India saw suicides soar to record high level as pandemic raged

·3-min read

Deaths due to suicide in India soared to record highs in 2021 as the pandemic raged across the country including a devastating second wave last summer which brought India’s healthcare system to its knees.

According to an annual report released by the federal government’s National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), 164,033 deaths by suicide were recorded last year, compared to 153,052 in 2020.

The report also noted that suicides have been steadily increasing over the last five years. In 2017, India recorded 129,887 suicides, which increased to 134,516 in 2018, and 139,123 in 2019.

The NCRB report, entitled Accidental Deaths and Suicides in India, finds that the most suicides were reported in the western state of Maharashtra (22,207) followed by Tamil Nadu (18,920) in the south.

This was followed by 14,965 suicides in Madhya Pradesh, 13,500 in West Bengal and 13,056 such deaths in Karnataka.

“These five states together accounted for 50.4 per cent of the total suicides reported in the country,” the report stated.

In 2021, the rate of suicide deaths in cities was 16.1 per cent in comparison to the national suicide rate of 12 per cent.

The report said that “family problems (other than marriage related problems)” were responsible for 33.2 per cent of the deaths, followed by illness (18.6 per cent) and marriage-related problems (4.8 per cent).

One in four of the recorded 164,033 suicide victims in 2021 was a daily wage labourer, the report noted. This is the first time that daily wage earners comprised as high as 25.6 per cent of suicide deaths in the country.

This was followed by other persons (14.4 per cent), which includes retired persons, those engaged in the farming sector, students, unemployed persons as well as professionals.

As many as 14.1 per cent of all suicide deaths were by homemakers, while 12.3 per cent of those who died by suicide in 2021 were self-employed.

In 2020 too, most suicides were recorded among daily-wage earners, agricultural labourers and housewives.

The data on suicides among daily-wage earners has brought backlash for the federal government led by prime minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Mahua Moitra, member of parliament from the opposition Trinamool Congress Party (TMC), which is in power in West Bengal, said in a tweet: “NCRB data shows daily wage earners account for 25.6% of all suicide victims in 2021. Largest group.

“Is this what Atma Nirbhar [a reference to Mr Modi’s pledge to make India ‘self reliant’] means in BJP’s India?”

Aam Aadmi Party MP Raghav Chadha also hit out at the government for its mishandling of the economy.

Mr Chadha tweeted: “This is alarming. Nearly every 4th suicide victim in India in 2021 was a daily wage earner. The figure has steadily increased and the reasons are clear - record inflation, unprecedented rural economic distress, insecure employment, low wages, and vulnerable living conditions.”

If you are experiencing feelings of distress and isolation, or are struggling to cope, The Samaritans offers support; you can speak to someone for free over the phone, in confidence, on 116 123 (UK and ROI), email jo@samaritans.org, 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 National Suicide Prevention Helpline on 1-800-273-TALK (8255). The Helpline 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.