Creative Writing – 125
Read the BBC article and answer the questions that follow
What’s behind suicides by thousands of Indian housewives?
Why do thousands of Indian housewives kill themselves every year? According to the recently released data by the government’s National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), 22,372 housewives took their own lives last year – that’s an average of 61 suicides every day or one every 25 minutes.
Housewives accounted for 14.6% of the total 153,052 recorded suicides in India in 2020 and more than 50% of the total number of women who killed themselves.
And last year was not an exception. Since 1997 when the NCRB started compiling suicide data based on occupation, more than 20,000 housewives have been killing themselves every year. In 2009, their numbers rose to 25,092.
Reports always blame such suicides on “family problems” or “marriage related issues”. But what really does drive thousands of women to take their lives?
Mental health experts says a major reason is rampant domestic violence – 30% of all women told a recent government survey that they had faced spousal violence – and the daily drudgery that can make marriages oppressive and matrimonial homes suffocating.
“Women are really resilient, but there’s a limit to tolerance,” says Dr Usha Verma Srivastava, a clinical psychologist in the northern city of Varanasi.
“Most girls are married off as soon as they turn 18 – the legal age for marriage. She becomes a wife and a daughter-in-law and spends her entire day at home, cooking and cleaning and doing household chores. All sorts of restrictions are placed on her, she has little personal freedom and rarely has access to any money of her own. “Her education and dreams no longer matter and her ambition begins to extinguish slowly, and despair and disappointment set in and the mere existence become torture.”
Housework in India is almost always a woman’s responsibility. In older women, says Dr Verma Srivastava, the reasons for suicide are different.
“Many face the empty nest syndrome after the children have grown up and left home and many suffer from peri-menopausal symptoms which can cause depression and crying spells.”
But suicides, she says, are easily preventable and that “if you stop someone for a second, chances are they would stop”. That’s because, as psychiatrist Soumitra Pathare explains, many Indian suicides are impulsive. “Man comes home, beats up wife, and she kills herself.”
Independent research, he says, shows that one-third of Indian women who take their lives have a history of suffering domestic violence. But domestic violence is not even mentioned in the NCRB data as a cause.
Chaitali Sinha, a psychologist with Bangalore-based mental health app Wysa, says “a lot of women who remain in active domestic violence situations retain their sanity only because of the informal support they receive”.
Ms Sinha, who earlier worked for three years in a government psychiatric hospital in Mumbai, counselling survivors of attempted suicide, says she found that women formed little support groups while travelling in local trains or with neighbours while buying vegetables.
“They had no other avenue to express themselves and sometimes their sanity depended on this conversation they could have with just one person,” she says, adding that the pandemic and the lockdown worsened their situation.
“Housewives had a safe space after the menfolk would leave for work, but that disappeared during the pandemic. In situations of domestic violence, it also meant they were often trapped with their abusers. It further restricted their movement and their ability to do things that brought them joy or solace. So anger, hurt and sadness builds over time and suicide becomes their last resort.”
India reports the highest numbers of suicides globally: Indian men make up a quarter of global suicides, while Indian women make up 36% of all global suicides in the 15 to 39 years age group.
But Dr Pathare, who has researched mental disorders and suicide prevention, says India’s official numbers are a huge underestimate and do not convey the true scale of the problem.
Women have few avenues to express their emotions. “If you look at the Million Death Study [which monitored nearly 14 million people in 2.4 million households between 1998-2014] or the Lancet study, suicides in India are under-reported by between 30% and 100%.”
Suicide, he says, “is still not talked about openly in polite company – there’s shame and stigma attached to it and many families try to conceal it. In rural India, there’s no requirement for autopsies and the rich are known to lean upon the local police to show a suicide as accidental death. And police entries are not verified.”
At a time when India is developing a national suicide prevention strategy, Dr Pathare says the priority must be to fix the quality of data. “If you look at the numbers of attempted suicides in India, they are laughably low. Anywhere in the world, they are generally four to 20 times [the number] of actual suicides. So, if India recorded 150,000 suicides last year, the attempted suicides would have been between 600,000 and six million.”
This, Dr Pathare says, is the first at-risk population that should be targeted for any suicide prevention intervention, but we are hobbled by poor data, he says, with consequences worldwide.
“The United Nations target is to cut down suicides globally by a third by 2030, but in the past year, ours have increased by 10% compared to the previous year. And reducing it remains a pipe dream.” [Sourced from BBC, Gita Pandey]
1. What is the work of the NCRB? What it says about the prevalence of suicides among women, both married and unmarried, in the country?
2. What reasons do the reports ascribe to the suicides?
3. What does Dr. Usha Verma say about women suicides?
4. Describe how a girl’s quality of life deteriorates after her marriage.
5. What problem afflicts elderly women making their life miserable?
6. How are women affected by domestic violence?
7. How do some women in India manage to avoid suicide, according to Chaitali Sinha?
8. How did the pandemic aggravate the misery of the family women?
9. Are India’s suicide numbers accurate? Why do you say so?
10. What according to Dr. Pathare are the realistic suicide numbers in India?
11. What does the United Nations intend to about suicides?
1. NCRB stands for National Crime Record Bureau. It tracks the number and nature of crimes happening in the country. According to it, 22,372 housewives committed suicides last year averaging to 61 deaths per day, and one suicide every 25 minutes.
Housewives accounted for 14.6% of the total 153,052 recorded suicides in India In the year 2020, a total of 1,53,052 suicides happened. Nearly 14.6% of the dead were housewives. Moreover, among the dead women constituted more than half of the total figure. The number of suicides among women is mounting gradually.
2. Pervasive mental and physical torture at the hands of the husband, dowry-related harassment, and hostility of the in-laws trigger suicide among housewives.
3. Dr. Usha Verma feels that women have innate resilience built into their nature, but, unfortunately, the miseries piled up on them crosses the threshold, and they are compelled to take their own lives.
4. For the teen-aged bride entering her husband’s household, the world changes drastically and towards the worse. No more carefree days, no recreation, and no laid-back attitude. Instead, she is asked to stay indoors all the time, cook and do all domestic chores, never aspire to continue her studies, and not to question the authority of the elders. The atmosphere become stiflingly oppressive and hostile. She endures the trauma as a fait accompli.
5. Dr. Verma Srivastava ascribes the suicide among elderly women to the void they endure when grown-up children leave them to live elsewhere. She terms it ‘empty-nest’ syndrome. Besides this, post-menopausal changes often push them to fatal depression, and they end their lives.
6. The frequent beatings at the hands of the husband and the in-laws humiliates them before their children, besides causing them bruises and scars. The indignity and the loss of self-esteem becomes too much to bear and they commit suicides.
7. Dr. Chaitali aSinhsa, a clinical psychologist from Bangalore, says that married women at the receiving end of their husbands’ brutal behaviour endure insufferable pains, no doubt, but, they learn to build support groups with women in similar predicament living nearby. These miserable women meet daily, unburden their griefs, and lean on each other’s shoulders for support. This interaction happens around markets and grocery stores. They manage to cling to their unhappy lives without ending it abruptly.
8. NCRB numbers are highly inaccurate and are very much lower than the actual figure. This is so because many suicide cases are hushed up as accidental deaths, and the process of reporting is also quite patchy. The actual figure might be 30% to 100% more than the real counts.
9. According to Dr. Pathare, India’s data are very unreliable. Worldwide, for each suicide, the number of unsuccessful attempts might be 4 to 20 times more. The comparable figures for India are much less. This indirectly shows that we don’t spot and report attempted suicide cases. India shows suicides in the range of 1,50, 000 annually. The attempted cases should be 6,00,000 minimum.
10. The United Nations acknowledges widespread suicides as a scourge. It aims to cut down suicides globally by a third by 2030.