Policy Briefs & Reports

Emerging Leaders: Report Volume Six

Rajshree Chandra

Australia India Institute

November 5, 2015

According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB, India) at least 284,694 Indian farmers have taken their lives since 1995. This occurred at an annual average rate of 14,462 in the five years from 1995 to 2000, and 17,699 in the 12 years between 2000 and 2012. That is, since 2001 around 49 farmers have taken their own lives each day, on average – more than one every half hour.1 Farmers’ suicides are one of the biggest scandals of modern times, perhaps even of modernity itself and its idea of development. Development and law have an intimate connection. Fuelled by ideas about innovation, progress in science and technology, and economic growth, particular development strategies are stabilised by and institutionalised in the law. Law is an exercise in line drawing. It creates domains of legality, propriety, property, rights, subject positions, delineating realms and people that are inside them as well as those that are outside. Farmers who commit suicide would seem to be unambiguously outside – excluded from the framings of law. But this is not so. The farmers who have ended their lives after facing extreme, un-negotiable forms of marginalisation are those that fall within the protective purview of law – The Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers Rights Act (PPVFRA), 2001. Hence this paper’s title “the curious case of farmers’ rights in India”. In 2001, India had become one of the first countries to legislate on farmers’ rights, passing the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights Act. It was the world’s first explicit legislation on farmers’ rights, inaugurating what many saw as a new chapter in the discourse of rights and a template for such legislations worldwide. One of the stated intents of this Act was to protect the small farmer, his rights and threatened livelihood in the face of the growing global integration of agriculture after 1995, when India became a party to the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of International Property Rights (the TRIPS agreement).