A total of 164,033 economically vulnerable people in India committed suicide in 2021 due to loss of livelihood following the economic slowdown caused by the pandemic.
Daily wage workers, self-employed and farming sector people formed the bulk of those who took the extreme step, according to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB).
The number of suicides increased by 7.17 percent from the year 2020 to 2021.
The NCRB report titled “Accidental Deaths and Suicides in India” stated that 118,979 men and 45,026 women killed themselves last year.
The most vulnerable age group was 18- 45 years old as about 66 percent of suicides were reported in this age range.
Of the male suicides, the maximum number of 42,000, or one in four, were by daily wage earners.
The professional group has been the largest — 25.6 percent — to die by suicide in the past two years. In 2020, 37,666 daily wage earners died, accounting for 24.6 percent of all deaths by suicide.
The daily wagers group is followed by self-employed persons (18,803) and unemployed persons (11,724).
The self-employed sector registered the highest increase in the number of death by suicides. With 20,231 deaths, this group accounted for 12.3 percent suicides.
The Agriculture sector saw 10,881 suicidal deaths, which included 5,318 farmers and cultivators and 5,563 agricultural laborers. The sector accounted for 6.6 percent of total suicide victims in the country.
Five states — Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal, and Karnataka — accounted for over 50 percent of the suicides in India.
The number of home makers taking the extreme step accounted for 14.1 percent of the total suicides during 2021. Their number increased by 3.6 percent from 22,374 in 2020 to 23,179 in 2021.
The only group that saw a dip in the number of deaths by suicide was “unemployed persons.” From 15,652 death by suicides in 2020, their number fell to 13,714 in 2021.
The share of the economically vulnerable group in the overall number of suicide cases has been increasing steadily since 2014, the report stated.
Loss of livelihood during pandemic
Father Suresh Mathew, editor of the Indian Currents weekly, said the suicide cases are attributed to the fact that about 40 million migrant jobs were affected or lost in India during the pandemic.
Citing a recent report, Father Mathew said close to 20 percent of micro, small and medium industries have failed to payback their loans, reflecting the enormity of crisis in the industrial sector.
The Capuchin priest said the growth in various sectors of the economy is not enough to generate adequate employment opportunities.
The demand-supply chain will get a boost only when the purchasing power of people increases, and this can happen only when there is growth in employment, he said.
Father Jaison Vadassery, executive secretary of the Commission for Migrants Conference of the Catholic Bishops of India, said the pandemic induced fear and concern resulting in stress and anxiety.
Added to the sorry situation were the lockdown restrictions, financial breakdown, lack of physical contact with other family members and friends.
Suicides are supposed to be preventable with timely, evidence-based, and often low-cost interventions, said Father Vadassery.
The Catholic Church has been doing its best to mitigate the sufferings of poor migrants and the poor.
“Last year, we helped 300 migrants from Delhi and neighboring cities of Meerut and Agra,” said the priest.
Migrants who lost their livelihood were encouraged with seed money and training to set up small-scale businesses.
In the Chottanagpur tribal belt, comprising the eastern Jharkhand state and parts of Odisha and Chhattisgarh, migrants are provided a “safety net” in their destination states.
A data base of people leaving the villages for employment was prepared to help monitor migration. Regional centers were also set up in the destination states, such as southern Kerala, Karnataka,
and others, to ensure the safety and security of people from unscrupulous employers.
These centers are being run by non-profit organizations of religious congregations to ensure that migrants get proper remuneration at par with those received by local residents.
Father Vadaserry said that “in a bid to keep [people] rooted, we help them to improve their produce and market them.”
“They are being trained in the process of scaling up and standardization of goods, such as agro products and handicrafts.”
He said tribals belong in strong communities “with good ethics and style of living.”
The India Catholic Church is aided in the initiative by the International Catholic Migration Commission.