Almost every fourth person dying of suicide in 2019 in India was a daily wage earner, records NCRB. The data shows a slight drop in farmers’ suicide, but an increase in suicide by daily wage earners.
Analysis of the last five year’s NCRB data shows the percentage of daily wage earners dying of suicide is rising in the country. Photo: Pixabay
Of the total 139,123 recorded deaths by suicide in the country last year, the percentage of daily wage earners dying of suicide was the highest at 32,559, or 23.4 per cent. Thus, almost every fourth person who died of suicide in 2019 was a daily wage earner, as reported in the recently released annual report, Accidental Deaths & Suicides in India 2019, of the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) under the Union ministry of home affairs. The NCRB is responsible for collecting and analysing crime data as defined by the Indian Penal Code, and special and local laws in the country. Almost 90 per cent of the daily wage earners who died of suicide were male.
Analysis of the last five year’s NCRB data shows the percentage of daily wage earners dying of suicide is rising in the country. In 2015, the share of daily wage earners dying of suicide was 17.87 per cent (23,779), which rose to 19.2 per cent (21,902) in 2016, 22.1 per cent (28,737) in 2017, and 22.4 per cent (30,124) in 2018. This has further jumped to about 24 per cent in the latest NCRB data for 2019.
Meanwhile, the share of death by suicide by farmers in 2019 stood at 7.4 per cent, or 10,281 farmers’suicides of the total 139,123 suicides in the country. There has been a drop in percentage share of farmers’ suicides from 9.4 per cent (12,602) in 2015 to 8.7 per cent (11,379) in 2016, 8.2 per cent (10,655) in 2017, and 7.7 per cent in 2018.
Claiming the rising number of suicides by daily wage earners to be a “government waged war against the working poor class of the country”, Chandan Kumar, a labour rights activist based in Pune said, “Distress has been mounting for a long time, it is not something which happened yesterday. Beginning with GST and demonetisation, which bulldozed the informal economy, and now the COVID-19 has left the workers in utter distress.”
The distress across the rural economy is unprecedented. Instead of allocating subsidies to the informal sector in order to revive it and providing a minimum income guarantee to the workers, the government is barely doing anything substantial. Hence the workers are left with no other option but to commit suicide, he told Gaon Connection.
According to him, this upward trend of suicides by daily wage earners is expected to continue this year as well because in the pandemic and the ongoing crisis, the government hasn’t taken crucial measures such as providing at least one month wages to the daily wage earners, or providing employment through subsidies to MSME (micro, small and medium enterprises) sector that will not only provide income power to the workers, but also bring them back to the industries.
The recent NCRB data also shows sections of the society usually associated with low incomes reported a significant number of suicides. The 2019 report reads: “66.2% (92,083) of suicide victims in 2019 were having annual income of less than Rs 1 lakh. 29.6% (41,197) of suicide victims belong to annual income group of Rs 1 lakh to less than Rs 5 lakh.”
Thus, over two-thirds of suicide victims last year earned less than Rs 100,000 a year, which comes to a daily earning of Rs 278. This is lower than the minimum daily wage in many states, or as included in the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA).
The NCRB’s 2019 report provides a breakdown of farmers’ suicides in the country under the number of cultivators and agricultural labourers. Of the total 10,281 farmers who died by suicide last year, 5,957 were cultivators while 4,324 (42 per cent) were agricultural labourers.
The major farming sector suicides were reported in the state of Maharashtra at 38.2 per cent. This was followed by Karnataka at 19.4 per cent, Andhra Pradesh at 10 per cent, Madhya Pradesh at 5.3 per cent and Chhattisgarh at 4.9 per cent.
The states of West Bengal, Bihar, Odisha, Uttarakhand, Manipur and the union territories of Delhi, Chandigarh, Daman and Diu, Lakshadweep and Puducherry did not report any farmers’ suicide in 2019.
However, farm sector leaders and activists disagree with the government data. “The government’s data isn’t reflective of the true picture. A large number of farmers continue to take their own lives,” Rajan Kshirsagar, a farmer leader from Parbhani in Maharashtra told Gaon Connection. He is associated with the Communist Party of India. “This year also farmers were unable to grow soybean and there have been several instances of suicide by such farmers. However, it is not being registered as a suicide nor any case is being filed,” he added.
Claiming the policies of the government favoured the large private corporation, he said the banking and finance capital was destroying the farmers. “The GDP was anyway declining before the COVID-19 pandemic, and farmers are bearing the brunt. Crops are not even being sold at the MSP [minimum support price] in the market and nobody is raising this issue. The burden on the farmers is increasing day by day. Crop insurance modifications are very nominal measures and don’t have a larger impact either,” he added.
The rural distress and plight of the daily wage earners was recorded in a recent first-of-its-kind national rural survey by Gaon Connection Insights, the data and insights arm of India’s largest rural media platform. This survey of 25,300 respondents, carried out in 179 districts across 20 states and three union territories found 22.4 per cent of the interviewed migrant workers were daily wage earners. The survey found only 42.5 per cent respondent migrant workers received their full salary when the nationwide lockdown was announced, while 30.6 per cent did not receive any wages.
The national survey also revealed that eight out of ten workers did not get any work under the MGNREGA during the lockdown.
In the prevailing circumstances of the pandemic, which has snatched away livelihoods of the poor and added to their financial burden and debt, the next annual report of NCRB with 2020 data may throw up more disturbing data.