Unnoticed by most, on 8 May 2015, the Chief Minister of Delhi Arvind Kejriwal announced a compensation scheme for farmers under the name ‘Gajendra Singh Kisan Sahayata Yojana’. The scheme offers financial relief to distressed farmers of Delhi whose crops have been damaged due to unseasonal rains over Delhi region. For farmers whose crop damage is over 70%, the compensation offered by the Delhi Government is Rs 20,000 per acre and Rs 14,000 per acre for those whose crop damage is less than 70%.
The cheques were handed out to distressed farmers in Bawana, an outer area of Delhi and in the presence of family members of late Gajendra Singh.
At the function, CM Kejriwal spoke of the sacrifice of Gajendra Singh in highlighting the plight of distressed farmers across the country who had repeatedly suffered crop loss on account of poor monsoon or excess rains and extreme weather conditions.
Taking a pot shot at some state governments, where the compensation cheques offered were as low as Rs 100, he spoke of his government’s seriousness in addressing the issue and taking up the cause of distressed farmers at the central level. He added that his party would build a memorial to mark Gajendra Singh’s sacrifice, in addition to providing a job to one member of his family.
So who was Gajendra Singh?
41-year-old Gajendra Singh was a small farmer from Dausa in Rajasthan and lived there with his family. Besides farming, he had tried his hand at several activities but was also seen to involve himself in politics. In 2003, he tried to fight local elections on a Samajwadi Party ticket and people remember seeing him campaigning on his bicycle. In that election, he could garner only 3000 votes and lost his deposit. He, however, remained active in politics and would be seen attending various farmer rallies. He stood out for his colorful turbans and made a name for himself in ‘speed tying’ elaborate turban contests.
On 22 April 2015, he travelled to Delhi to attend a farmer’s rally organised by AAP at Jantar Mantar. Though he stood out with his colorful and elaborate turban and forked beard, no one really noticed him until he climbed a tree along with the trade mark broom of AAP. While most people attending the rally were focused on the happenings on the stage, he managed to draw some attention of those standing nearby. He began to threaten to commit suicide and soon some cameras too began to focus on him. As he began to draw more attention, he became more vocal in his call for suicide to highlight the plight of farmers in distress. However, not much could be heard due to loudspeakers on the stage nearby.
According to some reports, he was dissuaded by some people as well as the Delhi Police to come down but he remained adamant. He had tied a noose around his neck using his turban and soon hanged himself.
In the aftermath of his suicide, there was a public spat between AAP and Delhi Police, with both sides blaming each other for the incident.
Subsequently, AAP tried to make amends by launching the Kisan Sahayata Yojana named after Gajendra Singh.
So why are farmers being driven to suicide?
Farmers in financial distress committing suicide is being reported with increasing frequency across India. So what is making them take such an extreme step of leaving behind their loved ones in even more financial insecurity and distress?
There are several factors involved in a farmer being driven to commit suicide. The biggest is the lack of any kind of social security cover for a farmer which can offer him a minimum level of continuity of meeting his daily expenses in times of crop failure. In India, there are large parts of land that depend upon monsoon for irrigation and therefore, if there is either insufficient rain or excess rain, the result is a crop failure. A farmer who puts in his entire savings and completely depends upon agricultural income is most vulnerable to the vagaries of nature.
To add to the problem of lack of social security cover is the absence of crop insurance. This has been a long standing demand to protect farmers from crop failure so that the farmer is assured of adequate amount of compensation in lieu of his failed crop. If the government were to launch a robust social security cover along with crop insurance, the farmer would de-risk his investment and this would go a long way in providing a life of dignity rather than a life in penury, as is the case with many marginal farmers today.
Not all suicides by farmers are due to crop failures. It must be pointed out that in some cases there have been instances where farmers have taken loans and misused the money in other activities like extravagant weddings etc. This has been seen amongst a section of farmers where loans have been squandered away in marriage ceremonies or other lifestyle related areas. The banks are then left with the onerous task of making a recovery of their loans.
Lastly, the government must step up investment in developing water catchment areas so that rain water can be sufficiently collected to be used in periods post-monsoon. Over dependence on tube-wells have had a negative effect on the water table and subsequent quality of water.
All the measures mentioned above can together go a long way in ensuring that the country does not have any more Gajendra Singhs, being forced to lose their lives at a time when their respective families need their presence even more. Suicide by a farmer is one tragedy that must be avoided and we as a nation, collectively have a responsibility in ensuring that farmers are never forced into a situation where suicide is seen as the last resort.
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