The large scale farm protests taking place in India have led to farmers leaving the comfort of their homes and camping on roads. Violent clashes with police have also been reported from time to time. The mainstream media has put forward various reports on the protests since their inception. Some have ridiculed the protesting farmers while others have questioned the morality of the three farm laws. Political parties have put forward their views, with the ruling government stating the new laws will benefit the farmers and opposition calling for repealment of the laws. However, the impact on mental health of the protesting farmers has been largely neglected.
The controversial farm bills were given assent by the Indian President Ramnath Kovind on 27th September 2020. The passing of the three laws was followed by large scale protests by farmers across the country particularly in Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh. The negative impact caused by the protests on farmers has been clear. In January 2021 after three suicides and one attempted suicde took place at Singhu border counsellors were stationed there. The NGO, United Sikhs told the Deccan Herald that lack of sleep and burnout due to camping on roads for more than a month were the key factors affecting mental health of protestors.
Jasmit Singh, a member of United Sikhs, told the Indian Express “We felt that with the recent suicide cases and farmers being away from home and their families for so long, there was a need for counselling,”
The counsellors present at the Sidhu border have also reported difficulties in conducting their jobs due to lack of resources at the protest sites. Sanya Kataria, 26, a clinical psychologist who, said she sees around 10 farmers everyday since January 4 at the counselling camp set up by the United Sikhs NGO told Hindustan Times “Though the environment is a challenge since there is little privacy and constant disruptions, we have been working with the farmers and sharing the basics of psychoeducation, depression, and anxiety with them”.
One of reasons the farmers have united and protested against the laws is the fear that they will lead to an increase in debt trap faced by Indian farmers and consequently lead to increase in suicides taking place in the farming community. According National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data on accidental deaths and suicides, 10,281 farmers died by suicide in India in 2019. This accounted for 7.4% of total suicides in India. Thus, issues of mental health are not only present at the protests sites but are also an essential part of the agenda set by farm unions leading the farm protests.
The issue of farmer deaths by suicides has been a politically debated issue for more than two decades. Yet, suicides deaths of farmers continue to persist and at times also rise in number. This leads to questions on former Indian government’s apathy. Further, the large scale dissatisfaction of farmers with regards to the new laws indicates that the situation is likely to get worse if appropriate sets are taken by the concerned authorities.
Presently, the research and development department of You’re Wonderful Project is conducting research on farm protests’ impact on mental health on protesting farmers. The aim is to understand in depth how these protests have affected the mental well being of these farmers.