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More Indian workers at risk of suicide due to financial hardships caused by COVID-19

Pandemic has destroyed livelihoods of many of the country’s poor

There is gloom in Bamora village in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh’s Sagar district. A migrant worker Manish ‘Sunil’ Vishwakarma, who had returned from Delhi in May this year when the entire nation was under COVID-19 induced lockdown, allegedly committed suicide.

Sunil, 34, had arrived at his native Bamora village on May 17 on a ‘Shramik’ or labor special train.

He committed suicide by hanging in his house on June 10.

Sunil’s brother Anil Vishwakarma said Sunil worked in a restaurant in Delhi which closed because of the lockdown.

“He lived there with his wife and two children. All of them returned to their home place Bamora as there was no work in Delhi and it was impossible to survive there without work,” Anil said.

“But things are no better here. Sunil was depressed after being out of job due to the lockdown. With no prospect of income and no means of sustenance, he took his own life,” he said.

India saw a 3.4 percent jump in deaths by suicide in 2019 compared with the previous year with population groups normally linked with low incomes recording a notable number of suicides. The country saw a total of 139,123 suicides during 2019.

Laborers at a construction site in Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh, India sometime in June. (Photo by Abhishek Mittal/shutterstock.com)
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A recent government data provided by the country’s National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) also showed that nearly two-thirds of the total suicides committed in 2019 were by those who had an annual income of less than Rs 100,000 (or about $ 1,400).  

Although the NCRB data only includes suicides during 2019, the current year is even more challenging for India’s poor daily wage and migrant workers and farmers due to coronavirus pandemic and lockdowns.

Daily wage earners, who form India’s lowest-earning population category, have the highest share in the number of suicides in India as almost every fourth (23.8 percent) suicide in 2019 was by a person belonging to this group. As many as 32,563 daily wage earners ended their lives during the year, up from 30,132 in 2018, the data revealed.

The last five year’s NCRB data reveals the percentage of daily wage earners dying of suicide is rising in the country.

In 2015, the share of daily wage earners dying of suicide was 17.87 percent (23,779), which increased to 19.2 percent (21,902) in 2016, 22.1 percent (28,737) in 2017, and 22.4 percent (30,124) in 2018. This has further risen to about 24 per cent in the latest NCRB data for 2019.

Rise in suicides

The upward drift of suicides by daily wage workers is likely to continue this year as well because the COVID-19 has left them in utter distress.

The current situation of the pandemic and the ongoing crisis has destroyed livelihoods of the poor. Financial hardships caused by the virus are hitting the workers and farmers hard, putting them at risk of poverty and depression.

A file image of farmers plowing a field in a traditional manner in Amravati, Maharashtra, India on July 30, 2017. (Photo by CRS PHOTO/shutterstock.com)

In 2019, according to the NCRB report, 10,281 persons engaged in the farming sector, including farmers, cultivators, and farm workers resorted to suicide, accounting for 7.4 percent of all suicides in India.

The suicide rate in the deeply stressed agrarian sector has come down marginally for the fourth successive year, but experts say this could be due to a penchant to under-report data and downplay suicides by cultivators.

Activists also argue that over 10,000 farmers committing suicide each year was a bigger worry than looking at marginal rise or drop in numbers.

The farm sector has been under significant stress after recurring droughts and floods, crop failure, falling rural wages, plunging prices of produce, rising indebtedness, and shrinking landholdings.


Altogether, India recorded 139,123 suicides during 2019, up from 134,516 in 2018 and 129,887 in 2017, the NCRB data revealed. Housewives accounting for 15.4 percent of all suicides in India formed the second-largest group killing themselves in 2019 after daily wage earners.

They were followed by self-employed (11.6 percent), jobless people (10.1 percent), salaried people or professionals (9.1 percent), students, and people employed in the farming sector (both 7.4 percent), and retired people (0.9 percent), the NCRB data revealed.

Relatives mourn the death of a man due to COVID-19, at a crematorium in New Delhi, India Sept. 7. (Photo by Adnan Abidi/Reuters)

Sarika Saxena, 32, committed suicide by consuming poison due to alleged harassment by in-laws in Shivpuri district in central state of Madhya Pradesh. Sarika died at a hospital in Shivpuri in December last year.

Her father Jagdish Khare said, “She married Vivek Saxena, who runs a garment shop, in April last year and committed suicide only eight months after the wedding. I had given gold, cash and household items worth Rs 700,000 (or about $10,000) as dowry at the time of wedding,” he said.

“But soon after marriage, her in-laws began harassing as they wanted more dowry.”

Sarika’s in-laws have now been booked for abetment of suicide.

Every suicide is a tragedy

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), every year about 800,000 people take their own life and there are many more people who attempt suicide. Of that 17 percent of the world’s suicides take place in India.

India is among the highest suicide rates in the world. Every suicide is a tragedy that affects families, communities and entire countries and has long-lasting effects on the people left behind. 

Suicide is “preventable” with timely, evidence-based, and often low-cost interventions, says WHO but stigma, particularly surrounding mental disorders and suicide, means many people thinking of taking their own life or who have attempted suicide are not seeking help and are therefore not getting the help they need.

Father Maria Stephen, Public Relations Officer (PRO) of the Catholic Church in Madhya Pradesh said: “People are dying of suicide only because they are thinking about themselves.”

“They are not thinking why they have come into this world. They have set a goal for themselves and if they fail they kill themselves. So, it is important that we should establish a connection with almighty God.”

Father Stephen added: “It is important for us to do something for others instead of being selfish and thinking about ourselves. So, we should understand why God has sent us into this world.”

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