India: Thousands of housewives commit suicide in 2020


Housewives in India accounted for more than fifty percent of the total number of women who killed themselves in 2020, with government figure showing 22,372 recorded suicides.

The data released by the government’s National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) means that on average 61 women commit suicide every day or one in every 25 minutes.

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.”

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. (Source: BBC)