Every day 61 housewives commit suicide in India, according to data from the National Bureau of Criminal Records. Last year alone, they were 22,372.
This group represents 14.6% of the total 153,052 suicides that occurred in the Asian country in 2020 and more than 50% of the women who took their own lives.
Last year was no exception. Since 1997, when the government began collecting data on suicide and job type, more than 20,000 housewives have committed suicide each year. In 2009 there were 25,092.
The press often attributes these deaths to “family problems” or “marital affairs.” But what is it that really drives thousands of women to kill themselves?
Mental health experts point out that the main reasons are the rampant domestic violence present in Indian society – in a recent government survey, 30% of respondents said they had suffered spousal violence at some time – and the burden of domestic chores. that made their marriages oppressive for many.
“Women are really resilient, but there is a limit to tolerance,” says Dr. Usha Verma Srivastava, a clinical psychologist in the northern city of Varanasi.
“Most girls marry as soon as they turn 18, the age limit for marriage. She then becomes a wife and daughter-in-law, and they spend the entire day at home, cooking, cleaning, and doing other household chores. All kinds of restrictions are imposed on them, they have little personal freedom and hardly have any money of their own. His education and dreams cease to matter, and his ambitions are slowly dying out; then despair and disappointment set in and existence becomes torture ”.
Dr. Srivastava explains that in older women there are other reasons. “When children are grown and left home, many face empty nest syndrome and suffer perimenopausal symptoms, which can lead to depression and outbursts of crying.”
But, according to the doctor, suicides are easily preventable: “If you stop someone for a second, they will most likely give up.”
The psychiatrist Soumitra Pathare explains that many of the suicides that occur in India are the result of impulses: “The man arrives, beats his wife and she commits suicide.”
Pathare cites research data that reveals that a third of Indian women who kill themselves have a history of being victims of domestic violence. But mistreatment in the home does not even appear in the figures from the National Office of Criminal Records.
Chaitali Sinha, a psychologist with the Bangalore-based mental health app Wysa, says that “many women caught in mistreatment situations remain sane only because of the informal support they receive.”
Sinha, who worked for three years at a state psychiatric hospital in Bombay counseling survivors of suicide attempts, said she found that women formed small support groups to travel together on trains or go out with their neighbors to buy vegetables.
“They had no other way of expressing themselves and sometimes keeping their sanity depended only on that person with whom they could have that conversation,” he says. He adds that the pandemic and the quarantine made the situation worse.
“Housewives had a safe space when the men left for work, but that disappeared during the pandemic. In domestic violence cases it means that many times they are caught with their attackers. It further limited their movements and their ability to do things in which they found joy or comfort, so anger, pain and sadness grow over time and suicide becomes the last resort. “
India reports the highest number of suicides in the world. Indian men who kill themselves account for 25% of the world total and women account for 36% in the 15-39 age group.
But Pathare, who researches mental problems and suicide prevention, says the official Indian figures do not reflect the true magnitude of the problem.
“If you look at the Million Deaths Study, which studied nearly 14 million people in 2.4 million households between 1998 and 2014 or a study published in the Lancet, the suicide figures in India are between 30 and one. 100% below reality ”.
The expert assures that suicide is not a subject that is discussed openly. “There is shame and stigma attached to that and many families try to hide it. In rural India there is no obligation to perform autopsies and the wealthy have been known to rely on local police to portray suicide as an accidental death. “
At a time when India is developing a national suicide prevention strategy, Dr. Pathare believes that the priority should be to improve data quality.
“The numbers of suicide attempts are laughably low in India. Anywhere in the world, they are generally between 4 and 20 lower than the actual number of suicides. So if there are 150,000 suicides a year in India, the number of attempts should be between 600,000 and six million.
It is that population of potential suicides that should be prioritized, Dr. Pathare notes, but the lack of reliable data makes it difficult to prevent suicide worldwide.
“The United Nations goal is to reduce suicides by a third globally by 2030, but in recent years they have increased in India by 10% compared to last year. Reducing them is still a dream ”.