Unleashing the community potential of Indian villages



Paper back;

108 pages

Rupa Publications;


With a Foreword by
Mr. TN Seshan, Former CEC of India

The then Vice President of India, Mr. Bhairon Singh Shekhawat made an appeal that educational institutions in Maharashtra should study the problem in Vidarbha. The MIT School of Government decided to take up the challenge and a team of 14 personnel (8 member study team) toured Vidarbha for ten days in Dec 2006 to make a study.

As is characteristic of a leadership school, the study group was diverse. Their ages ranged between 21 to 45 and they were from a wide range of academic disciplines.

A video (Despair to Hope) and a report (The Tragedy of Farmers' Suicides in Vidarbha: A lesson and a Ray of Hope) were the result.

Watch the short version of the video on you tube here:- DESPAIR

The report was later on published by Rupa as a book. Find below introductory highlights of the report:

1. The foreword by Mr. TN Seshan, Former Chief Election Commissioner of India.


This is a laudable effort that has come in the form of a report ... submitted by a group of participants of the second batch of the MPG course of the MIT School of Government. A study tour of Vidarbha for giving participants exposure and for honing their soft skills—together with addressing a noble cause—has produced a result far beyond the limits of an academic exercise. The report makes for good reading and the pointers in it indicate stark realities that have to be addressed and to possible solutions of high potential.

I would say that it is for the readers to think seriously and innovate means to take the process forward.

The political leadership is perpetually lost in a struggle for survival and is focused on the short term. Giving thousands of crores of rupees on loan waivers and giving a massive blow to the very financial sector that sustains farmers in the grassroots—and every political party supporting it—indicates the road to bankruptcy.

It is doubtful though whether the government would have the will to take on alternate suggestions… However that seems to be the challenge of an emerging leadership—to stimulate the people to think ‘long term’ and to make them look for a set of leaders of that alternative kind.

I entirely agree with the authors that the solution is finally with the people. Would financial empowerment, political empowerment and education of villagers lead to a better nation? …definitely yes but the question is how? “Swagrami” is a thoughtful re-incarnation of a great idea… That the system should force brand identities onto the villages so that they can work together, like companies work together, is also a good idea… I am sure there are many more that are not covered in this report… However, if not anything this report does indicate some constructive directions in which we have to move.

The nation needs leaders who can read situations on the ground without any bias, have a holistic approach, who can think boldly and act innovatively. The MIT-SOG has been working since its inception to find new ways and means to make this learning. I am happy that this report is a first indicator of movement in that direction.

T.N. Seshan
Chairman MIT-SOG
Former Cabinet Secretary and Former CEC of India
29 May 2008
2. The contents of the report submitted:


Foreword 3
Preface and Acknowledgement 4...
Index 7

Section I: The Study

1.1 Introduction 9
1.2 Methodology of Study 10

Section II: The Gravity of the Problem and Backdrop

2.1 What Do The Suicide Statistics Say? Is There An Issue? 15
2.3 The Stake Holders 17
2.3 General Conditions of Farming in Vidarbha 19

Section III: Issues – 1 --- General

3.1 Is It The Corruption In The Cotton Federations? 21
3.2 Are High-Yield Seeds A Solution Or A Problem? 23
3.3 Over-Enthusiastic Marketing 26
3.4 Natural Calamities and Insurance. 27
3.5 Medical Problems 29
3.6 The Decreasing Margins of Cotton Production… And Increasing Risk 31
3.7 Is It The Ruthlessness of The Local Financial Markets? 34
3.8 Are Spending and Saving Habits of Farmers Healthy? 36

Section IV: Issues – 2 --- Government Policy

4.1 The Policy of Fixing Support Prices 37
4.2 The Policy of Fixing Minimum Wages 42
4.3 Deficiency in Expert Advice for Farmers 44
4.4 Government Policy, Rest of Maharashtra Vs. Vidarbha 47
4.5 Patch Work Relief and Development 48
4.6 The Ethics of Suicide Relief 51

Section V: The Impact of Capitalism and Globalization

5.1 Intra National Colonization 55
5.2 The Socio-Economic Impact of Capitalism on Families and Individuals 56
5.3 Loss of Caste Support 60
5.4 Capitalism And The Farmer: Fight, Flight Or Adapt? 62
5.5 Capitalistic Power and Farmers 64
5.6 Corporate Farming a Solution? 67
5.7 Disguised Unemployment and Co-Operative Farming / Joint Families 70
5.8 Employing the Excess Manpower 72

Section VI: Conclusion

6.1 Summary of Findings 76
6.2 Brief Summary of Solutions 78
6.3 A Fundamental Change of Strategy 79
6.4 It Is Real: The Window of Hope 81
6.5 The Solution: Action Plan for Policy: 82

Section VII: Appendix
7.1 Appendix A: References 84
7.2 Appendix B: Details about Participants and Support 85
7.3 Appendix C: Factors Covered In Interviewing Affected Families 88
7.4 Appendix D: Program of Study (23rd Dec to 29th Dec 2006) 89

3. The operational part of the report. The "conclusions" is given below. It shows the general direction in which the nation must work to tackle rural distress; a leaders' brief so to say.

In this section we take a comprehensive view of the issues we have so far discussed. This can be considered as the summary of the study. ...

Q) Is there a problem in Vidarbha? If so, how severe is it?
A) Indeed yes there is; over ten years from 1995 the rate of farmers’ suicides has gone up by 300% and it does not seem to be abating.

Q) Is it specific to Vidarbha?
A) The situation in advanced nations and specifically in Kerala (33 per lack per annum) in India is remarkably higher, however it may be relatively high in comparison to other areas in India (14 in Maharashtra to 10 the National average) and the incidence in the case of farmers is unusually high. (2005)

Q) What is the reason for it?
A) We have concluded that for a particular suicide the reasons are usually more than one. It is usually a set of problems that together lead to an incident: Illness, bad loans, failed initiatives, affairs, natural calamities, failed crops, bad relationships… This has been the finding of most other studies. And our finding is no different.

However the best view to take of the situation is that the farmer is as it is in a tight corner due to the various stresses which we have listed in the report. It takes one or the other reason to actually push him over the edge and precipitate a suicide event, which would of course appear as the actual cause of the suicide.

But we also believe that the external situations, however critical, cannot be completely blamed for the occurrence of suicide. We need to consider the balance between pressure and resilience to fight back. Whether it is money, or accidents or natural disasters, there are ways to anticipate these things and build defenses against such occurrences: such resilience is seen in other parts of the country where adverse conditions have lasted for many decades and centuries and the people have been acclimatized. However in the case like Vidarbha where there is a condition of flux in the socio-economic-cultural context, there is every possibility that individuals cannot cope with the changes or are not tuned to cope with it and hence can fall prey to occurrences of suicide.

Q) What is the reason that suicides are high in Vidarbha and not elsewhere?
A) This has not really been the subject of our study in a focused manner. But we have studied Vidarbha as we saw it and have compared it with our awareness of other areas. Besides that we benefitted form other studies too. Therefore, the reasons we suspect are as follows:
a) Development in terms of irrigation and allied industries are not in an advanced stage in Vidarbha as they are in other areas
b) The geographical setting makes it different from the other areas. The top soil depth is high so stopping water is a problem. There is rich black cotton soil conducive to the growth of cash crops. There has been a distinct shift in agriculture patterns from cereals to cash crops here, where the degree of risk is higher.
c) The once prosperous region of Vidarbha has a culture of affluence. There seems to be a deep sense of pride and a deep sensitivity here. There seems to be an imbalance in spending habits and a tendency to live on the edge; there is also a tendency for heavy risk taking without safeguards. But it needs to be confirmed whether it is a characteristic of high risk families or a general pattern in Vidarbha.

Q) What has been the approach towards solutions by the government?
A) Give him a fish… that is the best way to describe the solutions offered by the government.

One should not cast aspersions on the intentions of the government and we should allow for systemic weaknesses too. However there is need to point out that even with the system running sincerely, and into over time, it is not really going to achieve the required goals of emancipation. The scale of operations is really huge if one wants to carry it forward without involving the energies of the people in a more substantial manner. The solutions of giving relief, wavering loans, subsidies, support prices are all meaningless if they are merely stop gap measures and are not part of a forward movement towards a vision that makes rural societies self reliant, empowered and self sustaining.

Q) What then is the strategy for finding a solution to the problem at Vidarbha?
A) At the beginning of the analysis we figured out that a force field analysis was the best way to proceed in trying to analyze the problem. We then proceeded by listing out and discussing the various factors that are currently adding pressure on the farmer. In our opinion, the dissipation of all these pressures on the farmers would pull them out of the corner into which they have been pushed. That itself will provide relief that should reduce the incidence of suicide.

The idea is that the movers and shakers should push in the general direction indicated at the end of each issue: the solutions are briefly listed below.


The problems of the farming community in Vidarbha are similar as it is else where but with characteristics that are particular to Vidarbha.

It is our belief that we need to keep the vision of distributed settlements as against concentrated cities ahead of us.

We need to keep faith in a system which believes that austerity is a possible route to happiness rather than think in terms of consumerism being the exclusive route to happiness.

We need to empower the village communities to take on the problems of a village by themselves. The panchayat needs more control over finances.

A village centric planning and execution process needs to be initiated.

Minor irritants in the form of corruption and harassment have to be systematically rooted out.

We need to fine tune our approach to rural commerce so that the rural communities develop capitalistic strength.

We need to ensure that brand identities are developed by villages and they are suitably applied in the market

We need to re-create the spirit of ‘swadeshi’ into a new form ‘swagrami’ so that rural industries get a boost.

The trend towards individualization and nucleation of families has to be countered in a big way… it is the cause of great unrest in rural societies. Other grouping strategies have to be developed and encouraged.

The saving habit and development of safety mechanisms should be encouraged in the farmers so that they develop resilience.

The farmers should be shown the writing on the wall so that they can set their priorities right, so that they know what lies ahead and so that they can be adequately prepared for the eventualities.

But the ultimate solution to the problem is this that the farmer takes his destiny in his own hands through the strength of his team work in his rural community. This is elaborated further in the next two chapters.

The most substantial of possible solutions is possible if we understand the sense and direction indicated by the following passages.

I. Constitutional amendments have given us Panchayati Raj but it is now an established fact that no real power is given to the panchayats, none of the government employees really report to the panchayats, the judiciary really does not have an extension within the village and finally the laws that work in the villages are not the making of the people dwelling in the village… one cannot have lesser control over their own destinies…

II. What is inappropriate here is this that we are taking out a huge chunk of humanity from the development process… when a village finds itself responsible for what happens within its boundaries it will dig out from its resources and its creativity to add to the development process… and that is an opportunity which the system denies to them.

III. There it tremendous amount of human resource wastage in rural India. People with tremendous capacities are put on to little or no work. Even the solution to India not finding a place among the gold medals in the Olympics lies here. The point to think about is how this vast reserve of energies can be constructively tapped in the process of establishing economic parity, prosperity and national pride?

IV. Would things have been better if we had adopted a Gandhian mode of self service also? And the answer seems logically yes, because that would mean the unleashing the energies of the 35 million Indians of that time into the political field, as against merely the work of the government, the opposition and the government agencies. Today this translates to the possible output of a Billion Indians working on the basis of inspiration as against the efforts of the state machinery that runs basically on salaries.

V. There are two distinct aspects in Gandhiji’s solution for the problems of villages in India. One was the aspect of austerity and the other was of empowerment and self reliance. Both these ideas were reflected in his vision which he enunciated in respect of material goals and in terms of individual and collective action for the villages. We have been too carried away by the austerity angle but have not really been able to focus and tap on the strengths of collective use of the energy of the people.

VI. We know very clearly that the Gandhian approach made a sincere but elitist congress party into a mass moment in the teen years of the 20th century. It is also said about the Gandhian approach that owing to him women were empowered in such a manner that they came out and stood shoulder to shoulder with men in order to defy the British. That basic difference needs to be understood.

VII. When we achieved independence we took an approach which was not essentially Gandhian. The leaders of the freedom struggle took over the reigns of government and tried to use its machinery to work downwards helping the common man in the way they could… Unfortunately there is nothing worse than telling the poor villager that he is not complete in himself and that he needs to be helped in order that he would be able to perform. The most horrible part of this is that we decline his right to hold power in a manner that he has control over his future. We say that he is un-educated and incapable of taking the government of his own village in his hands.

VIII. Processes initiated by grassroots leaders like Anna Hazare, Baba Amte, and so many others usually have a huge struggle ahead of them to establish themselves and then there are tremendous pressures which make them cave in after the inspirational leader is out of the picture. The point to be noted here is that, usually, if the government is not neutral in such instances, it is mostly part of the problem which these initiatives have to overcome. This is a systemic problem as much as it is a problem of attitudes. We need to see that this is on account of a very colonial system in place that pays no heed to strengthening grassroots process. If it was governance, and not colonial rule, it would be doing the job of ‘helping the various communities help themselves’.

IX. It seems very generous on the part of the leadership, ever since independence, and the Indian ‘state’ that they want to do so much for the villages, and that they seek to work hard for it. But then it is prudent to realize that in our historic past there have been many kingdoms that attempted this approach and have failed. The best of our ancient Indian systems which are examples of success—for example Chola period and later Seher Shah Suri which lead to the building of the Mughal Empire—which exhibited great stability peace and prosperity at its peak, had a different approach. These alternative systems gave freedom to the villages to govern themselves completely, making them responsible for their successes and failures; however the state would maintain a very strong audit system through which it would monitor all aspects of local governments on a regular basis.

Government the doer and government the auditor are two completely different approaches and we need to shift to the latter.

In Dariyapur taluk there is a village called Dhamodi. We would like to re-state what one of the leaders of that area Mr. Nalkhande said with full confidence “No one in Damodi will ever commit suicide”. We can assure you that it was not a statement made in rhetorical flourish… of course, no one can give a 100% assurance on this… however it is not wrong that they have taken charge of their lives in a way which we found delightful to watch.

They had with them complete details of the land in the village… so much so that they could fill details of the land on a government form and the government official would just sign it. Such was the credibility they have established. In partnership with a NGO they have their land surveyed and analyzed. They have initiated a water stoppage project which now holds back huge amounts of water in the fields. One young enterprising youth of the village explained at length how they successfully went about setting traps for certain flies which would destroy the crops to a great extent… it was affected without using chemical pesticides.

The actual solutions on the ground are merely one of many possible… but what was unique about their effort was this that they were in charge, they were self reliant, they truly represented the spirit which needs to inundate the villages of Vidarbha and the country… If they are given an open canvas they would paint vivid colours that the nation can be proud of… however right now they are struggling for a piece of paper to write on.

And they were not the only ones; the youth at Asatpur village near Paratwada have got together, and through the efficient management of electric supply they are able to enjoy a sustained electric supply for 24 hours (this comes as a byproduct of a very empowering move made by the Maharashtra Electricity Board initiated by a very enterprising IAS officer) while in other neighboring villages there are heavy electricity cuts. These youths have also encouraged self help groups in their village in a big way. Still another set of youngsters in Dariyapur were thinking in terms of trying to set up their own ginning and threading mills. As on date, the ginning process has already taken off.

Illiterate he may be but he has tremendous potential… if only he can be given that space to tap all that potential... Responsibility should be thrust on him and he will take up the challenge… NOW…!

1) Capitalistic power of the farmers to be enhanced.
    • Possession of Capital:
    • Credit worthiness:
    • Economic power of produce for success in a market: (Brand name)
    • Empowering Information for competitive efficiency:
    • Technological edge:
    • Education (more specifically, professional/technical education): in fact it is considered a human right violation if a child is not educated for the very reason that it is a vital component of the capitalistic order.
    • Skill sets that can be sold in a services market:
    • Social adjustment to capitalistic globalized culture:

2) Do everything possible to convert villages into teams and empower them.

Knowing that when people are together they can tackle problems better all attempts should be made to make teams out of the villagers. Encourage joint families. Stimulate co-operate farming. Create village teams. Empower panchayats. Enhance collective goal setting and achievement in villages.

3) Initiate processes to protect “village industries” through “Panchayat Brand Protection”. This would serve two purposes; one it would encourage the villages to improve their brand recognition and for that there would be a conscious attempt to improve the image of the village in all ways. All efforts that they put in that direction would remain to their credit. The second is that this would result in earnings which would improve the prosperity of villages. The other benefits would be decentralization, de congestion of cities, move towards self sufficient villages and general empowerment of villages.

4) Take on “Swagrami” as once the Indian resistance took on “Swadeshi”. As we have explained in the document, we believe that the situation is very similar to what existed during the time of the British rule when money was drained out of India and taken into England. The only difference now is that it is being drained out of the villages and into the cities. This is a problem because it is robbing village dwellers of their rights to earn a living. If ‘Khadi’ was the answer of the Independence struggle signifying ‘Swadeshi’ … then ‘Khadi gram udyog’ should be the answer of the present India signifying ‘Swagrami’. In any case the effort would be complete only if the Citizens of India patronize hand made goods made in villages but only of good quality. The villages should focus on producing products of better quality so that it reflects a human touch that is not available in machines. This, we should remember, should be a temporary solution only to meet the requirements of today. Eventually the village industries should grow well enough to sustain themselves in the market without being propped up.

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