Towards the end of June, 45-year-old Sohan Lal Kadela was found dead in the town of Raisinghnagar in Rajasthan. Lal was a farmer, who took out a crop loan of Rs 2.5 lakh. Unable to repay, and facing pressure to do so, he committed suicide by ingesting pesticides.
“People have been troubling me and demanding money. My death should not go waste and other farmers should benefit due to my death,” Lal said in a video recorded before his death. In his suicide note, he placed the blame for his death squarely on the shoulders of the leadership of the state government – namely, Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot and Deputy Chief Minister Sachin Pilot.
“The promise by the Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot and Deputy Chief Minister Sachin Pilot that they will waive our loans was broken,” Lal’s friend and fellow farmer Shyopat Ram Megwal said during protests sparked by the farmer’s death. “They have completely turned their backs on us which led to suicide…At the time of the elections, political parties promise a lot but never fulfil them on the ground and this is demolishing the hopes of the farmers.”
Megwal’s statement was apt; deaths like Lal’s are depressingly common throughout India and many feel betrayed by successive promises to help them that go unfulfilled. This desperation has, in numerous instances, led to farmers taking their own lives. In three decades, the death toll among farmers due to suicide stands at 59,300. Between 2014 and 2016 alone, 36,332 farmers and farm labourers committed suicide.
In a bid to offer relief, the Rajasthan state budget announced a Rs 1,000 crore welfare fund for beleaguered farmers, as well as a scheme worth Rs 5,200 crore to provide them with electricity. In addition, the budget contains provisions for Rs 16,000 crore worth of crop loans involving cooperative banks.
This budget no doubt contains a number of gestures towards the state’s agriculture workforce, but it is unclear if it will quell their anger. The Congress government in Rajasthan is being accused of failing the farmers despite their leader Rahul Gandhi vociferously demanding justice for farmers of his constituency, Wayanad, in Parliament
“In Kerala, 18 farmers have committed suicide since banks began the procedure for recovering loans one and a half years ago. The government of Kerala has announced a moratorium on repayment of farm loans for all Kerala farmers till 31 December 2019. However, the government of India is refusing to direct the Reserve Bank of India to consider this moratorium and get it implemented,” he said in the House. To which Union Minister, Rajnath Singh responded, “The condition of the farmers today is because of those who have ruled for years.”
Discontent among farmers was apparent in the run-up to this year’s Lok Sabha polls. Agrarian rallies and protests were held. Some farmers went so far as to contest elections themselves. This did not stop a landslide for the governing BJP; one farmer leader even lost his seat in Maharashtra. This does not mean, however, that the issues beleaguering farmers nationwide have disappeared. Now, with the announcement of Rajasthan’s state budget, there may be hope in the state for farmers like Sohan Lal Kadela – but it remains to be seen if these will amount to more broken promises.
Contact details for mental health support in India can be accessed here.
If you are suicidal or experiencing suicidal thoughts, visit your nearest hospital or contact AASRA on 91-22-27546669 or Sneha India on 91 44 24640050 helpline. A list of other suicide helplines can be accessed here.