India’s stunning 13.5 percent Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth rate could have been a cause for much celebration had it not coincided with the release of the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data for 2021. ‘Crime in India’, the annual report of the NCRB for crime-related statistics, reported that the registration of violent crimes such as rape, kidnapping, atrocities against children, robberies and murders increased to levels set before the pandemic. Still, the overall crime rate (per one lakh people) decreased from 487.8 in 2020 to 445.9 in 2021. The most eye-catching data set however came from the ‘Accidental Deaths and Suicides in India’ report, which showed that the number of suicide-related deaths in India reached an all-time high. For the second consecutive year, the maximum number of suicide victims were daily wage workers, increasing from 37,666 in 2020 to 42,004 last year. The data also revealed that the maximum increase in the rate of suicide was observed amongst “self-employed persons”, with an increase of 16.73 per cent: from 17,332 in 2020 to 20,231 in 2021.
Across all categories, the dominant reasons for suicide were related to personal life: family problems, illness, love affairs and marriage. However, for almost five years now, the uptick in suicides has been staggering, going from 1,33,623 in 2015 to 1,64,033 in 2021: a whopping 22 per cent increase. As steps are taken to recover from the overall impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, it is important to move beyond macroeconomic indicators like the GDP and focus on the pandemic’s larger impact on society. An important part of that process is to confront the reality that the Covid outbreak has unleashed a mental health crisis on low-income groups in the unorganised sector. Working conditions for labours in the unorganised sector had never been perfect, but things over the past decade have worsened, evident by the fact that there has been an over 166 percent increase in suicide among daily wage workers between 2014 and 2021. Therefore, it is necessary to understand the possible causes that may have been aggravated during the Covid crisis that triggered this rise.
Not many may still remember the kind of panic and fear that the early days of Covid outbreak in 2020 had caused. This invisible, undefinable disease targeting people indiscriminately while simultaneously forcing everyone into the confines of indoors, a sci-fi dystopia unfolding in real life, was bound to induce some level of psychological problems. The worst part of it was, despite attempts by several sections of the mainstream media and politicians, there was simply no definable ‘other’ to blame for the misfortune one suffered. People working in the formal sector still had some degree of financial security as their salaries were more or less unaffected, the people working in unorganised jobs suffered the worst of the pandemic. With no income, most were either forced towards taking loans, or had to eat up their savings. So when the corporate sector was talking about using the crisis as an opportunity to increase wealth, for the people at the bottom, it meant giving up on their future.