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NCRB report: 5.83 lakh Indians died in accidents and suicides in 2014

- Soumya Shankar

NCRB Deck Slide 1. ICD.

Itu Chaudhuri Design/Catch News

The National Crime Records Bureau has released its annual report mapping accidental deaths and suicides in India. In 2014, 4,51,757 people died accidental deaths while 1,31,666 committed suicide.

The combined figure of 5,83,423 might make for a startling number in itself. But what we need to understand is that beyond the statistics, every one of these nearly 6 lakh Indians was a human life that was tragically cut short.

For the families who have lost a loved one in an accident or due to suicide, the loss and devastation is immeasurable. No data collection exercise, however comprehensive and efficient, can capture the human tragedy behind these numbers.

However the NCRB report, which has been releasing the annual data for accidents and suicides since 1967, provides a great deal of information and can help in identifying certain important trends.

For instance, the fact that nearly half of the women who committed suicide in 2014 were housewives does say a lot about the plight of Indian women within marriage. Also the fact that Maharashtra ranks highest in terms of both road accidents and suicides shows that good economic indicators don't necessarily ensure the well-being of people.

No less significant is the manner in which the information has been presented by the NCRB, which falls under the Union Ministry of Home Affairs. In what seems to be an attempt to downplay farmer suicides, the report has narrowed the definition of 'farmer' by separating the suicides by agricultural labourers.

However, on the positive side, the report is the first major government survey to consider transgenders as a separate category. Significantly, the report takes into account suicides and accidents among central armed police forces for the first time.

Nearly half the women who committed suicide in 2014 were housewives; what does this say about marriage in India?

Here's a brief overview of what the numbers tell us about suicides and accidental deaths in India.

Suicides

According to a WHO report published in 2014, using date from 2012, India ranked 11th in terms of the rate of suicide, with 21.1 suicides per 1 lakh persons.

The figures from this year's NCRB report reveal a great deal. 1,31,666 people committed suicide in India in 2014, This is a decrease of 2% from the 2013 figure of 1,34,799.

However, more Indians are committing suicide as against a decade back. In 2005, around 1,13,914 people committed suicide in India, and the present figure is an increase of around 15%.

Unemployment

The fact that unemployment is a huge concern in a burgeoning economy like ours is evident from the fact that from the years 2005 to 2014, around 22,110 people have committed suicide due to unemployment. This roughly translates into 6 suicides on an average daily, in the last 10 years. Last year, out of the total number of suicides, around 2,725 people committed suicide due to unemployment, up by 30% from 2013.

The development debate

In a continuing irony, developed states have recorded an overwhelmingly higher rate of suicide as compared to less developed states. Maharashtra is a case in point, as it has reported the maximum cases of suicide (16,307) in 2014. It is followed by Tamil Nadu (16,122) and West Bengal (14,310). Uttar Pradesh, which accounts for 17% of India's population, has reported only 2.7% of the suicides in the country.

In contrast, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka have registered consistently higher number of suicidal deaths over the last few years. Among the Union Territories, Delhi reported the highest number of suicides (2,095) followed by Puducherry (644).

Developed states have an overwhelmingly higher rate of suicide, with Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal leading

Farmers

Farmer suicides in India increased to 12,360 in 2014, up 5% from 11,772 suicides in 2013. For the first time, the data on farming suicides is split into two parts: farmers and agricultural labourers. In another first, farmer suicides are also classified on the basis of the cause and the land owned by the person.

Around 40% suicides are caused directly by farm-related issues. A majority of the suicides are by farmers with marginal and small land holdings. Maharashtra makes up nearly one-third of all farmer suicides in the country, while Chhattisgarh has witnessed a sharp jump from zero in 2013 to 755 last year.

Transgenders

According to the NCRB data, a total of 16 transgender people committed suicide in 2014. A total of 60 transgender people were also killed in unnatural accidents. Since the Supreme Court ruling that recognised transgender people as the third gender, this is the first time that they have been recognised a separate category in a mainstream government survey. One needs to examine how transgender people fair when it comes to suicides and accidental deaths, and whether they are truly identified for their identity and not as 'not male nor female'.

The mountain question

In another startling trend, hilly states and mountainous regions have seen a sudden spurt in suicides. Among them, the states which have reported the highest increase in suicide percentage are Manipur (35.1%), Sikkim (32.1%), Mizoram (22.1%) and Himachal Pradesh (16.2%). Nagaland, on the other hand, has reported a significant decrease - from 37 suicides in 2013 to 13 in 2014.

The case of Puducherry

Rate of suicide, i.e. the number of suicides per one lakh population, has been widely accepted as a standard yardstick for comparison. The All India rate of suicides was 10.6 during the year 2014. Puducherry reported the highest rate of suicide (40.4) followed by Sikkim (38.4), Andaman and Nicobar Islands (28.9), Telangana (26.5), Kerala (23.9) and Tamil Nadu (23.4). Worryingly, the suicide rate in Puducherry is nearly 4 times the national average.

Causes

'Other Family Problems' and 'Illness' were the major reasons for suicide among the specified causes. They accounted for 21.7% and 18.0% respectively of the total number of suicides. 'Marriage Related Issues' (5.1%), 'Love Affairs' (3.2%), 'Drug Abuse/Addiction' (2.8%), 'Bankruptcy or Indebtedness' (1.8%), 'Failure in Examination' (1.8%),'Unemployment' (1.7%), 'Poverty' (1.3%),'Property Dispute' (0.8%), 'Death of Dear Person' (0.7%) were other causes of suicides.

Family Problems (other than marriage related issues)' was the most important cause of suicide in cities accounting for 25.0% (5,157 out of 20,621) of the total suicides, followed by 'Illness' (19.0% or 3,920 cases). However, a total of 1,092 victims or 5.3% committed suicide due to 'Marriage Related Issues'. Some 64.2% of the city-dwellers who committed suicide were listed as 'married'.

Gender

42,521 women committed suicide in 2014, accounting for 32.2% of the total number of suicides. Within female victims of suicide, a very large proportion - 20,148 or 47.4% - were housewives. This is 15.3% of the total number of suicides in the country, making housewives an important group among the victims.

Class

Economic inequality and deprivation seem to have driven many Indians to resort to a dreadful measure like suicide. Out of the total number of suicides in 2014, 69.7% were people whose income was less than 1 lakh per year. 26.9% of the victims belong to the 1 lakh to 5 lakh income bracket. Therefore, 96.6% suicides were by people who earn less that Rs 5 lakh per year.

Education

The link between suicides and lack of education and thereby employability, cannot be outlined in a starker manner. The maximum numbers of suicide victims were educated up to Matriculation/ Secondary level (20.5%). Primary school educated, middle school educated and illiterate persons accounted for 19.0%, 20.2% and 14.3% of total suicide victims respectively. Only 2.83% suicide victims were graduates and above.

Suicide in metropolises

It is evident that in India's metropolises, many people struggle to lead a rational and holistic life, which pushes them to commit suicide. The four metropolises - Chennai (2,214), Bangalore (1,906), Delhi (1,847) and Mumbai (1,196) reported high number of suicides. These 4 metropolises account for 34.7% of the total number of suicides in 53 mega cities.

The number of suicides in Delhi increased by 5.4% even though other metropolises have shown a decline. Among all the cities, the highest increase in suicides (177.1%) was observed in Bhopal. On the other hand, maximum decrease of 78.7% was observed in Kanpur.

Method

The means adopted for committing suicide varied from easily available means such as consumption of poison and jumping into the well to more painful means such as self-inflicted injuries, hanging, and shooting. Like the previous year, 'Hanging' (41.8%), consuming 'Poison' (26.0%), 'Self-Immolation' (6.9%) and 'Drowning' (5.6%) were the most important methods of committing suicide.

Accidental deaths

Accidental deaths have been rising since 2004, and the trend continued last year as well.

In all, 4,51,757 accidental deaths were reported across the country in 2014, an increase of 12.8% over 2013.

The rise in accidental deaths over the past decade, in fact, outpaced the growth in population 42.4% to 14.6%.

Maharashtra topped the states, and by a distance; it recorded 67,028 accidental deaths, or 14.8% of all such deaths in India. Uttar Pradesh, the most populous state which is home to 17% of India's population, accounted for 7.3% of all accidental deaths.

Rise in accidental deaths from 2004 to 2014 (42.4%) is three times the growth in population (14.6%)

Causes of accidental deaths

Listed under 'Other Cause of Accidents', 26,526 deaths were recorded as sudden death, 20,587 were caused by poisoning, 1,699 due too due consumption of illicit/spurious liquor, and 1,255 by suffocation. As a share of the total, they accounted for 23.1%, 17.9%, 1.4% and 1.2% of accidental deaths, respectively.

Food poisoning and snake bite killed 1,573 and 7,846 people, respectively, in 2014.

Under 'Causes Attributable to Forces of Nature', deaths from avalanches, exposure to cold, landslides, torrential rain and heat/sun stroke registered an increased over 2013, whereas deaths earthquake, starvation due to natural calamity, flood, epidemic and lighting declined.

Accidents in cities

Accidents were the major contributor of deaths by unnatural causes in urban India. A total of 77,925 accidental deaths were reported from 53 mega cities in 2014. Mumbai again tops the list with 9,106 deaths, or 11.7% of the total, followed by Delhi with 6,926 deaths and Bangalore with 5,771.

The average rate of accidental deaths in the 53 mega cities, 48.5%, was higher than the national rate of 36.3%.

Traffic and road accidents

Deaths due to road accidents increased by 1.8% last year, from 1,37,423 in 2013 to 1,41,526, which means India has the highest number of road accidents in the world.

Tamil Nadu led the states with 67,250 accidents, followed by Maharashtra with 44,382 cases and Karnataka with 43,694 cases.

Nearly one in four victims of road accidents was riding a two-wheeler.

Most road accidents were caused by over-speeding - 36.8% of all accidents which claimed 48,654 lives. Dangerous/careless driving or overtaking caused 1,37,808 accidents, which resulted in 42,127 deaths.

Nearly 3.2% accidents were caused due to poor weather condition. Driving under influence of drugs/alcohol contributed to 1.6% accidents which left 2,591 people dead 7,398 injured.

Railway accidents

Contrary to popular perception, the India Railways is not as accident prone as it used to be. A total of 28,360 railway accidents were reported last year, down 9.2% from 2013, a good sign in a country with one of the world's largest rail networks.

To be safe, go to Goa

The report has a strange statistic: in Goa, a single person died in accidents caused by natural causes as against 254 people in 2013, which amounts to a fall of 99.6%!

A farmer commits suicide every 42 minutes, but the govt doesn't think so
- Nihar Gokhale

NCRB-Slide-2.jpg

Illustration: Itu Chaudhuri Design/Cacth News

The latest farmer suicides data have many firsts, but a curious change in classification of farmers that may signal the Narendra Modi government's policy of excluding all agricultural labourers from the ambit of farming policies.

According to data released by the National Crime Records Bureau, 12,360 famers committed suicide in 2014. This means that one farmer commits suicide every 42 minutes, and as you read this, another is considering it. This is an increase of 588 (5%) from 2013.

But the government doesn't think so. In a curious first, it split the category of farmers into two parts: agricultural labourers and just "farmers". Taking this new narrowed definition, 5,650 farmers committed suicide in 2014, while 6,710 agricultural labourers committed suicide.

In another first, the government also detailed data on farmer suicides, but it did so only for the narrowed definition of farmers. This excludes agricultural labourers from the ambit of farmer suicides in particular and farming distress in general.

The split is questionable.

"Let's not forget that agricultural labourers are also farmers. My way of seeing it is that we have to club the two. The problem is that the government is trying to establish that farmers are not committing suicide," said Devinder Sharma, a food and trade policy analyst and chairs the New Delhi-based Forum for Biotechnology & Food Security.

State-wise break-up

With agricultural labourer suicides added together, Maharashtra makes up almost one third of all farmer suicides: 4,004. This is followed by Telangana, with a whopping 1,347 suicides.

A state that has witnessed a dramatic spurt in farmer suicides is Chhattisgarh. After reporting zero suicides in 2011 and 2013 and 4 in 2012, Chhattisgarh has reported 755 suicides in 2014.

Rajasthan and West Bengal, which reported zero suicides in the new "farmer" category, has 373 and 230 suicides in the agricultural labour category.

12,360 farmers committed suicide in 2014, an increase of 588 (5%) from 2013

Despite large public concern in Punjab about farming distress, the state reported 64 suicides.

"The Punjab figure is hard to believe. Even the state's own compensation figures are high. Nearly 98% of rural households in the state are indebted, and the average debt is 96% of the average income," Sharma said.

States showing zero or under-10 farmer suicides include Bihar, Goa, Meghalaya, Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland, Jharkhand and Uttarakhand.

Caveats

There is much to read between the lines in these statistics.

A suicide qualifies as a farmer suicide only if the person committing it owns title to farm land. This leaves out suicides by not just landless farmers, but also children of elderly farm owners, and women farmers, who as active farmers likely face similar farm distress.

Thus, there are differences between NCRB records and the "actual" farmer suicide numbers.

For instance, an independent census conducted by three economists in two districts of Punjab calculated 1,757 farmer suicides, as against just 136 reported by NCRB, and over 30,000 claimed by the Bhartiya Kisan Union, a farmers' activist group.

Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti, an activist organisation based in Vidarbha in eastern Maharashtra independently calculates farmer suicides based on their network of informants in the region. The VJAS numbers have also been higher than NCRB data.

Farmer suicides which do not fit into the government definition are recorded under the 'Self Employed - Others' category.

"In a rural area, who is a 'self-employed other'? It is usually agricultural labourers who till rented or government land. They too need loans for seeds and fertilisers. The situation is more common now as landlords who migrate to cities rent land to such labourers, who often belong to nomadic groups," said Kishor Tiwari of the VJAS.

The situation in Maharashtra this year is bleak after unseasonal rains earlier this year destroyed cotton and soyabean crop. Lower rains in the June-July sowing season has added to the stress.

"The Modi government is not very different from the UPA days. There is no debt relief or increase in the marginal support prices (MSPs)," Tiwari said.

As a result, nearly 850 farmers in Vidarbha have committed suicide since January, he added.

Road accident deaths rise, but there finally may be a solution

- Shriya Mohan

NCRB report Road accidents

Itu Chaudhuri Design/Catch News

When Sahana Bhimsen, a 29-year-old woman, left her home two Decembers ago, the morning seemed like any other. She headed out on her two-wheeler amid the gray skies and cool wind of Bengaluru.

The day was like any other, chaotic and fun, at the ad agency she worked for. It was a late night at work, like most days, and at 11pm, when she hopped onto her bike to ride back home, she didn't know that it would be her last ride.

At Lal Bagh West Gate, a lorry hit her from behind and Bhimsen came under the wheels. The driver sped away, leaving Bhimsen's rib crushed and her lung punctured.

She lay on the road bleeding profusely, having lost consciousness. A doctor, who happened to be driving by, spotted her and rushed her to a nearby hospital. By the time her parents were informed and could rush to the hospital in the dead of the night, Bhimsen had already died.

Unwanted distinction

Like Bhimsen, an astonishing number of Indians are victims to road accidents. In fact, India tops the charts when it comes to people dying in road accidents.

Consider this number: 51 road accidents take place every hour, killing 16 persons like Bhimsen. According to the National Crimes Records Bureau's Suicide and Accidental deaths report, 1,41,526 people died in road accidents last year.

Deaths due to road accidents have actually increased by 1.8% over the previous year.

India tops the charts when it comes road accidents deaths; 51 accidents happen and 16 people die every hour

Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and Karnataka together account for a third of the country's accidents. A look at total traffic accident deaths - including rail and road - in India's 53 mega cities reveals Delhi as the consecutive topper of the accident charts; 2,199 people died of traffic accidents last year compared to 2,456 people in 2013. That's six people every single day or one every four hours. Chennai and Bhopal only come a distant second and third, with less than half that number at 1,046 and 1,015 respectively.

The medical view

NCRB claims that nearly 90% of the accidents happen due to over-speeding or dangerous and careless driving. The report also says pedestrians, cyclists and two-wheelers account for over a fourth of the fatalities

"In urban areas, the most vulnerable ones prone to accident are pedestrians, cyclists and two-wheeler [riders] without helmets," says Promit Giri, a trauma surgeon at Fortis Hospital, Kolkata.

On a daily basis, Giri comes face to face with the horror of a smashed brain, a broken spleen or a disfigured face.

"In my experience in working in metro cities like Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata, alcohol is a big problem, coupled with not having the practice of wearing a helmet. The most irreversible damage occurs when the brain is unprotected," he says.

The ministry of road transport says, "The loss to the Indian economy due to fatalities and accident injuries is estimated at 3% of GDP."

Traffic injuries, the ministry earlier said, would soon be the fifth leading cause of death, overtaking diabetes and HIV/AIDS by 2030.

Pass by or stop to help?

When B Jayalakshmi, a Gurgaon-based artist, was driving on a freezing December morning at 7am some years ago, she encountered a disturbing sight at Arjangarh.

A teenaged boy had fallen from a motorbike and was unable to pick him self up. He had likely fractured his foot and was lying on the road, helplessly. Everybody was passing by in their cars, with their windows rolled up.

Unable to pass by without helping and unsure if she should get off the car and help, Jayalakshmi picked up the phone and dialled 100. The first thing they did was ask her to report to a police station and file an FIR. She hung up, and when she saw a traffic policeman, she pulled over to inform him about the boy lying on the road.

That was the beginning of a two-month ordeal, as she was roped into every matter of the case. She was asked to appear in court and be a witness several times. "It was a harrowing ordeal, going through the legalities of a case I really had nothing to do with," Jayalakshmi says.

Naturally, it left her feeling unsure if she should've stopped her car at all that fateful day.

How to avert fatalities

A national survey by the Save Life Foundation, an NGO focused on improving road safety in India, found that 74% of bystanders are unlikely to help victims of a serious injury. Their reluctance stems from a fear of being dragged into protracted police investigations and legal proceedings.

The report also found that half the fatalities in accident cases could have been averted if the victims had been admitted into a hospital within the first hour after the accident.

Getting to hospital quickly can avert half the deaths. But 74% of bystanders won't help because of cop hassles

Giri agrees that the delay can be frustrating on two levels. "The first delay occurs in bringing the patient to us. And the second delay occurs in contacting the family members, who have a provide a consent on what treatment they are willing to have the patient go through. Until that point, doctors like myself can only try and stabilise a patient, without taking any action," he says.

Don't detain the Good Samaritan

New guidelines from the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways prevent hospitals from denying care to accident victims. The ministry has asked that all registered public and private hospitals not detain bystanders bringing in the injured or demand any kind of payment from them unless they are family members of the injured person.

A bystander or Good Samaritan, the guidelines say, should be allowed to leave immediately after taking an accident victim to a hospital, without having to answer any questions. Only eyewitnesses to the accident can be asked for their addresses before they leave.

Neither the police nor emergency services can compel a bystander to reveal his name or personal details, neither will he/she be liable for any civil or criminal liability.

The guidelines suggest that a lack of response be considered "professional misconduct" and disciplinary action be taken consequently.

But how much teeth will these guidelines actually have? Are our hospitals listening? If implemented well, these guidelines could be a breakthrough life-saver on India's killer roads.

Unemployment-related suicides: can Skill India help?

- Sourjya Bhowmick

NCRB data Skill India embed

Itu Chaudhuri Design/Catch News

The National Crime Records Bureau has released its annual accident and suicide statistics for the year 2014. The figures show that nearly six lakh lives were lost in 2014 due to accidents and suicides.

This means that a life was lost every minute in 2014 due to accidents or suicides.

A total of 2,725 people committed suicide due to unemployment, up 30% from 2013. In 2005, the count was 2,172

A total of 1,31,666 people committed suicide in India. This is a decrease of 2% from 2013, when 1,34,799 people killed themselves.

However, more Indians are committing suicide than a decade back. In 2005, 1,13,914 people killed themselves, which means the 2014 figure marks an increase of around 15%.

Unemployment a major concern

Of these, 2,725 people committed suicide due to unemployment, up by 30% from 2013, when the number stood at 2,090. The new figure is also a 25% increase from the 2005 numbers, when the count stood at 2,172.

Overall, between 2005 to 2014, 22,110 people have committed suicide due to unemployment, which roughly translates into six suicides a day.

The maximum number of suicides due to unemployment in 2014 have been reported from Maharashtra (284), followed by Tamil Nadu (281) and West Bengal (251).

Not an uncommon phenomenon

However, suicides due to unemployment are not an uncommon phenomenon. The connection between them was initially illustrated by sociologist Emile Durkheim in 1897, when he concluded that "unemployment increased social isolation, which then raises the risk of suicide".

With present day effects of urbanisation and globalisation, the race for money and the consequent economic downturn, Durkheim's thoughts have turned into the absolute truth. For instance, between 2000 and 2011, around 45,000 suicides (20% of all suicides) were committed across the globe due to unemployment, according to a study by the UK medical journal Lancet.

Unemployment spikes suicide through other factors, like poverty, bankruptcy and a fall in social reputation

During this same period, the risk of suicide due to unemployment increased by 20% to 30% across all regions. India seems no aberration. Suicides due to unemployment rose by 20% from 1,731 in 2012 to 2,090 in 2013.

In India, suicides due to unemployment account for an average of 1.5% of all suicides, but unemployment spikes suicide risks through other factors like poverty (4 suicides per day in 2013), bankruptcy (6 suicides per day) to even a fall in social reputation (1 suicide per day in 2014).

Media columns are replete with stories of how Indians commit suicide due to unemployment - from M. Tech graduates to upcoming actors who have suffered a long spell of unemployment.

Can Skill India help?

In 2013, around 9% of India's labour force was unemployed. Worse, nearly 40% of unemployed people were suffering from long-term unemployment - without a job for a year or longer.

As of 2012-13, around one out of every three youths in India with a graduation degree remains unemployed. Skill mismatch is one of the primary reason for this. The present unemployment figures paint an alarming picture, given the current suicide figures.

This is where the recently-launched Skill India campaign can step in and help. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is aware of the unemployment problem, and said: "We have to create structures and mechanisms to nurture youngsters, enabling them to find employment."

But will that work out? The answer is probably no.

A study conducted by NASSCOM found that only one in four people in the government skill pool were employable.

Moreover, the country is going through a phase of low growth, which means there are few jobs in the market.

A big step: NCRB report features transgenders as a separate category

- Vishakh Unnikrishnan

NCRB data transgenders

Itu Chaudhuri Design/Catch News

From being denied entry to shopping malls, restaurants and even public toilets, transgenders have been persecuted for centuries in India.

There was a silver lining earlier this year when, in a landmark ruling, the Supreme Court granted recognition to transgender people as the 'third gender'.

The ruling has mandated recognising transgender people in all government statistics. In the National Crimes Records Bureau's latest suicide and accidental deaths report, for example, transgender people have been recognised.

This is an important first step, as the government has created a new statistical category for transgender people. However, the numbers do look a little arbitrary.

Low numbers

According to the data, a total of 16 transgender people have committed suicide. Out of the 16, four were unemployed, two were self-employed, while 10 were part of 'Other Professions'. A total of 60 transgender people were also killed in accidents.

The low number clearly shows that there is still confusion on who a transgender is, with many possibly still hesitant to be identified as a transgender.

The question of identity

Transgender people prefer to be identified as trans-woman or trans-man. The NCRB data does not recognise this, and uses the umbrella term 'transgenders' to recognise those who are not male or female.

According to the data, 16 transgender people committed suicide in 2014, while 60 were killed in accidents

"The data is grossly under-reported. Suicide cases have to be much more higher. Around 68% of all transgender people suffer violence, mostly sexual violence, which is a major reason for transgender persons to take their lives," says trans woman activist Abhina Aher, who works with India HIV/AIDS Alliance, a not-for-profit organisation.

"Families, at times, do not want such a record, so they inform the police that their trans son or daughter died of sickness or some other reason. The fact that they have recorded the data is a step in the right direction. Nonetheless, there has to be more data."

Marital status

A look at the marital status of the 16 transgender people who committed suicide is enough to understand the lack of clarity on the issue.

Six are listed as 'unmarried', six as 'others' and three are listed as 'unknown'. Only in the case of one person is the status clear - 'separated'.

It's obvious that, in the case of these statistics, 'gender' is not being considered an identity - rather, only those who don't fit into the physical divide of 'male' and 'female' are being presented as transgender.

"The data reflects the phobia transgender people go through in society. And that has to end," says Simran Shaikh, also an activist with the HIV/AIDS Alliance.

But the recognition of transgender people by the NCRB is likely to bring much cheer to the community, because in that basic recognition lies their freedom to claim their rightful place in our society.

Student suicides: pressure to perform refuses to subside

- Vishakh Unnikrishnan

NCRB data students suicide

When Aamir Khan, in the movie 3 Idiots, exclaims to his headmaster how the suicide rate among students in India is one of the highest in the world, almost every viewer was stunned by the figure. A WHO study has corroborated this claim.

The latest National Crime Records Bureau data also paints a similarly grim picture. Student suicides constitute 6.1% of all suicides. The corresponding figure in the previous year was a similar 6.2%.

'Youth', who fall under the age group of 18 to 30, account for 34.1% of all suicides. In terms of the ratio of total suicides, more female students commit suicide. A total of 42,521 females committed suicide during 2014, of which 3,807 were students.

Student suicides constitute 6.1% of all suicides. The corresponding figure in the previous year was 6.2%

Research by psychiatrists such as Rajiv Radhakrishnan of the Yale University School of Medicine and Chittaranjan Andrade of the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences, Bengaluru, states that factors associated with gender disadvantage and increased vulnerability, particularly among rural women, are behind the high rate of suicides among women.

Northeast is the worst hit

The Northeastern states show a higher percentage of student suicides, with 26% of all suicides in Manipur committed by students. In Meghalaya, the corresponding figure is 22.2%, while in Arunachal Pradesh, it is 16%, and in Nagaland, 15.4%.

Among the other regions, 25.7% of the suicides in Chandigarh, 23.3% in Puducherry and 15.9% in Uttarakhand are committed by students.

Pressure to perform

One of the top reasons for suicide according to the NCRB is "failure in examination". About 1.8% of all suicides, as per the latest data, are due to this reason.

The country's coaching hub, the city of Kota in Rajasthan, has always stood at the top with respect to student suicides, reflecting the pressure of performance on students.

In 2013, 38.7% of all suicides in Kota were committed by students. The rise in the number of suicides in the city directly corresponds with the growth of the coaching industry. In June alone, this year, five students committed suicide in Kota.

"There is too much pressure, and there aren't any counselling centres for students to figure out their aptitude. It's just a rat race," says Syed Adil Raza, who completed his coaching from Allen coaching institute.

In Ranchi, the capital of Jharkhand and home to a high number of medical and engineering colleges, 29.8% of all suicides were committed by students.

Under-14s also affected

Failure in examination (163), illness (181) and 'other family problems' (245) were the main causes of suicides among children below 14 years of age.

The boys-to-girls ratio of suicide victims below 14 years of age was 52.3:47.7 in 2014, as compared to 53.5:46.5 in 2013, showing a marginal increase in suicides among girls.

Understanding student suicides

Annie Baxi, faculty member at the Indian Institute of Counselling, says: "While trying to understand the cause of suicides, the focus should be on intent. There is no doubt that suicide rates have increased, and there are many factors that contribute to this."

Baxi states that suicides rates are the highest within the age group 18-25 across all sections of society.

"External factors are much more responsible than the internal factors. Students associate themselves with criteria like examination scores, which adds pressure. The kind of commercialisation we see influences how students perceive themselves. One's image relies on a lot how others perceive oneself," she adds.

Education centres like Kota and Ranchi see the most student suicides, because of the pressure to perform

However, Baxi's colleague Shivani Jain adds a caveat here. "It's hard to distinguish the factors responsible for suicides. Stating 'failure in examination' as a factor does not do justice to the reasoning behind suicides. Various factors play a role behind a student's suicide, that includes relationship failures between parents and students, family problems, bankruptcy etc., and it is hard to pinpoint one aspect."

Nitya Ram, the academic head of the India Today Group's education arm, Learn Today, says: "The CBSE has attempted to introduce the Comprehensive Continuous Evaluation system that purports to assess the all-round development of the student.

"The evaluation of performance in non-scholastic areas would ensure that the assessment was not based entirely on academic performance. This would help students to perform better and reduce stress."

Addressing the problem

The cause of suicides as per the NCRB data has largely been constant. So, has the government taken any steps to address that?

All major colleges now have student counselling centres. Schools have also followed suit. But do these government run counselling centres help?

"Even though the government has established many counselling centres, the provision will not solve the major cause of suicides. There needs to be more sensitisation and awareness," says Baxi.

"Even when the CBSE decreased the marks needed to pass an exam, there was no concomitant decrease in the number of suicides. Some strategies just don't work. School teachers and parents should come together to address the issue of examination pressure and help students assess their aptitude."

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Catch Team

Catch Team @catchnews