Shamika Ravi, Fellow, Governance Studies, Brookings Institution and Brookings India, joined us for a private IDFC-U - Brookings India roundtable on "A Reality Check on Suicides in India”.
Ravi questioned the popular perception that farmer suicides are a result of indebtedness and highlighted startling new findings with particular emphasis on Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. Policy interventions such as higher institutional credit spending, promotion of organic cultivation, assistance for subsidiary occupation etc. are taken to tackle farmer suicides.
Using NCRB data, Ravi analysed suicide mortality rates (SMR) for categories such as farmers, housewives, students, public sector and private sector employees in the 4 Indian states mentioned above. Her analysis revealed that Maharashtra and AP have consistently witnessed high SMR whereas UP and Bihar have consistently witnessed low SMR. In fact, almost 80% of all farmer suicides in Maharashtra are concentrated in 6 districts. Additionally, 80% of suicides are committed by farmers who hold more than 2 acres of land and 60% of suicides are committed by farmers who hold more than 4 acres of land.
Ravi further highlighted interesting statistics regarding debt and suicides in general in Maharashtra. The state has the highest share of institutional credit at 87% against a national average of 57%. Her research revealed that people in Maharashtra have better access to credit than the rest of India. Not just farmers, the state ranks high in SMR across all demographics – housewives, public and private sector employees, and students.
The national average for “Debt” as a reported reason for farmer suicides is at 5%. In Maharashtra and AP 4-6% of all suicides are due to debt whereas in UP and Bihar the number is less than 2%. Highest demographic for suicides in India is housewives – they account for 20% of all suicides. Illness, both mental and physical is the leading cause for farmer suicides; the national average is at 20% and in Maharashtra it is between 25-30%. Ravi stressed upon the fact that suicide due to illness is seven times as much as due to debt. Cluster behavior was seen as a reason for the high SMR in the 6 districts in Maharashtra.
Ravi also suggested that sensitive media reporting is extremely crucial in preventing ‘copy cat’ suicides. She reiterated that media houses must avoid simplistic explanations and excessive detailing on farmer suicides.
Her writing on the subject can be found in this Brookings paper and this Indian Express article.
Ravi is also a Visiting Fellow in Political Economy at IDFC Institute. Her research is in the area of Development Economics with a focus on financial inclusion, health, gender inequality and democracy. She is a Visiting Professor of Economics at the Indian School of Business, where she teaches courses in Game Theory and Microfinance, and is also affiliated with the Financial Access Initiative of New York University. She is part of the Enforcement Directorate of Microfinance Institutions Network in India and has served as a Director on boards of several leading microfinance institutions. She has published extensively in academic journals and writes regular opinion pieces in major newspapers. Her research work has been featured and cited by BBC, The Guardian, The Financial Times and most national and regional newspapers and magazines in India.