NEW DELHI: While the Indian government and Ministers are claiming of making the country an economic power of the 21st century, its toiling farmers are committing suicides and selling children to survive. One farmer hanged himself in New Delhi a couple of months back at a rally of Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal.
Another farmer from Mohanpura village in Madhya Pradesh had seen unseasonably heavy rains and hailstorms destroy crop after crop, while he fell deeper into debt. Finally, last August, with no way to feed his family, Singh felt he had only one choice: He sold his two sons to a shepherd for a year of labour, in exchange for Rs 35,000.
“I was in no position to repay the debt and needed more money to make ends meet and plant a further crop,” Singh said in an interview in Mohanpura, Hindustan Times said in a report on Thursday.
He made the decision, he said, despite knowing “it was illegal and they could be abused and forced to work in cruel conditions.”
Worsening crop failures, brought on by extreme weather, are leading to increasing financial desperation in Madhya Pradesh – and a rash of suicides and child trafficking, officials say.
According to Rajnish Shrivastava, the district collector of Harda district, authorities rescued five children from forced labour in April, all from Khargone and Harda districts.Officials believe there could be many other cases of farmers trading their children for money, he said.
“It is a matter of concern that farmers have been forced to sell their kids to repay their debts,” he said.
Eight months after being sold into labour, Singh’s children were among the five rescued, Shrivastava said. Sumit, 12, and Amit, 11, fled from the shepherd and were taken to a local shelter, according to officials.
Initially reluctant to return to their family for fear of how their parents would react, the boys are now back home, officials said.
“Trading our children was wrong but we were forced to do this just to stay alive,” Sumit and Amit’s mother, Manibai, said in an interview. “Otherwise, like many other farmers, we too would have been forced to commit suicide.”
India has seen an alarming rate of suicide among farmers, as extreme weather continues to cause unprecedented crop losses in many parts of the country.
Around 40 farmers committed suicide or died from stress-related causes in Madhya Pradesh alone between February and May 2015, state police and revenue officials said.
The situation is difficult in parts of other states as well, including Maharashtra, Rajasthan, and Punjab, said Sachin Jain, an activist with the Right to Food campaign, an informal network of organisations working to ensure a right to food inIndia.
“The compensation amount is often far from enough for the farmers to pay off their debts,” said the activist.
“When farmers aren’t able to get loans from banks, they’re forced to borrow from private moneylenders who charge interest at exorbitant rates. They are painfully aware that they won’t get relief.”
“Farmers are in dire straits,” said Jain. “That’s why they take such extreme steps.”