्तांबुल, यूक्रेन के कीव, आक्युपाई हांगकांग से लेकर हिन्दुस्तान तक पहुँच आया- काश्मीर में बात बेबात इन्टरनेट प्रतिबंधित कर दिए जाने से लेकर जाट आंदोलन के समय हरियाणा और पटेल आंदोलन के समय गुजरात का उदाहरण सहज याद आता है. 
पर फिर, जनता का कोई भी हथियार सत्ता की नज़रों से बहुत देर तक कहाँ बच पाता है. फिर समाज के भीतर अपने हजार विभाजन हों तो और भी. अनाम होने, अदृश्य होने की सुविधा एक दोधारी तलवार है. यह प्रतिरोध ही नहीं, सत्ता को भी अनाम होने का रास्ता थमाती है, अपने किये की जिम्मेदारी लेने से बच निकलने का रास्ता दिखाती है. सो जहाँ एक तरफ सोशल मीडिया प्रतिरोध के संगठन का आधार बन रहा था वहीँ इस पर दूसरी तरफ ट्रॉल नाम की उस प्रजाति का जन्म भी हो रहा था जो उस पर बिना किसी नैतिक सामाजिक मर्यादाओं के पिल पड़ता है. यूँ तो पूरी दुनिया महिलाओं को बलात्कार और हत्या की धमकी देने वाली ऐसी ट्रॉल सेनाओं से परेशान है, पर अपने देश में जहाँ प्रधानमंत्री मोदी भी ऐसे कुछ ट्रॉल्स के 'अनुयायी' (फॉलोवर) हैं वहाँ तो कहना ही क्या।
खैर, इस खटराग को छोड़ दें तो सोशल मीडिया ने सारी दुनिया में एक और बड़ी जमीन तोड़ी है- तमाम लिख पढ़ रहे लोगों को एक ऐसा मंच दिलाने की जमीन जो अब तक उनकी पहुँच से बाहर था. खुद अपने सोशल मीडिया नेटवर्क पर नजर दौड़ाएं तो ऐसे तमाम लोग शानदार लिखते हुए, विमर्श करते हुए मिलेंगे जिनके पास पहले खुद को अभिव्यक्त करने के लिए निजी दायरे से बाहर कोई जगह नहीं थी. एक मित्र का कुछ अरसे पहले व्यंग में कहा वाक्य याद आया- देख रहे हो- सब आंटियाँ लेखिका हो गयी हैं. अपना जवाब था- हाँ, उनमें से तमाम तुमसे बहुत बेहतर भी. उस की नाराज़गी अपनी जगह, पर सच में सोचिये कि हमारे जैसे पितृसत्तात्मक समाज में अब के पहले एक साथ बोलती, कहती, लिखती पढ़ती स्त्रियों को कहाँ देखा था- हाईस्कूल वाली सपनीली आँखों वाली बच्चियों से लेकर शादी के बाद अपनी कविताओं वाली डायरी किसी बक्से में छुपा आयी अब पचासवाँ छू रही स्त्री तक! मतलब उन स्त्रियों को जिनका आखिरी परिवार के बाहर आखिरी भाषण, आखिरी नृत्य आखिरी नाटक स्कूल कॉलेज के वार्षिकोत्सव में होता था, फिर कपड़ों के साथ यादों में तह कर रख दिया जाता था.
बेशक सोशल मीडिया के अपने खतरे हैं और वही हैं जो समाज के हैं. समाज में चौराहे पर जाती किसी भी लड़की पर यौन हिंसा कर सकने वाले शोहदे होंगे तो फेसबुक के इनबॉक्स निरापद होने की उम्मीद बेमानी है. समाज में किसी असहमति पर माँ-बहन की गालियाँ दे सकने वाले लोग होंगे तो सोशल मीडिया पर उनसे मुक्ति पाना बस दिवास्वप्न भर हो सकता है. समाज में इनसे जूझना है तो सोशल मीडिया पर भी जूझना होगा।
सोशल मीडिया की एक दूसरी दिक्कत अलबत्ता है जो बेहद खतरनाक है- इस पर सब कुछ की स्वतःस्फूर्तता। लिखने की, पढ़ने की, समझने की, सोच का विकास करने की, आगे बढ़ने की. हमारी पीढ़ी तक में बोलना और लिखना एक सचेत काम होता था, वरिष्ठों द्वारा लगातार परखा जाता हुआ. कहीं कुछ गलती हुई नहीं कि डाँट पड़ी. बेशक तब कई बार बुरा भी लगता रहा होगा पर फिर उन फटकारों ने चिंतन से लेकर लेखन तक जो माँजा वो आज तक दिखता है. अफ़सोस, सोशल मीडिया पर 'डिसलाइक' का बटन तो खैर नहीं ही दिखा, असहमति के स्वीकार का साहस भी बहुत कम मिला। वजह शायद वही- लिखे पर बरसते 'लाइक्स' 'सेलिब्रिटी' बनने का अहसास देते हैं, और फिर वह अहसास आपको वहीँ रोक देता है. स्वतःस्फूर्तता बरतने की चीज है- रियाज़ करना पड़ता है. सोशल मीडिया ने एक पूरी पीढ़ी से वह रियाज़ छीन सा लिया है! 
बाकी लौटें तो सोशल मीडिया हमारे समय का सब कुछ है.  काहिरा के तहरीर चौक पर हथियार बंद फौजों के सामने भिंची मुट्ठियों के साथ खड़े तानाशाही से लड़ रहे आजादी के जियालों से लेकर सुबह जागते ही उनींदी आँखों से फोन टटोल फेसबुक खोलने को आतुर हाथ- यह दो छवियाँ सोशल मीडिया को जैसे परिभाषित कर सकती हैं दरअसल कुछ भी और नहीं कर सकता। जी, न हमारे समयों को अतियों का युग कहते एरिक हॉब्सबॉम ने सोचा होगा कि यह अतियाँ सोशल मीडिया में मूर्त होंगी न ही धर्म को जनता का अफीम बताते मार्क्स को जरा भी अंदेशा रहा होगा कि बस एक सदी में धर्म नाम की अफीम सोशल मीडिया नाम की चिलम में पी जायेगी!

January 19, 2017

Another Adivasi Student Suicide Marks Rohith Vemula’s Death Anniversary

[This is an AHRC Article.
Also Published in CounterCurrents.]

Rohith Vemula’s suicide a year ago shook the country. The circumstances of his death left no doubt that it was an institutional murder committed through continuous harassment, and not a simple suicide. It exposed how the culture of caste discrimination was alive and kicking in Indian campuses despite being outlawed by the Constitution. Though it was no secret even before Rohith killed himself, the violent end to his dreams opened up the pent up rage against caste-based discriminations quite in the same way as the notorious gang rape and murder of a girl in Delhi in 2012 unleashed an outpouring of anger against the culture of rape.
The past year without Rohith was marked with protests demanding a law criminalizing caste-based discrimination in campuses, i.e. a Rohith Act, for prosecution of those responsible for his death and so on. His first death anniversary was not going to be any different. Quite on the contrary, it was going to be a solemn moment of stopping for a moment, looking at what the protests had achieved, and charting a way forward. And, so it did, with countless protests across the country and virulent crackdowns by those responsible for pushing Rohith to the wall.
They left no stone unturned to suppress the voices seeking justice for him and denied permission for protests in the University of Hyderabad where continuous harassment by the authorities had forced Rohith to end his life. They did not think twice before apprehending his mother, brother, a leading journalist, and all others they could get their hands on when people defied the ban and protested. Hundreds of similar protests were broken down with brute force in many other towns, including Delhi, where around 300 peaceful protesters were arrested.
Alas, terrible news that emerged on the very day was lost in the chaos. Exactly a year after Rohith had killed himself, another student from a marginalized community had to end his life in another premier institution of the country. Not many seemed to even notice the death of Lokesh Meena, a third year student of IIT-Kharagpur.
The biting coincidence exposes the fact that nothing much has changed on the ground despite all the cacophony, chaos, claims, and counterclaims that ensued in the aftermath of Rohith’s suicide. Nothing much, despite the vehement protests seeking justice on one hand, and the entrenched system rewarding those behind pushing him to the extremes.
Take, for example, the fact that Prime Minister Narendra Modi, at the Indian Science Congress, 2017, presented the “Millennium Plaques Honour” to University of Hyderabad Vice-Chancellor Appa Rao Podile. He got the award despite, lo and behold, having admitted to plagiarism and having been booked for abetting Rohith’s suicide as well as under the provisions of the Scheduled Castes and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989.
Exact circumstances that led Lokesh Meena to take the extreme step are still unknown. A stinging reality stands out nonetheless: the reality that he came from a marginalized community just like Rohith. Lokesh was from an Adivasi (tribal) community, one of the few severely disadvantaged and marginalized communities of India.
That leads to the second stinging reality: students from marginalsied communities like Dalits and Adivasis account for the bulk of suicides committed in premier educational institutions of the country.
Why they are pushed to take their promising lives is also a giveaway. Thousands of articles, reports, and studies document the systemic and systematic harassment they face in these institutions. They elaborate upon the structures of violence – from emotional to physical –unleashed upon these students who have nothing to bank upon to. With the executive authorities having power to reward or punish every subordinate, in-house institutions earmarked to deal with discrimination often end up as their fiefdom and more often penalize the victims rather than support them.
In sum, the whole thing plays out in cycles. The students from marginalized communities get discriminated against. Then they have to make a choice between two equally distressing options. First is to suffer in silence, get depressed, and wish to make it out alive. Second is to stand up, approach Equal Opportunity Office, or whatever the local equivalent institutions are called, register a complaint, and continue to be even more victimized. This vicious cycle breaks many of the victims from within and, at times, forces them to commit suicide.
Further, tucked away in a single column snippet in the bottom left corner of newspapers or just below the main screens of the websites carrying them, if at all, these students are lost without even anyone registering this loss. The reason behind this is simple, as explained above; most of these struggles end up as being solitary ones waged inside the walled ghettoes that premier educational institutions have become in India. The victims have often to fight it out all alone without any support, without having anyone to even keep records if they fall.
They fail to make it to news in most cases, and some not even after they kill themselves. Take for instance, the struggle of eight Dalit students suspended by the Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar University in September 2016 on the allegations of assaulting a teacher and vandalising his vehicle despite clear CCTV evidence rubbishing the same. Their suspensions arrived after they protested against attempts to dilute reservations for Dalit students in the University. Their struggle and suspension has not excited even those in civil society known for outraging.
Not all discrimination and suicide catch attention. Rohith Vemula’s suicide was not the first one by a Dalit scholar in the University of Hyderabad. He was ninth one to kill himself in a 10 year period and yet the authorities ‘failed’ to see the distressing trend at best and criminally ignored it at worst. Hyderabad University is not the sole offender or an aberration; similar reports have been received from across the country.
A documentary named ‘Death of Merit’ counted 18 suicides by Dalit students in premier educational institutions including AIIMS and IITs in a mere four years, from 2007 to 2011. The number rose to a staggering 22 by 2016; Rohith was the 23rd.
His case stirred the nation because there were people to take the case up, to fight for justice for him, and to hold those responsible accountable. But, what did even this struggle achieve? Nothing much would be the answer, if one goes by Lokesh’s suicide. Asking why and seeking answers would be natural corollary.
A simple answer to the question would be that no amount of outrage could be certain of getting justice in a system with flawed institutions to begin with. Even a cursory look at the valiant struggle of Irom Chanu Sharmila can bring this fact to the open. The Armed Forces Special Powers Act stays intact despite a 16-year long hunger strike by Sharmila and all the outrage it caused. To put it simply, outrage is no substitute for a functioning justice system that anyone and everyone, including those living on the bottom rungs of society, can approach and seek redress from.
Unfortunately that is where our struggles have failed. How many have asked and pursued the status of investigations against Vice Chancellor Appa Rao Podile and others booked for abetment of Rohith’s suicide. Where has the case reached? How many years would it take to conclude, provided it does? Would it not have created an example and deterrence had he indeed been found guilty and sentenced against future harassment of students from underprivileged communities?
Let us add to this a question over efficacy of any new law getting enacted in this fundamentally flawed system with entrenched vested interests. What if we indeed get a Rohith Act but those responsible for its implementation remain the same?
This is definitely not to say that there is anything wrong with outrage. In fact outraging can at times even help achieve justice; it did in the Jessica Lal case. However, it can only do that in an odd case or two. And India has over 3 crore cases pending. Outraging has a limit; it tires the ones outraging and sets in a fatigue unless it is the system that they are able to change.
There is an even more important question: why should a rule of law based justice system need outrage to deliver justice? Why cannot it operate as it does in a civilised world – so anyone who goes to the court is listened to? Of course, this is not to say that justice there is flawless, but then it is not a rarity like in our system, either.
Justice for Rohith would remain a distant dream until we add the struggle for justice institution reforms to all our struggles. Those who pushed him to death will keep getting rewarded despite the ongoing cases involving allegation as serious as abetment to suicide. We will keep losing Lokesh Meenas without even noticing, forget about outraging.

January 14, 2017

India: Where police rape women and NHRC seeks mere compensation

[This is an AHRC Statement.]

It is almost a week since the National Human Rights Commission of India (NHRC) admitted to having found prima facie evidence of the security personnel of state government of Chhattisgarh having raped and sexually and physically assaulted at least 16 women, mostly women belonging to the indigenous communities. It is also been a week since the NHRC put the state government on notice, though in doing so, merely asking why the women should not be monetarily compensated, with a sum of Rupees 3 lakh for each of the eight victims of rape, Rupees 2 lakh for each of the six victims of sexual assault, and Rupees 50,000 for the two victims physically assaulted.

NHRC only cited compensation, and sidestepped the directive to invoke SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act in all the cases when the victims belong to Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes. It has not sought even suspension of the cops accused and named in the first information reports, never mind taking the investigations into the cases away from the Chhattisgarh Police, the force whose personnel are accused of these rapes and assaults. The Chhattisgarh Police has itself of course not sought to hand over the cases to an independent body to ensure an impartial investigation.

The NHRC omission comes out of no unintended dereliction of duty. NHRC for once has stood as true to its mandate as it can, taking suo moto notice of a media report detailing the assaults and acting on them, to at least do this much. Had it not been for this timely intervention by the Commission, the crimes committed by those obligated to protect the victims might have been forgotten, like so many others committed in the state marred by an ongoing armed struggle between Maoist insurgents and the State.

What the case indeed betrays is a total collapse of the rule of law in most Indian states. Particularly in the hinterlands, public justice institutions have been rendered completely incapable of providing redress for victims, whatever the nature of the crime committed by either private citizens or State personnel. The reality is laid bare in this case of rape and assault. In a functioning rule of law system, a victim of rape and/or assault would rush to the police to seek justice. What if the cops themselves committed the rapes, though? And, what if the justice system is corrupt and dysfunctional? Whom would the victims go to seek justice?

There is a high possibility the women will not get any justice even if some other institution enters the fray. The same force whose personnel are accused of committing the crimes will still investigate these cases. Further, prosecutors, being from the same state administration that NHRC held as “vicariously liable” for gross violations of human rights, would sniff out any hope of justice remaining. Any intervention by an outside agency, even if it were independent, would become meaningless. So the only possibility in the current scenario is some financial compensation, i.e. if even this snails its way to the point of reimbursement.

It is in this context that the NHRC intervention – stopping at seeking compensation and invoking provisions of SC/ST (PoA) Act – turns into a welcome, but cruel, joke. It will remain so unless the NHRC puts its act together and orders transfer of investigation to an independent body in a time-bound manner, monitored by either itself or any other competent and independent body.

If it does not, the intervention will be just another, in a state notorious for security forces themselves committing crimes against women, raping and assaulting them, with impunity. One does not get much hope from the developments in the Meena Khalkho rape and murder case. Nothing much has happened in that case despite the Anita Jha judicial inquiry commission having indicted Chhattisgarh Police officers and ordering them to file an F.I.R against 25 cops in 2015.

January 05, 2017

Farmlands ‘Developed’ A Bit More Into Farmer Graveyards In 2015

[This is an AHRC Article.
Also published in Counter Currents.]
How does one deal with a 42% spike in suicides by farmers/cultivators in a country where “development”
has been the buzzword for the last couple of years? If the question isn’t creepy enough to send a shiver down one’s spine, consider that “Bankruptcy or Indebtedness” and “Farming Related Issues”, i.e. non-personal reasons, account for 58.2% of these suicides. No pretensions would be enough to hide the fact that the agricultural crisis has in fact deepened in the middle of all the brouhaha over India’s superpower dreams.
The giveaways from the recently released data on suicides in the farming sector by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), the national record keeper, are alarming. And they are so despite the clear discrepancies hinting at the possibilities of either deliberate fudging to mask the extent of crisis or unconscious mistakes. Take the fact that the NCRB puts the numbers of farm suicides in Odisha in 2015 at 23, while the Odisha state Agricultural Minister had put the same number at 139 while replying to a question in the state Assembly.
Similar discrepancies in data from other states would not be surprising, and would mean the NCRB data reflects numbers lower than reality. The NCRB has some explaining to do here.
Also disconcerting is the difference between the major causes reported for suicides of farmers/cultivators and agricultural labourers.
As noted above, agricultural reasons, bankruptcy, debt, farming related issues, and poverty accounted for 59.3% of total suicides by farmers/cultivators. The situation changes inexplicably for the labourers. NCRB attributes 40.1% of total suicides for labourers to family problems and another 19% to illness. In other words, together, these two reasons alone caused 59.1% of suicides among agricultural labourers.
In a contrast to farmers/cultivators, bankruptcy/indebtedness was found to cause a mere 2.2% suicides amongst agricultural labourers, and poverty 3.9%. Lo and behold, farming related issues apparently caused no suicide according to the data.
Why is illness killing almost double the labourers than farmers? Could it have something to do with them not having any money to get treatment, because of farming crisis? Just asking.
Look at the family problems killing around 3-and-a-half times more agricultural labourers than their employers and the cause behind these family problems becomes an obvious question, albeit not for NCRB. Why are their families so troubled? Has it got something to do, again, with them not being able to fend for the family because of the (ahem) agricultural crisis?
Evidently, the figures are trying to hide more than they tell and yet end up betraying the real extent of the crisis. The crisis that killed “(a) total of 12,602 persons involved in farming sector (consisting of 8,007 farmers/cultivators and 4,595 agricultural labourers) have committed suicides during 2015, accounting for 9.4% of total suicides victims (1,33,623) in the country.”
A few of the findings state the obvious. The land holding status of the victims is one among them; the figures show that 45.2% of total farmers/cultivators who committed suicide were “Small Farmers/Cultivators” (3,618) and another 27.4% “Marginal Farmers/Cultivators” (2,195). Together they accounted for 72.6% of total farmers/cultivators’ suicides (5,813 out of 8,007). The figures are comprehensible as the small and marginal farmers are the ones who often have nothing other than their meagre land holdings to depend upon. State failure to support them in such circumstances, even a single crop failure, can push them into taking the extreme step.
To make more sense of the numbers, bankruptcy or indebtedness killed 38.7% (3,097 out of 8,007) farmers/cultivators; the corresponding figure for the same head in overall suicides in India is a mere 3.3%. Obviously disproportionately more farmers are indebted and bankrupt than those in other professions. Farming related issues killed another 19.5% (1,562 out of 8,007 suicides) in total with no corresponding figure in overall data.
Another notable takeaway from the figures is that a whopping 2,474 farmers out of the total 3,097, or 80% of the total who killed themselves because of indebtedness had taken loans from “Financial Institutions like Bank/Registered Micro Financial Institutions”, and a mere 302 from “Money Lenders” in 2015. The figure hints at unacceptable callousness of the formal banking system towards farmers despite the system being well aware of the aggravating farm crisis for decades.
It also debunks the myth of local money sharks being the main culprits behind pushing the farmers to death, while letting off the real ones, the banks and other formal finance institutions. In other words, the farmers are in fact falling prey to State hounding, not private individuals!
The figures are yet another wake up call for the State to stand up and get its act together before it is too late. It can begin with reining in finance institutions from harassing the farmers affected by crop failures and other such eventualities beyond their control.