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Video | Why Are So Many Married Women in India Dying by Suicide?

Suicide Prevention Day 2022: 63 married women in India die by suicide, every day. Two survivors share their stories.

Mind It
4 min read

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Trigger Warning: Discussions of suicide attempt, depression, and domestic abuse.

(If you have thoughts of self-harm, or you know someone who is in trouble, please show them your sympathy and call these numbers for local emergency services, helplines, and mental health NGOs.)

"She kept calling me. It was last year, during the pandemic, and we had lost touch. I just had a gut feeling that there was something serious," says Smita (name changed).

"I video called her. She looked completely different, than a year ago. No sleep, afraid, had lost connections. She said she felt worthless, and that she wanted to die."
Smitha (name changed)

According to the latest annual report of the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) released earlier this month, As many as 45,026 women died by suicide in India in 2021. That's nearly 1 every 9 minutes.

More than two-third of them were married women, and over half of them – 23,178 – were housewives.

On an average, 63 housewives died by suicide in India in 2021, every day.

On Suicide Prevention Day, FIT reached out to two women who have survived suicide attempts. They share their stories, what made them want to die, and what keeps them going now.

"There have been 3 to 4 times in my life that I have felt absolutely hopeless. I felt abandoned, I felt like nobody could understand me," says Nidhi (name changed).

"I felt worthless, hopeless. Like there was no way out," she adds.

She talks about how she's the sole caregiver for her ageing husband with dementia, and how they suffered heavy financial loss during the pandemic.

"The financial burden and taking care of my husband sometimes feels too much to bear. I feel very tired and alone."
Nidhi (name changed)

"Across the world, it's been said that married people are less likely to end their lives by suicide vis-à-vis unmarried people," says Dr Nandini Murali, a survivor of suicide loss, and founder of SPEAK initiative, a platform that provides support to those who have lost their loved ones to suicide.

"But in India we find a paradoxical situation where suicide rates among married women is among the highest in the world."
Dr Nandini Murali, survivor of suicide loss, and founder of SPEAK initiative

"To me, it tells me that marriage is not a protective factor as far as Indian women are concerned," she adds.

Loneliness, Domestic Abuse, and Financial Strain

Speaking of the reasons behind these high numbers, experts point to stress, 'family problems', domestic abuse, depression, financial strain, loneliness, imposing gender norms, lower economic opportunity are all risk factors for suicides in this group.

However, having a job, and being educated aren't always the antidote to abuse they are made out to be.

"Suicides are higher in high income states like Kerala for example, Tamil Nadu have higher suicides," says Dr Soumitra Pathare, Psychiatrist, Director of Centre for Mental Health, Law & Policy, Pune.

"The counterintuitive thing might be that if you are a woman in those states, things like patriarchy and domestic violence actually create more cognitive dissonance for you."
Dr Soumitra Pathare, Psychiatrist, Director of Centre for Mental Health, Law & Policy, Pune

"Because on one hand you're going out and working you have some economic freedom because you're earning. But then you come back home then you're facing the same kind of issues that women would face in any other part of the country," he adds.

Break down of the NCRB data on suicides among women in India

(Photo: FIT)

Speaking to FIT, Smita (name changed) says her friend finally opened up to her, and that's when she pushed her to get help.

"She told me that her husband is into drugs and that she can't live with him any more," she says.

"She said that her in-laws were very very controlling. She couldn't do anything, go anywhere without their permission. Her father-in-law is very politically influential, and she's afraid they may harm her if she files for a divorce. All her jewellery, money and documents are with them."
Smita (Name changed)

This Toxic Relationship Between Stigma, Secrecy, Shame, and Silence

"The reason people don't talk about this is that they are afraid because of the stigma. And because they don't talk about it the stigma is being reinforced," says Dr Murali.

This toxic relationship between stigma, secrecy, shame, and silence needed to be addressed head on.

"People impacted by suicide laws, people who have attempted suicide and survived should also be an important stakeholder in this whole process," she adds.

"When people with lived experiences stand up and speak for themselves that is the antidote for stigma."
Dr Nandini Murali, survivor of suicide loss, and founder of SPEAK initiative

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