The suicide rate among women farm labourers is 1.5 times higher than that of women farmers, revealed a recent study conducted by professors at Punjab Agriculture University (PAU) in Ludhiana.
Nearly 12 per cent of the victims' children drop out of school, and the marriages of their children, mainly females, are disrupted as a result of such suicides.
According to the study, women make up for 12.43 per cent of farm labourers who died by suicide, which is higher than the 8.2 per cent reported for women farmers, The Indian Express.
The study titled 'Farmers' and Agricultural Labourers' Suicides in Punjab' was based on a project primarily sponsored by the state government to determine the extent of agricultural labourer suicides in Punjab.
It examined all farm labourer suicide cases between 2000-2018 by undertaking a door-to-door and village-to-village survey of 2,400 villages in six districts, including Barnala, Bathinda, Ludhiana, Mansa, Moga, and Sangrur.
The study found that the children of 12 per cent of the victims' families dropped out of school due to distressing circumstances that followed the suicide.
The occurrence of agricultural labourer suicide had been a trend in Punjab since the mid-1980s. During the study period 2000-2018, as many as 7,303 agricultural labourers had killed themselves.
As per the study, 9 per cent of the victims belonged to the upper caste, while 83 per cent belonged to the Scheduled Caste (SC) and 8.76 per cent to the Backward Class (BC).
Around 79 per cent of these suicides occurred as a result of the severe debt pressure on labourer families, with the remaining 21 per cent arising due to socio-economic causes.
Suicides by agricultural labourers ranged between 230 and 501 cases per year in Punjab.
In 2016 the total number of agricultural labourer suicides stood at 230, out of which 202 were debt-related. The ruling Congress government had promised a debt waiver in its 2016 Punjab Assembly election manifesto. However, the debt-waiver announcement remained unfulfilled. The rate of suicides jumped from 303 in 2017 to 392 in 2018.
Causes of suicide
Out of 7,303 suicides, 5,765 were caused by debt, with the remaining 1,538 were caused by other factors.
The suicide mortality, or the number of suicides per lakh workers, was the highest in Sangrur district with 20.80 farmers, followed by Barnala district (19.05) and Mansa district (18.62), Ludhiana and Moga districts had low suicide mortality with 6.50 and 8.73 suicides per lakh workers, respectively.
The proportion of debt-related suicides was maximum in Barnala district (90.17) and minimum in Ludhiana district (56.52).
According to the human development index (HDI) in 2001, the Ludhiana district was ranked first in Punjab, while Mansa and Sangrur were ranked last.
However, the number of agricultural labourer suicides was lowest in Ludhiana and highest in Sangrur, followed by Mansa, which implies that the proportion of debt-induced suicides was closely related to the district's level of growth and development.
Impact on family
The study found that nearly half of the deceased households had no earning member left in the family. It added that one could imagine the family's present condition, which was already deprived while the primary earner was alive.
"That is why they had to take their life. How is the family currently coping without any source of livelihood? This self-explanatory question clears the issue that the victim family has been passing through a critical juncture of life," the study said.
The study said nearly 44 per cent of victim families were pushed into a state of depression. It pointed out the importance of understanding the elderly members of agricultural labour suicide victim families, who suffered from severe psychological effects due to the crisis.
Dr Sukhpal said there are many short and long-term policies in place to help rehabilitate these families, including free tuition with scholarship and socio-psychological assistance for the children. He emphasised providing victim families access to free, high-quality emergency care so that they could live a healthier life and avoid incurring large debts for treatment of illness.
"A reasonable financial compensation along with a permanent source of livelihood like family pension, employment to next kin of the victim must be provided, and the government should make the prevailing Shagun (gift) scheme effective on the marriages of girls of these poor families," he said.
He added that the three farm laws introduced by the government would worsen the farm labourer suicide crisis as it would turn many small farmers into labourers prompting the suicide rate to spike.