Indian farmer suicides rise to 17,000 a year

More than 17,000 Indian farmers committed suicide in 2009, a seven percent rise on the previous year, according to new government figures.

The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) study titled “Accidental Deaths and Suicides in India” revealed the rise without attributing causes, with the states of Maharashtra, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh the worst affected.

Many farmers, particularly in the southern and western states listed, were pushed further into debt in 2009 after the weakest monsoon in 37 years left fields parched and crops ruined.

Despite economic development in cities, two out of three Indians still live and work in rural areas and as many as 150,000 farmers have killed themselves in the past decade, the Tata Institute of Social Sciences said in 2009.

The subject was taken up in an acclaimed Bollywood film last year called “Peepli Live” made by the production company of superstar Aamir Khan.

The film, directed by first-time director Anusha Rizvi, revolves around two poor farmers who face losing their land over an unpaid debt after poor monsoon rains, with one considering killing himself so that his family receives compensation.

In other statistics, the study said that a total of 127,151 people took their own lives in 2009 and about 125,000 people or about 350 a day died on the country’s notoriously dangerous roads.

Road deaths increased by 7.3 percent in 2009 from 2008, following a long-term trend that has seen road deaths mirror increases in vehicle sales.

Since 2005, the number of fatal road accidents has increased by 30 percent, tracking a 35-percent rise in the number of vehicles.

India’s booming economy is raising personal incomes and corporate profits, enabling middle-class consumers and businesses to invest in greater numbers of cars, vans and lorries.

However, as a study published in the British medical journal The Lancet last week pointed out, economic change sometimes produces harmful behavioural shifts, such as driving faster and further without due regard to safety.

The head of the National Safety Council of India (NSCI), K.C. Gupta, told AFP last September that changing attitudes was a “huge job” but that economic development would lead to more awareness.

India’s generally bumpy and overcrowded roads remain poorly policed and chaotic in nature. Whole families are often found crammed onto a single motorbike — with only the father wearing a helmet — while the overloading of trucks and buses is endemic.

A total of 175 people died of starvation and thirst in 2009, 261 in bombings, 25,911 from drowning, 8,539 from electrocution and 1,826 had fatal falls into manholes or pits. Around 8,000 died from snake or other animal bites.

Experts warn that government statistics in India should be treated with caution because of inefficient public administration in many areas, meaning accidents go unreported.