Neoliberal deaths

In India over the past decade, farmer suicides are linked to an agrarian crisis brought about by market reforms gone wrong.

That the agricultural sector in India is in the grips of a crisis is no longer denied even by the most ardent advocate of neoliberal policies. The economic reforms implemented from around the middle of 1991 have had far-reaching – and, mostly adverse – consequences for almost every aspect of socio-economic and cultural life in the country. The impact of these policies on the agrarian economy has been particularly severe, often with tragic consequences. For several years, though, this situation was hardly noticed, even by the critics of the neoliberal policies. It thus remained a 'silent crisis' until about the middle of the 1990s, when the news of large-scale farmer suicides was suddenly picked up and widely reported upon – at which point it became a major political issue.

Today, the agrarian crisis is no longer a 'silent crisis'. Yet the advocates of neoliberal policies remain in a state of denial with respect to the underlying causes. They would like the rest of the country to believe that there has not been enough market-oriented economic reform in agriculture – and that this is the reason for the poor state of the sector. In fact, this is a complete misrepresentation of what is taking place on Indian farms today. With regard to farmer suicides, too, initially there were attempts to dismiss press reports as the product of fevered imaginations. Such dismissals were certainly helped along by the fact that the sources that both the journalists and activists were depending upon were rather uncoordinated and sporadic in the initial phase of the suicide epidemic. These denials were short-lived, however, because the data brought out by the government's own agencies soon clearly established the magnitude of the crisis.

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Himal Southasian