CHANDIGARH — Amid a humanitarian crisis unfolding in several Indian states because of crop damage due to unseasonal rains and hailstorms, a minister in Haryana has said desperate farmers who are driven to suicide due to debt and loss of livelihood are criminals and cowards.
Agriculture Minister OP Dhankar's comments came even as hundreds of farmers are taking their own lives across India, unable to support their families. Dhankar's apparent reasoning behind the shocking comment is suicide is a crime under Indian laws.
"Suicide is a crime. According to Indian law, suicide is a crime. A person who commits suicide runs away from his responsibilities. Such people are cowards and the government cannot stand by such cowards or criminals," Dhankar was quoted as saying.
Dhankar, who earlier headed the Bharatiya Janata Party Kisan Cell, used to condemn the earlier UPA government for not doing much for farmers which was leading to increasing suicides.
His comment was met with incredulous reactions from even within the political community.
"We must recognise that suicide comes out of desperation. This is rubbing salt on aggrieved families' wounds. We must be more sensitive to farmers' plight," Odisha parliamentarian BJ Panda was quoted as saying by NDTV.
"I condemn O P Dhankar's comments on farmers. This shows the mindset of the BJP," said Janata Dal United leader KC Tyagi.
@ANI_news No Mr. Dhankar. They commit suicide bcz u as govt. Fail whenever they look up to u. No Farmer wants to commit suicide. U r coward.— Deepak Garg (@deep_filmmaker) April 29, 2015
Speaking in Lok Sabha, Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi condemned the comment and said the local government did not come to the rescue of the farmers. "The farmers are dying in Haryana and the agriculture minister has called them cowards," Gandhi said.
Taking a jibe at Prime Minister Narendra Modi's 'Make in India' campaign, Gandhi on Wednesday said that farmers contribute the maximum to this initiative. Gandhi added that the government should help the farming community.
"The Prime Minister talks about 'Make in India'. Who contributes more than the farmers from Punjab in 'Make in India'? The poor contributes to 'Make in India', isn't that 'Make in India'? The Central Government should help out the farmers," Gandhi told the media.
Meanwhile, the Rashtriya Kisan Mazdoor Sangathan said Dhankar's comment is uncalled for.
"The statement of the minister is unwanted and uncalled for. The farmer has been pushed against the wall to such an extent that thefarmer has no other option than committing suicide," said president V.M. Singh.
Singh said the government is supposed to be a support system for the farmers, whereas they have let them down on all occasions.
"Whether it is the paddy purchase, sugarcane prices, or the crop insurance of wheat, which was not done by the government as such, by the virtue of which the farmer today is totally in distress. The government has not succeeded and has not performed in assisting the farmer. If there is any criminal action, it should be against the government," he added.
(With inputs from agencies)