Introduction of Why Are Indian Housewives Committing Suicide?
Shivani, who was 36 years old, had been married for 16 years. From the early years of the marriage, she had been depressed because her husband and his family treated her like a servant. These are not my words. Rather they are Shivani’s – when she gave an interview to IndiaSpend. Her husband would insult continuously her for being overweight or whenever she fell sick.
Fed up, in August 2017, Shivani took an overdose of sleeping pills to kill herself. She was taken to a nearby hospital, where the doctors improved her situation. The hospital fulfilled its duty by calling the Police but Shivani and her family signed a letter stating that her husband was not the reason she tried to kill herself.
According to the NCRB 2020 data, more than 20,000 housewives tried to take their own lives in a year which is an average of 61 suicides every day or 1 every 25 minutes. We all are aware of the Indian society and we also know that these numbers are under-reported
Because just like Shivani and her family, many people do not report their suicides. Deepa Narayan, a social scientist and author of a book written on the Indian woman, says that “it is also considered a shameful thing In an Indian family if the daughter-in-law has killed herself, so families make up other reasons.”
Why Are Indian Housewives Committing Suicide?
In 2008 Lancet report stated that “Married women account for the highest proportion of suicide deaths among women in India.” And there are several reasons for this. Let us see in detail the exact reasons which are leading Indian housewives attempt to commit suicide/Why Are Indian Housewives Committing Suicide?
We will focus on three things to find out the answer to Why Are Indian Housewives Committing Suicide?
1. Domestic Violence
3. Economic Dependence.
1. Domestic violence:- Domestic violence takes a huge toll on a women’s mental health. According to a 2012 research paper, women who had experienced domestic violence had a likelihood of having suicidal thoughts up to 3.5 times higher.
For instance, Kalpana Mishra told Bloomberg quint in an interview that she tried killing herself twice due to her abusive husband. She said- “the first time to commit suicide, I drank pesticide because my husband had hit me badly the day before. My in-laws rushed me to suicide in the hospital, but later asked me to beg forgiveness from my husband.” And with the onset of the Covid pandemic, domestic violence got worsen for the victims in Indian households.
Chaitali Sinha, a psychologist says, ‘housewives had a safe space in the form of their house after the menfolk would leave for work, but that safe space disappeared during the pandemic. A lot of times, it also means that the housewives were trapped with their abusers all day long. Unsurprisingly, many researchers have hypothesized how domestic violence may have increased during COVID.
2. Dowry:- The second main reason for these suicides in Dowry. In 2021, three young women committed suicide within 48 hours in June 2021, leaving behind notes saying ‘ dowry harassment forced them to take the extreme step. Donna Fernandes, who is associated with an NGO working for women’s rights said,” At least 50% of all the suicides among women could be dowry related, but they are underreported because the parents of the girl are involved in dowry giving, and giving the dowry is also a crime”.
So why would they report it to the police? While less than 40% of marriages in India before the 1930s witnessed a dowry, in 2000, nearly 90% of all marriages saw some form of dowry. In the olden days’ dowry was basically a concept of Stree Dhan ( female wealth ). Wherein the dowry was given for the girl to look after herself in her new household. But now, this concept is totally changed.
Now, the dowry is retained by the boy and his family and more often than not, the groom and his family are unsatisfied with this dowry and problems begin to arise because of that. The most unfortunate thing is that even if the girl wishes to escape that house, she is forced to make a compromise. For instance, let us see Shweta’s example from Mumbai.
According to her mother, Shweta’s family got the groom’s family a sofa set and bed a cupboard, but the demands continued. Shweta called her family again and her family then gifted them a gold chain, earrings, and a gold anklet. But even then the demands did not stop Sweta’s family then decided that they would not give anything anymore Rather, they would ask her to come back home. But her in-laws had called then to “settle the issue”. When Shweta told her family that she does not want to settle the issue and that she wanted to go home, her family told her to stay back and the same day, Shweta took her life.
This practice has proliferated despite the fact that there have been many anti-dowry activities in India. For example, Satya Rani Chaddha led several campaigns against dowry, and India has had a significant history of such activists. For example, Raja Ram Mohan Roy, not only spoke against dowry but also against practices like the Sati system, Purdah system, caste system, and child marriage. Unfortunately, not many of us know about their life.
3. Economic Dependence:- Third reason is that most Indian housewives are completely economically dependent on their husbands. This leads to depression and helplessness, ultimately increasing the chances of suicide attempts. When compared to its neighboring countries, India, performs very poorly in terms of women’s workforce participation. And this workplace participation is declining every year.
Indian women are not indulging in paid work in the outside labor market because they have to manage the household. In the 68th round of the NSSO survey y the government, up to 64% of women said they have no choice taking up household work since there is “no other member to carry out the domestic duties”. Every day, women devote around 5 hours to unpaid services and around 2.5 hours to caregiving services. Whereas men devote only 1.5 hours to both, combined.
But according to research, when women earn their own income, it gives them more bargaining power within households. In the current scenario, since a lot of women are not earning an income of their own, their own decision power gets diminished and a lot of times, they are unable to prioritize themselves.
Most housewives with depression are not even able to access treatment for their depression. Tinna Gupta, a psychiatrist says that sich women are financially dependent on other members they are left to struggle with their depression and anxiety alone. This is why suicide rates also rise amongst Indian housewives.
Why Are Indian Housewives Committing Suicide?
So what is the solution to this? We can focus on two different types of solutions.
The first solution helps women recover from depression and other mental health issues. For example, our government can increase its spending on mental health. This solution is very important but it does not solve the root cause of the problem. This comes in handy when the problems start manifesting.
In order to solve the root cause of this problem, we need to provide more women with paid work opportunities. How can we achieve that? By promoting rural manufacturing and by improving transport infrastructure. Based on a survey, construction of either a Kutcha or Pucca road in villages increased the odds of women’s participation in non-farm work by nearly 50% But apart from economic opportunities, the mindset of the people would also need to be changed including the mindset of the women themselves.
According to the 2018 Oxfam India Survey, 33% of respondents from the states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Nd Chhattisgarh, said that it was acceptable to beat a woman for failing to care for children and 41% said it was acceptable to beat a woman if she fails to prepare a meal for men in the family. These statistics tell us why it is so important to change cultural attitudes.
Even if dowry is banned by law, if the attitudes of people do not change, they will always come up with some or other way to continue their social norms.
Example:- A research paper showed that women who pay dowry have a greater say in their in-law’s house after marriage.
So in other words, those that give dowry are more respected by their in-laws and husband. So, say if you ban dowry, the respect these women get as well as their decision-making power would get diminished. This is why it is essential to change attitudes as well and to do that the government causes what’s called an innovation-diffusion framework. According to this framework, in order to bring change within a community, You need to change the key leaders in that community and change their attitudes. So that these people can change this attitude within their community.
Do you remember the story of Shivani that I mentioned above at starting in the introduction of this topic i.e., Why Are Indian Housewives Committing Suicide?
After her suicide attempt, she recovered and she started selling clothes and weight-loss products with the help of her brother and her friends. She divorced her husband and later remarried someone else. She told IndiaSpend, “Today I feel so blessed that I have changed my life. I want to tell other women as well that suicide is not an option.” Hopefully, our community provides such resources to other housewives as well, so that they too, are able to make a fresh start in their lives.