Why Thousands Of Indian Housewives Are Killing Themselves

National Crime Record Bureau data reveals that consistently for over two decades, every fifth suicide in India is by a housewife.

By Samriddhi Sakunia, 9 Mar 2023

According to the Ministry of Labour and Employment’s response to a query from the Lok Sabha on Monday, February 14, Housewives made up the second-largest category of daily people who committed suicide in India between 2019 and 2021.

Wage earners made up the single-largest group of people who committed suicide. According to data from the National Crime Records Bureau, the next three professions by a number of people who committed suicide were self-employed, jobless, and students.

According to the NCRB data, the number of suicides increased steadily over the course of three years, rising from 139,123 in 2019 to 153,052 in 2020 and then to 164,033 in 2021.

The data divided these fatalities into nine broad categories: housewives, professionals and salaried workers, government employees, students, unemployed people, people who were self-employed, people who worked in the farming industry, people who were employed on a daily basis, retired people, and others.

It was discovered that daily wage workers accounted for roughly 25% of all such deaths annually.

Indian Women Are More Vulnerable To Suicide

However, In India, the conversation around mental health omits housewives. A housewife’s contribution to the family is barely acknowledged, which is likely why mental health problems are dismissed and untreated. Homemakers also ignore their own needs and continue to suffer. They fail to prioritise themselves and wind up in a precarious scenario.

The official statistics have repeatedly shown that mental health issues are getting worse and that suicide is more common among them. There were 22,372 housewives who committed suicide in 2020, or one every 25 minutes, or 61 suicides per day on average. That wasn’t unusual in 2020. Data from the past 20 years reveals that housewives have regularly made up a fifth of suicides in India.

Suicide among housewives rose from 50.3% in 2020 to 51.5% in 2021. 22,937 housewives committed suicide in 2018—6.9% more growth than in 2017 (21,453). A 2018 Lancet analysis found that more than one-third (36.6%) of all female suicides worldwide in 2016 occurred in India, up from 25.3% in 1990.

The housewife is preoccupied with her problems all the time, overanalyzing and overworking on them. A divorce decision is very challenging considering her financial dependence and the future of the kids. Maternal families also tend to be less divorce-friendly. The well-being of the girl is not as important to them as reconciliation. Housewives may believe suicide is a way out of all the issues and suffering.

Reason For Frequent Suicides Among Housewives

What propels tens of thousands of Indian housewives to commit suicide? Researchers claim that Indian housewives are more susceptible to suicide due to a confluence of biological, psychological, and social variables. Although there are known biological factors that increase the risk of suicide in women, such as hormonal changes during menstruation, pregnancy, and the presence of psychiatric disorders, these factors can be made worse by housewives’ limited social and financial freedoms and the lack of recognition for their work.

And unlike the west, India’s stringent gender norms and discrimination, arranged marriages and young weddings, young motherhood, and economic reliance make marriage itself less likely to be a protective factor against suicide for women.

Conflicts over dowry are a specific type of abuse seen in Indian society. In India, dowry is the leading cause of marriage-related deaths for women, with an average of five women committing suicide each day over the past five years, according to the NCRB report Accidental Deaths and Suicides in India.

One-third of Indian women who commit suicide have experienced domestic violence in the past, making domestic violence one of the leading causes of suicide in women.

Married women in rural India are more likely to experience mental health problems because of a disproportionate amount of domestic work and a lack of companionship, among other factors.

Hesitancy In Seeking Help & Way Forward

According to experts, postpartum depression and premenstrual dysphoric disorder are highly common among young women. Women are more susceptible to stress because progesterone does not work the same way as it does in men to keep stress levels from rising.

Only a small percentage of depressed housewives seek professional assistance since, for the vast majority of them, depression is not even seen as a problem given that they must also take care of other fundamental needs like food and the household.

Also, because talking about mental health is so stigmatised, women do not feel comfortable doing so. The cause for a high number of housewives killing themselves is not just social but also biological.

The National Commission for Women (NCW) provides counselling to women experiencing domestic violence and aids them by linking them directly with the district magistrate for judicial assistance. Yet, the majority of women are silent and do not seek out the offered resources.

High Suicide Rates & Low Prevention Program

India has one of the highest suicide rates in the world, but it still lacks a well-organized suicide prevention program. Effective suicide prevention in the nation is still hampered by the lack of a national strategy, improper media coverage of the problem, ambiguous legal definitions of what constitutes punishable suicide, and a lack of multi-sectoral collaboration.

Due to social shame and a lack of community-level reporting on suicides, the official data on suicides is also significantly underreported. There is also a dearth of studies on suicide that specifically affects women. Hence, improving data quality and correctly recording suicide deaths would be the first step in tackling the epidemic. A paradigm shift would be necessary to address both ecological causes and personal ones in order to prevent female suicide behavior. A key component of the suicide prevention approach should include empowering women, securing the economy, and promoting education. Hence, policies to address intimate partner violence in partnerships should be developed.

India’s high prevalence of suicide is a serious public health issue that has to be addressed right away. It is only possible to lessen the stigma around the problem and contribute to its complexity by using a scaffolding strategy across disciplines as well as community involvement and awareness.