Alarming rise in suicide cases linked to economic crisis, but Modi govt seems oblivious to it all
Although there is no data available yet, media reports indicate that unemployment crisis due to the pandemic and containment measures seems to be pushing many to resort to the extreme step
The condition of the jobless people in India was already precarious before the COVID-19 struck the country and lockdown was announced on March 24, 2020. It has been worsening since then.
Unemployment rate remains high and prospects of regaining lost jobs or getting new one is low, causing deterioration in mental health of the jobless to such an extent that they are committing suicides. Incidents of suicides are more frequently appearing in media, indicating that Modi government’s programmes are failing to mitigate the unemployment crisis.
The reports appearing in the media under scarring titles such as ‘Gurugram Tax Consultant ends life’; ‘wife & daughter consume poison’; ‘Ujjain: Unemployed engineer kills self’; ‘Covid-hit jobless man commits suicide in Surat’; ‘Unable to get job, 24-year-old MPSC aspirant dies by suicide in Pune’; ‘Youth reportedly commits suicide after losing job’ call attention to the worsening crisis.
We don’t have detailed record of suicides for the year 2020 and 2021, because the National Crime Record Bureau publishes the data of two years back. We have therefore the latest data of 2019, i.e. just before the pandemic struck the country.
The overall suicides in the country had been rising since 2017, the year when the suicide rate in the country was 9.9 per cent with 1,29,887 suicides. Number of suicides grew to 1,34,516 i.e. 10.2 per cent in 2018, and 1,39,123 i.e. 10.4 per cent in 2019.
During this period, unemployment scenario in the country has been worsening. NSSO official data had revealed that India’s unemployment rate stood at 6.1 per cent in 2017-18 at a 45-year high. By April 2019, it increased to 7.6 per cent as per CMIE data. One therefore suspects that there is likely to be a frightening link between unemployment and suicides.
India's unemployment rate stood at 23.5 per cent in May 2020. Thereafter, it had been fluctuating on a month on month basis until January 2021. It means that in one month people were getting employed and the next month they ended up losing it.
From the beginning of 2021, it has worsened. The unemployment rate in January was 6.52 per cent, which rose to 7.97 per cent in April, and 8.2 per cent on May 9, according to CMIE data. In May 2021, the unemployment rate was 11.9 per cent, in June 9.17 per cent, and on July 23 it was 7.26 per cent. Urban unemployment was higher at 8.39 per cent as against the rural unemployment at 6.74 per cent as on July 23.
Now let’s come to the suicidal trend as appearing in the media. The reports of suicides are more from urban areas than rural India. We also see that unemployment rate on 30 day moving average in urban area is higher than the rural areas.
Here, it also must be noted that we have Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNREGA) for the rural population, but we don’t have any such employment guarantee scheme for the urban poor.
The unemployed in the urban areas are totally at the mercy of market forces, at a time when COVID-19 lockdowns and the containment measures had completely distorted the labour market situation.
Suicides in India were already on the rise before the pandemic, which grew by 3.4 per cent in 2019 as against 2018. States like Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Delhi, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, West Bengal reported large number of suicides even before the pandemic. These states are also known for giving large number of employment due to concentration of industries and business.
When the pandemic struck, industries and business disruption were obviously largest in these states causing largest number of job losses. No wonder, largest number of suicide cases are being reported from these states, which is a matter of serious concern.
Though the figures suggest there is a link between jobs loss and suicides and also deterioration of mental health during the pandemic causing several other tribulations of an individual, only a detailed study can clear the hazy picture we have now.
In 2019, of the total suicides, about 2 per cent were reported due to unemployment. Professional and career problem caused 1.2 per cent, poverty caused 0.9 per cent, and indebtedness caused 4.2 per cent of suicides. About 0.4 per cent died by suicide due to fall in social reputation.
COVID-19 has pushed much more people under such conditions, and therefore, suicides might have been increased in an unprecedented way.
Most of the people who died by suicide in 2019 were from the age group 18-45. The people from this age group are most active in the labour market and therefore they are worst hit form the job loss. It has deteriorated their condition, especially women who lost larger share of jobs than men. The reports coming in the newspapers show suicides by both the sexes, but the proportion would be known only after a detailed report of the government comes out.
If we see look at suicides by profession during 2019, the precariousness of the working class seems to have acquired frightening proportions during the pandemic. The highest number of suicides in 2019 were by daily wage earners who comprised 23.4 per cent of the total suicides, followed by house wives at 15.4 per cent, self-employed at 11.6 per cent, unemployed at 10.1 per cent, professionals and salaried persons at 9.1 per cent, farmers and allied activities at 7.4 per cent, students at 7.4 per cent, and retired persons at 0.9 per cent.
By economic status, 66.2 per cent of deaths by suicide were by persons having an income of less than one lakh rupees yearly. Next 29.6 per cent suicide victims were earning between 1-5 lakh a year. The pandemic and containment measures has worsened the condition for all such persons, and most of them are not covered under any social security provision.
Modi government must wake up and do something for the unemployed and launch job guarantee and protection schemes.
Views are personal