Why Indian Women are more Vulnerable to Suicide than any Other Country

India accounts for 37% of female suicides in the world annually, do social stigma and lack of mental health awareness have a role to play?

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Does India find itself responsible for being one of the nations that have been recording the highest rate of suicide among its female citizens? Yes, India accounts for 37% of female suicides in the world in the whole annually. This indeed points towards a very serious national issue and must be addressed immediately and with earnest sincerity.

In 2018, the well known academic journal Lancet Public Health recorded that India accounted for the largest number of female suicides in the world amounting to nearly 37%. What cannot be denied is that while the rate of suicide for women has considerably gone down since 1990, it has not fallen as quickly anywhere else in the world. In the year 2009, suicide was recorded on number nine as a contributing factor to women’s death in the country.

India accounts for 37% of female suicides in the world in the whole annually.

The statistics reveal that in many cases women who decide to take their own lives belonged to economically stable homes, have had successful careers and were well educated too.

Researchers and scholars working on suicide among educated and career oriented women say that perhaps the advent of the Neo-liberal market, the strong pressure imposed by the all pervading media-glamour culture accompanied by growing career aspirations among women have proliferated at a much greater rate as compared to the society’s own acceptance of the new-independent woman.

So while the woman may have begin to already define herself in new light, the society may be incapable of looking at her beyond her traditional roles. Therefore there seems to be a certain discord between reality and aspiration as far the lives of women are concerned.

Moreover, as we move towards urbanisation and rapid modernisation what we also see is that the traditional joint family which acted as a support system to each member has now been largely replaced by the nuclear family (where there is increased pressure on the woman to both earn well and also look after the house)- this has meant unprecedented burden on the women’s shoulders and the constant tension to juggle between career and the household.

Suicide: No More a Criminal Offence

When we specifically look at the case  of India what we  must also realise is the fact that until the year 2017, suicide was considered as a criminal offence in the eyes of the nation’s law and if one was caught trying to commit suicide, they could be imprisoned for a year or fined, or both. In 2017, attempting suicide was decriminalised in India.

The Mental Health Act, 2017 records and asserts with emphasis that a person who is trying to commit suicide is any way under great pressure and psychological turmoil, it is not justified to try and punish such a person under the law in any case.

The government is thus now mandated to provide adequate care to the victims instead of punishing them under law. However, what we must also acknowledge is that while decriminalisation was an important step, it cannot be seen as the only step needed to address the problem of suicide in the nation.

Moreover, the manner in which the new bill was implemented was not comprehensive. What is alarming is that if one were to analyse things on the ground, what one would realise is that medical clinics, hospitals, police stations etc don’t have much idea about what the new bill demands and therefore things remain very much unaltered at the ground. In fact, a large number of police stations have not yet been notified about the new law and the fact that the previous law has been outdates, so these outdated laws are still referred to when a case is booked against someone for trying to commit suicide.

Thus despite the existence of the new law, it has not penetrated down to the grassroots. Moreover some tricky and ambiguous lines in the bill have made interpretation far more complicated. For example the bill tells us that there is a necessary level of stress required for the act not be considered a crime. This leaves the interpretation of the act into the realm of complete subjectivity and does not clearly state the parameters for making sense the individual’s act of committing suicide. This ambivalence has made things very difficult and completely vulnerable of being interpreted either way.

Moreover, we need to pay attention to the fact that terminology like ‘committing suicide’ must actually be changed because it is essentially very different from ‘committing a crime’. The distinctiveness is that suicide is quite different from committing a crime, it is all about becoming so vulnerable to negative/nihilistic emotions that one feels it is justified to kill oneself.

Suicide as an Act is Engulfed in Stigma

Suicide as an act is engulfed in stigma and families find it immensely difficult to come to terms with a person who has/tried to commit suicide with the family.  The relatives of the victims prefer to hide the fact that the death occurred due to suicide, the cause of the death and often even end up saying that it was not a suicide but rather the victim died in an accident or died of fatal illness.

This means that there is a perpetual discomfort with any open discussion about mental health and the society sees it as a taboo to speak up bout it or even adopt the necessary course of action to deal with it. This reluctance does not allow families to take vulnerable individuals out for medical help but rather to keep it under the veil of ignorance unless something tragic happens. Perhaps this is the reason why anonymous helplines that council vulnerable candidates have gained enough popularity.

Many people going through mental depression and considering suicide as an option feel uneasy speaking to their families or friends about it due to the fear of being judged/rebuked/mocked or even shunned but are looking for ways to address their concerns before finally taking the quantum leap towards suicide.

No individual would like to show their most vulnerable side to even their closest family members or aids due to  the fear that they would be judged and seen as weak.

Removing this fear is extremely necessary but needless to add, it will be an extremely difficult process. It will take years of sensitisation and awareness and commitment towards building a socio-cultural climate that allows each individual to freely talk about and seek help whenever they experience a sense of alienation, loneliness , depression or feel as if life holds no meaning for them. We also have to work towards making discussions on mental health more frequent in our communities and make individuals realise that they shouldn’t be considered as taboos and that any individual should rightly seek medical help when they find themselves in a vulnerable situation.

Finally, we also have to collectively work towards a society that is less competitive and more accepting of individual potentials that are not uniform but diverse and that each person has a gift that makes them unique. If we reduce performance pressure and start accepting instead of judging individuals, we would create a social order that is less vulnerable to suicide and mental illness.

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