By Muhammad Haris 26 February 2023
India’s economic and social inequalities have long been a cause for concern, leading to a rise in suicide deaths among the already vulnerable groups. The recent increase in suicide deaths among daily wage earners, labourers, students, and other vulnerable groups in India has raised serious concerns about the state of the country’s economy and social welfare system. According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data, there has been a steady increase in the number of suicides over three years, with incidents rising from 139,123 in 2019 to 153,052 in 2020, and further to 164,033 in 2021. According to a study published in The Lancet Psychiatry, the number of suicides in India rose by 6.5% annually between 1990 and 2016, with an estimated 230,000 deaths in 2016 alone. The suicide rate among women was found to be particularly high, with young women being the most vulnerable. Moreover, the pandemic has further exacerbated the situation, leading to a surge in the number of suicides in India.
One of the most affected groups is daily wage earners, whose suicides constitute nearly 25% of all such deaths each year. The number of incidents among them rose from 32,563 in 2019 to 37,666 in 2020, which happened to be the first year of COVID-19 in which a major lockdown was imposed, and further to 42,004 in 2021. This highlights the impact of the pandemic on this vulnerable section of society, as they were left without work and income for extended periods, leading to a deepening of their financial distress.
Similarly, the number of suicides among housewives also gradually rose over the three years, from 21,359 in 2019 to 22,374 in 2020 and further to 23,179 in 2021. The reasons behind this are often related to domestic and societal pressures, including financial constraints, marital issues, and social isolation.
Self-employed persons constitute the third-largest category among people who die by suicide. In 2019, 16,098 self-employed persons took their lives, and the numbers rose to 17,332 in 2020 and further to 20,231 in 2021. This group is particularly vulnerable to economic instability, market fluctuations, and competition.
Unemployed persons are the fourth-largest category of people to die by suicide. The number of their deaths rose from 14,019 in 2019 to 15,652 in 2020, reflecting the impact of job losses and economic uncertainty caused by the pandemic.
Another concerning trend is the rise in suicide deaths among students, who were the fifth-highest group. The recorded suicide deaths among them rose almost 20% from 10,335 in 2019 to 12,526 in 2020, touching the highest figure of 13,089 in 2021. This reflects the psychological impact of prolonged school closures, uncertainty around exams, and online learning on students’ mental health. The psychological impact of prolonged lockdowns, social isolation, and uncertainty around education and employment prospects is also taking a toll on mental health, particularly among the youth. The rise in suicide deaths among students, the fifth-highest group, underscores the urgent need for mental health interventions and support systems for this group.
Lastly, agricultural labourers, who are among the most marginalized and vulnerable groups in the country, also saw a rise in the number of suicide deaths. The number of incidents rose from 4,324 in 2019 to 5,098 in 2020 and further to 5,563 in 2021, highlighting the deepening agrarian crisis and lack of support systems for farmers. The agrarian crisis, worsened by climate change and declining soil fertility, is another factor contributing to the rising suicide deaths among agricultural labourers. However, the lack of government support and interventions to address the root causes of the crisis, including land ownership, access to credit and technology, and price volatility, is pushing these already marginalized individuals to the brink of desperation.
The impact of this rise in suicide deaths is likely to be far-reaching, both in terms of the economic cost and the social consequences. Suicide deaths can have a devastating impact on families and communities, leaving behind long-lasting trauma and grief. Moreover, the economic cost of suicide deaths can be significant, with a loss of potential earnings and productivity, and increased healthcare costs.
The rise in suicide deaths in India is a complex issue that reflects the fault lines within Indian society and the governance system. Addressing this issue requires a comprehensive and coordinated approach that prioritizes policies and initiatives that address the root causes of poverty, unemployment, and inequality. Prioritizing investments in healthcare, education, and economic development is crucial for creating a more equitable and prosperous society in India. The focus on great power aspirations and military build-up can only divert resources away from critical social and economic development initiatives that are necessary for addressing the root causes of poverty, inequality, and other challenges facing Indian society. However, it is important to ensure that these investments are made equitably and inclusively that address the needs of all communities, particularly those that are most marginalized and vulnerable. The promotion of the Hindutva mind-set, which advocates for the supremacy of the Hindu religion, should not be prioritized over addressing the pressing issues of social and economic inequality. Moreover, the Indian government must take responsibility for addressing these issues rather than solely blaming external factors such as Pakistan for all the bad things within the Indian society. By acknowledging and addressing the internal challenges facing Indian society, the Indian government can work towards creating a more inclusive, just, and stable society that prioritizes the well-being of all its citizens. This requires a commitment to social justice and a recognition of the diverse needs and experiences of India’s diverse population.