Inequality and Farmers Suicides in India

Publication Type:

Working Paper


National Institute of Advanced Studies, Volume WP5-2016, Bengaluru (2016)




The phenomenon of suicide by farmers has in recent years tended to dominate the discourse on rural India. Between 1995 and 2014, more than 300,000 farmers have committed suicide in the country (Basu, Das, & Misra, 2016). There have been several studies pointing to the significance of the phenomenon as well as the magnitude of the distress that goes with it. Underlying several of these studies is a role for inequality in this phenomenon. The emphasis on farmers’ suicides suggests that there is an inequality in the vulnerability of different groups to suicide, with farmers having a greater vulnerability than others. Again, the presentation of farmers’ suicides as a national crisis suggests that while there may be regional inequality in the vulnerability to suicide, all states face the same crisis. And if we were to go beyond the existing literature, there is the question of whether inequality can be a cause of farmers’ suicides. This paper seeks to explore each of these roles for inequality in the patterns of farmers’ suicides. While such an exploration may help us better understand the nature of farmers’suicides, this paper does not claim to provide a comprehensive explanation for the phenomenon. It begins with an exploration of the relative vulnerability of different groups to suicide; it then explores the nature of regional inequality in farmers’ suicides; before ending with a preliminary exploration of the relationship between inequality, poverty and farmers’ suicides