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New Delhi: The National Crimes Records Bureau (NCRB) on Thursday, October 28 released its report on ‘Accidental Deaths and Suicides in India’ (ASDI) for 2020. While road accidents and related deaths fell in the pandemic year, the number of deaths by suicides rose by 10% from 2019, taking the total figure to an all-time high of 1,53,052, the Hindustan Times reported.
The number of deaths by suicide per lakh population in 2020 stands at 11.3%, up from 10.4% in 2019 and the highest since 2010 (11.4%).
Daily wage workers
In a year marked by a sudden call for lockdown with four hours’ notice, leading to daily wage workers, a very large portion of whom are migrants, struggling to return home and then earn an income, daily wage earners made up the largest proportion of people who died by suicide in the country in 2020 at 24.6%, according to the ASDI report.
In absolute terms, 37,666 took their own lives this year.
The NCRB only began including daily wage workers as a discrete category in its report in 2014. Since then, their share in total deaths by suicides in the country has doubled from 12% (2014) to 24.6% in 2020.
Tamil Nadu was the state with the highest number of deaths by suicides among daily wage earners with 6,495, followed by Madhya Pradesh (4,945), Maharashtra (4,176), Telangana (3,831) and Gujarat (2,745).
The ASDI report classifies suicides, among other categories, on the basis of profession. Deaths by suicides among students increased from 10,335 in 2019 to 14,825 in 2020, a 21.20% increase and the highest such year-on-year percentage increase of all the occupation categories.
The share of students in total deaths by suicide in the country also increased from 7.4% last year to 8.2% in 2020. This marks the highest proportion of deaths by suicides among students since 1995 which is the earliest year for which this data is available, the Indian Express reported.
This trend seems to confirm the anecdotal understanding of the hardships students in particular have faced due to the pandemic with the consequent disruption of education and the digital divide amongst students from various backgrounds in the country.
Deaths by suicide in the ASDI category titled ‘self-employed’ increased by 7.67% from 2019 to 2020, however, this impact was disproportionately distributed within the sub-categories.
Deaths by suicide among vendors increased by 26.1% and those of tradesmen by 49.9%, seemingly indicating that the adverse effects of the pandemic were felt more harshly by small businessmen.
After daily wage workers, the percentage share in total deaths by suicide by occupation, in decreasing order, went from ‘housewives’ (14.6%), ‘self-employed persons’ (11.3%), ‘professional/salaried persons’ (9.7%), ‘farmers/cultivators’ (7%) and ‘retired persons’ (1%). The ‘other’ category made up 13.4% of all suicides.
Suicides by cause
The ASDI report also lays out deaths by suicide by their cause. According to the data, deaths by suicide due to poverty increased by 69% from 2019 to 2020. The same increase for deaths by suicide due to unemployment stood at 24%, that of drug and alcohol addiction at 17%, illness at 16% and family problems at 14%.
A lack of employment opportunities as well as the increased challenge of earning a livelihood due to the onset of the pandemic could feasibly have had a significant role in the high increases seen in the first two of the above-mentioned categories.
Deaths by suicide among students, ostensibly due to performance in an examination declined from 2019 to 2020 by 24%, suggesting that the increase in deaths by suicide among students was linked more to long-term future prospects rather than exams, most of which were delayed or cancelled due to the COVID-19 lockdown.
Accident deaths decreased
The coronavirus lockdown did, however, bring down deaths caused by accidents. Accidental deaths fell by 11% from 2019 to 2020 to 374, 397, the lowest figure since 2009. This also marks only the second time when accidental deaths have fallen from year-to-year.
Road closures and restrictions on movements due to the lockdown likely had a significant impact on this trend since road accidents make up 40% of all accident deaths.
Deaths due to sunstroke also fell by 744 from 2019 to 2020.
If you know someone – friend or family member – at risk of suicide, please reach out to them. The Suicide Prevention India Foundation maintains a list of telephone numbers they can call to speak in confidence. Icall, a counselling service run by TISS, has maintained a crowdsourced list of therapists across the country. You could also take them to the nearest hospital.