A continuing economic crisis is the presumed cause for a rash of suicides among cotton farmers in Vidarbha region of India's Maharashtra state. There have been more than 411 suicides occurring since January 2011 with 44 farmers committing suicide in August alone. While the link between economic failure and suicide among farmers has been known since the 1990s, the current suicide epidemic has given Vidarhba the highest suicide rate in all of India. With a strongly agricultural economy (Vidarbha is best known for orange, soya and cotton crops), the region has been gripped by problems relating to crop failures, crippling debts, and inability to receive adequate compensation for agricultural products. Plagued by extreme poverty and malnutrition, Vidarbha is the least economically developed region of Maharashtra. In 2006 alone, the 4,453 farmer suicides accounted for more than one-fourth of all of India's suicides for that year.
Along with national attention, the rash of suicides in Vidarbha has led to the establishing of a formal office in Maharashtra to address the crisis. Despite a well-publicized visit to Vidarbha by India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in 2006 during which a massive relief package was promised for the region, financial relief for farmers has been delayed by allegations of corruption which has led to the suspension of more than 400 government workers. Farmers view themselves as being trapped between government officials and the moneylenders providing inadequate credit. Loan sharks have become increasingly active and often prey on the most vulnerable. With declining prices for crops, typical income for farmers often falls below minimal wage levels to support themselves and their families. The problem has been aggravated by declining demand for genetically modified cotton crops and the rapid urbanization of Indian society which has left farmers unprepared for technological and economic changes that place them at a disadvantage.
Vidarbha has been particularly hard-hit due to reduced minimum support prices for cotton and other crops. In addition to farmer suicides, Vidarbha also faces the problem of dealing with families of farmers committing suicide being left penniless (and often deeply in debt) and community support agencies have been strained to the brink providing relief. In a 2007 report by Green Earth Consulting examining conditions in Vidarbha, the promised government relief package failed to provide more than token support for the families of farmers committing suicide. In particular, families have often faced bureaucratic hurdles from village elders and other government officials who are reluctant to register the suicide as "genuine" (i.e., eligible for support under the package). Given the stigma attached to suicide as well as the legal issues involved (suicide is still considered a criminal act under Indian law), compensation is often delayed. Completion of necessary formalities for compensation also require family members to relive the trauma surrounding the death. Since creditors often demand immediate fulfillment of loans and refuse to wait for compensation payments, families of suicide victims are typically subjected to extreme hardship.
While the report made a series of recommendations to ensure a fairer distribution of relief money, the rising number of suicides since 2007 has demonstrated that the basic problems facing Vidarbha farmers have yet to be addressed. In the meantime, the deaths continue.