Suicides: India’s dubious distinction

There are more suicide deaths in India than in any other country, and it is a matter of concern that the rate has been rising in the past few years. The numbers are high both in absolute and relative terms. According to a study published in the journal Lancet, while India has 18% of the world’s population, it accounts for nearly 37% of the world’s suicides among women and 24% among men. In other words, one out of every three women and one out of every four men who commit suicide are Indians. The Government of India and some of the country’s important medical and health bodies were involved in the study and so the figures are not disputed. While the men’s suicide rate is high, it is much higher in the case of women. Suicide is the most common cause of death for women in the prime age of 15-39 years. 

Suicide is a psychological and sociological issue and a heath challenge. The differential rates show that the fatal fascination is more among women, and this could be because of the poor gender status of and discrimination against women. Pervasive oppression, domestic violence, lack of economic opportunities and independence, inadequate access to health facilities, especially mental health care and counselling, are some reasons that make life more difficult for women. Even when there is educational advancement and economic freedom, social and familial discrimination and oppression continue, and so the unequal situation in life is the same for women of all classes. Married women are more prone to suicide than others because they suffer more from marital discord and family problems than men. That is why the suicide rate among young married women is more than that of those from other age groups.  

A more revealing finding is that women’s suicide rate has gone up from 25.3% of the world’s suicides in1990 to 36.6% in 2016. This means that faster economic development of the period led to more distress and deaths for women. Was it because patriarchal attitudes hardened and oppression of women increased during this period? This should be read with the World Bank’s 2017 report which said that female participation in India’s workforce has been steadily falling for many years, and its ranking in that respect is 120th among 131 countries. Men grab a greater share of jobs which are created. Economic development has also weakened the traditional structures of support in family and society and that has made women more vulnerable. Desperate cries for help are going unheard even as we are claiming that we are empowering women by all means. 

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Suicides: India’s dubious distinction

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