India (HRNW): 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 about four times those by farmers. They also comprised 47% of the total female victims.
Yet the high number of homemakers killing themselves doesn’t make front page news in the way farmer suicides do, year after year.
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 on occupation of the victim. In 2009, the grim statistic peaked at 25,092 deaths.
Forget raw numbers.
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. Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar showed lower suicide rates.
Peter Mayer, who teaches politics at the University of Adelaide and has spent much time studying the sociology of suicide in India, wonders why suicide rates of housewives in India is so high, and why it gets so little attention in the media.
After all, as Mr Mayer says, research in western societies suggests that “marriage confers protection from suicide to married women”.
Therefore, 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.
India, clearly, is an outlier.
Nearly 70% of people who took their lives in 2001, for example, were married – 70.6% of the men and 67% of the women.