Farmers’ Suicides and the question of Legitimacy: Part II

Continuing with the discussion on the narrative of development, in this blog I discuss more reports to finally sum up the various kinds of inequalities created by the news reportage. 

Suicides, considering their growing number, also enter parliamentary debates and thereby become news stories. NDTV reported on the controversial debate in the parliament where two Ministers had cited love affairs as one of the reasons of suicides by farmers (NDTV, 2015). In the report, the representatives of various political parties are cited as alleging the other for having made such a statement. While the news reports focus on ‘controversy’ generated by the debate in the parliament, issue of suicides becomes a game between the powerful officials, a tool to bring down the other party. A deceased farmer not only gets wrongly represented in the parliament, but his suicide too is not recognized as a ‘legitimate’ suicide – a farmer suicide.  

The report in The Economic Times focuses on showing that farmers’ suicide are not just an issue of debt (Ravi, 2015). And there might be other reasons such as health (mental and physical). It calls attention to the need to understand the finer nuances of the distress of the farmers beyond the simplistic narrative of debt. It cites the percentage of suicides in four sates in India – Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. The article suggests that suicide rates are higher in Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh. In these two states, 30% of all suicides are farmer suicides but only 5% of all suicides are due to debt or bankruptcy. Therefore a public policy intervention should aim to address suicides in the states for a larger population beyond the farming community. 

While this article does stress the importance of understanding the nuances of distress of the farmers, it also dissolves the terminology of farmer suicides and its relation to debt on the basis of percentage numbers. The deceased farmer then becomes a portion of the percentage that committed suicide in the state. His specific context then does not deserve a special attention in the public policy intervention even when the rate of farmer suicide grows in unprecedented manner. 

In all the above examples, there are two kinds of inequalities observed. One is the representation of a farmer and his indebtedness as a ‘problem’ in development rather than a consequence of it. Cotton farming as is practiced today in the Vidarbha belt has undergone change in the last decade. One of the changes has been the adoption of genetically modified variety of cotton called Bt Cotton. Whether the causes of the current crisis on agriculture can be directly traced to this particular change or not is a matter of heated debate. However, the farmer himself can tell, from his generations of experience, what may be the possible causes of the severe crop failure and what could be the possible solutions. Yet the narrative of the crisis that is created by the news reports takes away this ‘legitimacy’ of the farmer to meaningfully contribute in his own livelihood crisis. Further, enumeration of the percentage of suicide and erasing the historicity of the causes of suicides to trace them to love affairs takes away the legitimacy of the crisis as a development issue. In this way then, the narrative of development can erase the farmer suicides as an issue within the narrative and treat it as external to it. The farmer then is erased from the development discourse itself, just as he is already eliminated from the process of deriving agricultural solutions to the crisis, and charting public policy plans. The second inequality is seen in the representation of the government schemes. State government schemes are represented as the only legitimate solution to the crisis on the grounds that these schemes have large funds involved in them and are using technology based solutions such as proving the farmers with vans. The lack of industries and therefore setting up of ‘textile park’ is similarly a solution that has been drawn from the belief in industrialization as a way towards development. As the farmers remain simply the receivers of these schemes, a possibility of agriculture based solutions drawing on the knowledge of the farmers is eliminated, and thereby their legitimacy to be a part of the development process is eliminated in the way the discourse of development is constructed by news reports.  

In conclusions, in this post, I attempted to do a textual analysis of the new reportage on the farmers’ suicides in Maharashtra. I wanted to make visible the processes through which the disenfranchisement of the farmers takes place in the creation of development narrative that is built piece by piece by focusing on news reports although news is only one of the means through which a popular narrative is created. 


FIR against Maharashtra government official for 'abetting' farmer's suicide. (2015). IBN Live. Retrieved from website:
India, P. T. o. (2015). Sharad Pawar Listed Love Affairs Among Reasons Behind Farmer Suicides: Maharashtra Minister Khadse. NDTV. Retrieved from website:
Khapre, S. (2015). Textile hubs to be set up in cotton belt to tackle farmer suicides in Maharashtra. The Indian Express. Retrieved from website:
Ravi, S. (2015). Poke Me: Farmer suicides in the country is not just issue of debt. The Economic Times. Retrieved from website:
Suryawanshi, S. (2015a). Maharashtra: Govt to focus on milk production, poultry, fishing for curbing farmer suicides. dna. Retrieved from website:
Suryawanshi, S. (2015b). Maharashtra: Now, shrinks to help farmers. dna. Retrieved from website:
To check suicides, Maharashtra govt wants drought-hit farmers to sell fish. (2015). The Indian Express. Retrieved from website:


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