The growing suicide rate in India – the reasons
A few days ago I wrote about the suicide rates of the world. India may not have the world’s highest suicide rate, but like in the rest of the world, suicides in India are growing. Here’s a graph from Maithri:
Globalisation, industrialisation and affluence…all of this has seemingly pushed our suicide rate up. While there are pockets which have higher suicide rates than the rest of the country, if one looks at the problem state-wise, one can see that it is mostly the developed states which have a higher rate of suicide.
But why? Why should so many Indians, specially those who have more access to jobs and education that ever before, want to die? Aren’t we supposed to be a spiritual people, content with our lot, with strong religious beliefs and a fatalistic attitude to life? Well, this philosophy, so rooted in our genes, has not protected even our simple village folks. Indian farmers are killing themselves in thousands!
Although the rewards are great if one does succeed, the stakes are higher and the struggle harder. Plus, society is becoming more individualistic. At one time, one brother often supported another, or the father supported a lazy son. Today its something to be ashamed of, depending financially on anyone but oneself. Here in India we still have a tendency to depend on one’s parents but this is slowly changing and if we go the way of the west, this tendency will disappear altogether. This increases pressures on individuals – and not everyone can make it. And then, the typical Indian joint family which often acted as a buffer in times of stress is breaking up.
Today, getting into IIM or IIT, scraping up a loan to pay for the education, desperately trying to get into a government medical college or in fact any reputed institute causes immense stress, even if one succeeds in the end. While many aim to get that high paying job in a multi-national, or perhaps go abroad, some start their own business, staking everything they have. If that fails…the disaster can drive people to suicide. As the graph below shows, self employed people (24 per cent) are the most vulnerable to suicide:
Housewives (21 percent) are the second largest group. This is not too difficult to understand in our society. Lack of love and respect at home, dowry harassment, mental torture at the hands of in-laws, abandonment and/or sexual abuse is often the cause of despair in women. On the other hand men are driven over the edge mostly because of financial and health related reasons. In India the suicide rate of younger women (15-25 years) is almost identical to that of men. This is abnormally high if one goes by world trends. In all the countries of the world, except China, a far higher proportion of men kill themselves as compared to women. In India the ratio starts improving in favour of women only after the age of 30, but even then, the number of Indian women killing themselves is far higher than in other parts of the world.
Farmers (15 per cent) form the next biggest group. India has seen a lot of farmer suicides in recent years. We may be in the throes of a an economic boom, but more than 25,000 farmers have killed themselves in India, mostly by consuming pesticide since the year 1997. Debt and the resulting harassment at the hands of money lenders is a major cause.
Farmers fell into debt because of a combination of high farming costs (exorbitantly priced hybrid (so-called high yielding) seeds and pesticides sold by multinationals and a lack of a good price for their produce, partly due to imports. Drought added to their woes. Irrigation was too expensive for these farmers and the state government didn’t help. This lack of interest from the state government (in the initial years) is in stark contrast to the efforts of the Gujarat government.
So what used to happen before the advent of globalisation? Well, farmers went in for low yield, low risk farming. Their crops may have failed, but they didn’t sink into debt which they could not repay…they managed to survive. It was their decision to go for high yielding crops with its resultant high cost of farming which did them in…its also a failure of our banking system that these poor farmers had to fall back on money lenders. Money lenders in rural areas are notorious for charging 30-40 per cent interest and then if the farmer does not pay, they make his life miserable. Threats to life and intimidation of family members is common. Murder is also not unheard of. Farmers often see no way out but to die.
In Maharashtra about 1,448 farmers, mostly cotton growers, committed suicide, in 2006 alone.
So is there a solution to this suicide malaise? Well, even those countries which have a good infrastructure to deal with the depressed and the mentally ill have a growing rate of suicide. And the modern world with the new society that it has spawned is not showing any signs of changing…in fact it seems to be getting worse. Its a dog eat dog world and we have to accept it. Its the path humanity is chosen and I feel it is for our long term survival. We simply have to learn to cope better with the increased competition, increased loneliness, the increased materialism. How we are going to do it I am not sure, but the toughest will always survive…and thrive.
(Photos copyrighted to me. Graphs from Maithri)
Related Reading: The Suicide rates of the World
Some ways to help people cope with depression
The right time to see a psychiatrist
One reason for suicide – social rejection
Euthanasia may be illegal but it’s popular