Farmers’ suicides have dominated the discourse, and sparked outrage among activists, politicians and mediapersons.

However, data from ADSI reports shows that suicide figures for daily wage earners is much higher when compared to that of farmers.

For too long, the debate around farmers’ suicides has been polemical and not fact-driven. This has to change.

There’s been much noise about farmers’ suicides, with the release of Accidental Deaths and Suicides in India 2015 (ADSI-2015) report by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB). The report shows an increase in suicides in the farming sector, with the figure put at 12,602 in 2015, up 1.95 per cent over 2014.

One statistic has escaped attention, however. Suicides by daily wage earners numbered 23,799 in 2015, a 51.2 per cent jump over 15,735 suicides in 2014. For the first time ever, daily wage earners have dislodged housewives as the largest single group by profession in suicide statistics. Housewives held that dubious honour in every annual ADSI report.

The number of suicides by housewives stood at 22,293 in 2015, up 10 per cent from 20,148 in 2014, though it is lower than the 2013 figure of 22,742.

Tragic as farmers’ suicides are, the question needs to be asked; why is there no outrage over the much larger number of suicides by daily wage earners?

But since farmers’ suicides dominate the discourse, let’s parse the data related to that. Have they increased or decreased over time?

ADSI-2015 puts the number of suicides in the farming sector in 2015 (January-December) at 12,602, up from 12,360 in 2014 and 11,772 in 2013. After 2009, when suicides by farmers numbered 17,368, there had been a steady decline till 2013.

Now this is certainly cause for concern.

But there’s a catch. From 2014, the annual ADSI reports introduced a new category – agricultural labourers. So, of the 12,602 suicides in the farming sector in 2015, only 8,007 are of farmers; 4,595 are of agricultural labourers.

But, yes, there has been an increase over 2014 – farmers’ suicides that year numbered 5,650. Suicides by agricultural labourers declined from 6,710 in 2014 to 4,595 in 2015.

Going by this, then, the number of farmers’ suicides has seen a steep drop since 2013. That seems disproportionate to the noise over the issue.

Now here’s another catch. ADSI reports before 2014 only gave a consolidated figure for ‘self-employed in farming/agriculture’ (emphasis added). Can agricultural labourers be categorised under self-employed, since they will be paid a wage? If not, were pre-2014 figures about farmers alone? In that case, farmers’ suicides have declined drastically, even though 2014 and 2015 were drought years (farmers’ suicides spiked in 2004 (18,241) and 2009 (17,368), both drought years).

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