India’s opposition parties criticise Modi over ‘suicide note’ joke: ‘Depression is not laughing matter’
India's prime minister Narendra Modi was criticised by politicians and activists for laughingly making a joke about suicide they deemed “insensitive”.
Speaking at a media event on Wednesday, Mr Modi recalled a joke in Hindi about how a professor reading a suicide note by his daughter got angry that she couldn't spell correctly despite his efforts for many years.
The prime minister ended the purported joke with a laugh as he received rousing applause from the audience, which included senior Indian media personalities.
Mr Modi then went on to say that he was "happy" that Arnab Goswami, the editor-in-chief of Republic TV, had started speaking well in Hindi.
The video of Mr Modi's speech shortly went viral on Twitter, drawing outrage over his “poor understanding of mental health”.
At least 164,033 people died by suicide in India in 2021, according to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB). With 450 deaths each day, it was the highest suicide rate recorded since India began publishing the data in 1967.
Rahul Gandhi, who has been Mr Modi’s biggest political rival, lead the attack on the prime minister.
"Thousands of families lose their children due to suicide. The prime minister should not make fun of him," Mr Gandhi, a member of the opposition Congress party, tweeted.
Member of Parliament Priyanka Chaturvedi pointed out that deaths by suicide increased by 7.2 per cent as compared to 2020.
“We as a nation need to be more sensitive to depression and mental health issues with you leading the change not mocking their plight,” the Shiv Sena member wrote.
I won’t share the triggering video where you cracked a joke on suicide while the audience laughed at the insensitive ‘joke’, however I’d definitely like to remind you that 2021 NCRB data shows that over 1.5 lakh Indians committed suicide, also deaths by suicide… pic.twitter.com/nWysoJSIRL
— Priyanka Chaturvedi🇮🇳 (@priyankac19) April 27, 2023
Manoj Kumar Jha, an MP from Rashtriya Janata Dal, lashed out: “It is morbid when the prime minister of a country jokes on a sensitive issue like ‘suicide’ but it is even more horrifying when the joke (was) applauded”.
“We have become a very sick society,” he tweeted.
Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, the general-secretary of the Congress party, wrote:" Depression and suicide, especially among the youth IS NOT a laughing matter."
“According to NCRB data, 164033 Indians committed suicide in 2021. Of which a huge percentage were below the age of 30.
“This is a tragedy not a joke.”
Ms Gandhi Vadra added that the prime minister and those laughing heartily must educate themselves and create awareness "rather than ridicule mental health issues in this insensitive, morbid manner".
According to the NCRB, the age groups 18 - 30 and 30 - 45 were the most vulnerable groups resorting to suicides. At least 34.5 per cent of those who died by suicide belonged to the age group of 18-30 years, while 31 per cent were aged between 30-45 years.
"Imagine the insensitive disregard for human life by our prime minister who needs to crack a joke on suicide," the opposition Aam Admi Party tweeted.
"Ironically, when this AnpadhPM [uneducated prime minister] makes a sick and cruel joke on a girl's suicide, the nation is expected to laugh!"
If you are experiencing feelings of distress, or are struggling to cope, you can speak to the Samaritans, in confidence, on 116 123 (UK and ROI), email email@example.com, or visit the Samaritans website to find details of your nearest branch.If you are based in the USA, and you or someone you know needs mental health assistance right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Helpline on 1-800-273-TALK (8255). This is a free, confidential crisis hotline that is available to everyone 24 hours a day, seven days a week.If you are in another country, you can go to www.befrienders.org to find a helpline near you