In this season of electioneering, when the talks about bringing back the ill gotten wealth from the Swiss banks is reaching its crescendo, I am surprised that no one is even whispering about the farmers’ suicide issue and to do away with the evil practice of money lending that is responsible for this mayhem.
Farmers' suicides are increasing due to a vicious circle created by money lenders. At least 10,000 debt-ridden farmers in different parts of the country have committed suicide over the last decade. The money lenders lure farmers to take money but impose their own conditions for lending money. The farmers fall victim to them when the crops fail and in wake of their insurmountable debt they are left with no option other than death.
On average, one Indian farmer committed suicide every 32 minutes between 1997 and 2005. Since 2002, that has become one suicide every 30 minutes. The toll surely is among the largest sustained waves of suicides in human history. These numbers still underestimate the disaster, since women farmers are excluded from the official statistics.
All indications suggest that the successive governments are hand in gloves with the money lenders and giving them the lease in perpetuity to use their levers of exploitation in this country. The conspiracy of silence of the political leadership over this issue suggests that there would be no respite from farmer’s suicides in the days and years ahead.
To put the things in perspective; money lenders find an important place in Indian history. The vocation of lending money is followed by certain caste group in this country from ancient times. This separate group is known by different caste names in different states of India.
Although there is unanimity on the role of money lenders but there are differences over their contribution towards the society. Seldom one comes across the positive image of money lenders in India.
India being primarily agricultural economy and farming heavily dependent on advance money, the association of Indian peasantry with money lenders is long and checkered.
Indian history is littered with the stories of dependence of ordinary folks on money lenders. In fact, there are many instances where land lords too are dependent on this group of people.
In my research on the Partition of India, I have come across many source materials those talks about rural indebtedness of Muslim peasants in the hands of the Hindu money lenders in west Punjab and Sindh. The 1946 election in the heart of Pakistan was also a vote to get librated from the clutches of the money lenders. The high rate of interest charged by the money lenders had made them lead a life of almost penury.
The Chetirs of Tamil Nadu played the same role in Burma. The Japanese occupation of Burma came as boon for the peasantry there. They felt liberated from the yoke of Indian money lenders. The Burmese peasantry rose in revolt to chase these money lenders out of their country. Indians were forced to take a ‘long walk’ to Tamil Nadu in wake of that retribution. The memory of that ‘walk’ still lingers on in this part of the world.
However, one cannot deny the fact that the money lenders played a big role in the capital formation of modern India. The history of many corporate giants of today could be traced to the humble beginning pursuing this vocation generations ago.
The modern banking system initiated by the British rule hardly changed the face of rural credit. Money lending as a profession still survives in the length and breadth of the country. A large number of small farmers are still dependent on them for their monetary credit even though an exploitative system in every sense of the term.
The alarming rate of farm suicide has been occurring in this country with impunity but there is little effort to check the evil practice of money lending that seems to be the main reason behind this catastrophe.
One wonders why the government of the day has failed to provide easy access of monetary credit to the rural folks. Is it because there is problem with the modern banking system or there is deliberate attempt by the government of the day to patronize this exploitative practice. I leave this here as food for thought and draw one own conclusion.
However, here I may like to pitch in a random thought for consideration. To me one of the reasons of the decline of the power base of the Muslims in India could be due to the strict abhorrence of their religion towards the practice of money lending. The feudal mode production that once Muslims supervised in India could not cross the hump and reach the plateau of capitalism. It was due to the blockage of capital formation that the process of industrial growth was stymied. Without avenues of growth the feudal mode of production fossilized finally to decline and fall. Now the ladder looks too tall to climb and this could be one the reason of commotion that’s being witnessed in India.
* Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org