Monday, February 11, 2008


There have been a number of reports that in 2007 some 17,000 small farmers in India committed suicide. P. Sainath of The Hindu in Madras has been writing about the growing number of farmer suicides for several years, and his theme has been that the main cause of these deaths is economic distress, which he ascribes to globalization. According to him, small farmers borrow money to buy commercial fertilizers and improved seeds marketed by transnational corporations like Monsanto; when the expected high crop yields fail to materialize, off they go to drink pesticide or hang themselves. Among certain circles in India it is now an article of faith that globalization drives the poor to suicide.

I don't think corporate-driven globalization is good for the societies involved or for the natural environment; economic decisions driven by the need to maximize profits for a small elite cannot work to the general good. But the thesis that the rising rate of suicides in India is linked to globalization seems far-fetched to me. It is far more likely that the real reasons are embedded in the stresses generated by the overall economic and social development of the country, a process much broader than globalization. It is also possible that the increased attention in the popular Press is a factor in the rising rate of suicides (up from 5 to 11 per 100,000 since the 1960s); in fact, the World Health Organization advises caution in Press coverage because of the danger of copy cat suicides.

WHO reports that there were some 1.5 million suicides globally in 2004 (the latest year for which statistics have been compiled); the highest rate is in Eastern Europe, and globally, men are four times more likely to off themselves than women.

Global statistics are probably an underestimate, for few African countries report suicide statistics,and even where statistics are more reliable, there is a tendency towards under-reporting. In the United States, which does not officially report national suicide rates, the American Association of Suicidology (www.suicidology. org) estimates it to be the same as in India, 11 per 100,000.

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