Impoverished Indian Farmer Commits Suicide at Rally

By Ashok Sharma 23 April 2015

NEW DELHI — An impoverished Indian farmer died Wednesday after hanging himself in front of hundreds of other farmers who had gathered for a protest in the capital.

It was the latest in a wave of suicides that has left at least 40 farmers dead in recent weeks—and some 300,000 dead since 1995.

Rally organizers, who apparently initially thought the man was trying to disrupt the protest, quickly cut him down from the tree where he had hanged himself and rushed him to a nearby hospital where he was declared dead, said S. Saxena, an official at Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital.

According to a note he left behind and which police recovered, Gajendra Singh said he killed himself after his father, left with nothing after rainstorms destroyed their crops, forced him from the family home.

“I have three children. I don’t have the money to feed my children. Hence, I want to commit suicide,” said the handwritten note.

Police said the dead man was from outside the town of Dausa in western Rajasthan state. Rajasthan officials say heavy rains there have destroyed 30 percent of crops, though farmers say the amount is much higher.

The man’s uncle, Gopal Singh, said the family owned 3.6 hectares (9 acres) of land where they grew wheat, but that the rains had almost completely destroyed the crops.

“No one in the village has received any compensation from the government,” said Singh, who was driving into New Delhi to retrieve his nephew’s body.

State officials across north India have promised financial help to farmers who lost their crops—and who are often indebted to local loan sharks who advanced them money for seeds and fertilizers—but those payments have been slowed by bureaucracy and corruption, activists say.

Wednesday’s rally was organized by the Aam Admi Party, the ruling party in the local New Delhi legislature, to protest proposed changes to land acquisition laws that critics say would harm farmers by making it easier for businesses and the government to buy their land.

Almost three quarters of Indians still live in villages, and farm income is crucial to the country’s economy. Most farmers, though, survive season to season on tiny plots. One poor harvest can destroy a family financially.

Rising prices for seeds and fertilizers, and banking reforms that ended up forcing farmers to turn to loan sharks, have magnified the trouble.