Rural Suicides – A Quantum Jump

Suicides

Rural suicide reports, which where earlier taboo are now beginning to appear in the press. District Ganganagar reported 175 rural suicide deaths in one year. District Amritsar reported 300 deaths during the past two and a half years. Latest study by Association of Democratic Rights pointed out 79 suicides in 29 villages out of which 42 suicides were for the period 1997 – 2000. According to AFDR suicides by Punjab farmers have increased by 250%. These are sample cases the actual number would be much higher. Haryana has reported a staggering growth in suicide cases mostly along the Punjab border. Punjabi Tribune of October 24, 2000 reported 10 suicides within a month in the Lehra Block; the Hindustan Times of November 10, 2000, talks of seven suicides within a week in district Sangrur alone.

From June to August, 2000, 40 suicides were reported from 24 villages of Lehra and Andana blocks (list of 36 cases is attached, 4 names are with held on request of family members). Considering that more than half the villages in these blocks have not been covered and also that some families like to conceal suicides, total such deaths for these two blocks would be around 50 for this period.

This works out to 25 suicides per block per quarter. Suicides are reportedly more in Lehra, Andana and Barnala blocks, farmers suicides also occur more immediately after harvesting. After making appropriate discount for these two factors it may be assumed that annual suicides in these three blocks would be about 80 each per year i.e. 240. Districts Sangrur, Mansa and Bhatinda are also badly affected districts. 14 blocks of these districts would have 40 suicides each, totaling 560. For the remaining 112 blocks of the state the rate of suicides would be 20 – a total of 2,240. The annual rural suicides in Punjab would be more than 3000 in the rural sector.

It is strange that this level of rural suicides should remain uninvestigated by the state government and unreported by its intelligence agencies. We would be happy if media takes the initiative to investigate the 36 suicides listed by the under signed and would be more happy if we are proved wrong. The fact is that suicides are simply not reported in Punjab out of fear of police harassment and in certain cases due to fear of social stigma which sticks to the progeny of the deceased. Out of a desire to escape accountability, the government also does not like to inquire.

The government’s response to these suicides has been disappointing. In 1998 government denied there were any suicides. In 1999 it admitted suicides but refused to accept that they were largely due to debt and impoverisation. In 2000 it admitted both these factors but failed to provide any direct support to the aggrieved families. The attempt of the government seems to be to bury its head in the sand and kill the problem through non-recognition.

The government had made postmortem reports essential for accepting agro-related accidental deaths including electrocution and suicides. Sensibly the government has now withdrawn this due to non-availability of postmortem facility at the block level. Instead government has made police report a must for accepting such claims. Till 1998 police records had shown zero rural suicides in Punjab. Later investigation of rural suicides ordered by the Chief Minister through police agencies brought out police obstinacy in concealing such deaths. It is unlikely that the police would faithfully record such claims in the future. Villager’s perception of the Punjab Police as a cruel and extorting agency persists. It is suggested that findings by Panchayats in this regard should be accepted as an sufficient proof.

A census on suicide should be conducted to determine the magnitude of this problem and it should not be difficult to do so provided the government so desires, within a period of two months. The census should be conducted through the revenue department. Medical department should also be involved in this exercise. Teams should be set up at the district level comprising a revenue officer, a doctor, members of the Kisan Unions and members of the Mazdur Union also the members of the main political parties. This team should visit all the villages, summon the Panchayat, check the list of deaths in the village during the past 5 years and let the Panchayat confirm how many of the people died by committing suicide.

The Southern States gave Rs. 1 lakh per family for repayment of loan and rehabilitation, pensions to the deserving in the family and a job along with other benefits. Punjab has given absolutely nothing on the plea that any financial help would encourage more suicides. The State Electricity Board and the Agriculture Marketing Board are already giving financial support.

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