Tuesday, April 12, 2016

India's Desperate Housewives

More than 20,000 housewives took their lives in India in 2014. This was the year when 5,650 farmers killed themselves in the country. So the number of suicides by housewives was over 250% more than the farmers. Yet the high number of homemakers killing themselves doesn't make front page news in the way farmer suicides do. The Lancet in 2012 found that the suicide rate in Indian women aged 15 years or older is more than two and a half times greater than it is in women of the same age in high-income countries, and nearly as high as in China.

In fact, more than 20,000 housewives have been killing themselves in India every year since 1997, the earliest year for which we have information compiled by the National Crime Records Bureau based upon occupation of the victim. In 2009, the grim statistic peaked at 25,092 deaths. The rate of housewives taking their lives - more than 11 per 100,000 people - has been consistently higher than India's overall suicide rate since 1997. It dropped to 9.3 in 2014, yet suicide rate for housewives was more than twice those for farmers that year. Suicide rates of housewives vary from state to state.
In 2011, for example, their rates - more than 20 per 100,000 people - were higher in states like Maharashtra, Pondicherry, Tamil Nadu, Madhya Pradesh, Kerala, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Goa, West Bengal and Gujarat. While Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, and Bihar showed lower suicide rates. Researchers say that suicide rates among housewives are lowest in the most "traditional" states, where family sizes are big and extended families are common. Rates are higher in states where households are closer to nuclear families - Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala. (Dowry-related deaths are treated as murders.)

In 2001, 70.6% of the men and 67% of the women were married. In western societies married people are less likely to kill themselves - studies have found suicide rates for married people in the US and Australia, for example, are lower than others in the same age group. Mayer, author of 'Suicide and Society in India' and co-researcher Della Steen found that the "risk of suicide is, on the whole, highest in what are probably the first or second decades of marriage, that is, for those aged between 30 and 45". believed the high rate of housewife suicides was linked to the "nature of the social transformation in the nature of the family, which is occurring in India…I suggest that a central explanatory factor is the importance of changing expectations concerning social roles, especially in marriage," he says.

Dr. Vikram Patel, a leading Goa-based psychiatrist and professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, who co-authored the Lancet study, tells me that the high rate of housewife suicides in India can be attributed to a double whammy of "gender and discrimination". He says "Many women face arranged marriages by force. They have dreams and aspirations, but they often do not get supportive spouses. Sometimes their parents don't support them either. They are trapped in a difficult system and social milieu. The resulting lack of romantic, trusting and affectionate relationship with your spouse can lead to such tragedies."

The World Socialist Party (India): 257 Baghajatin ‘E’ Block (East), Kolkata – 700086,
Tel: 2425-0208,
E-mail: wspindia@hotmail.com

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