A Christian in India is 1.5 times more likely to commit suicide as compared to a Hindu while tribals and Dalits have some of the highest suicide rates among caste groups, the Union Home Ministry has revealed in response to an RTI application filed by The Indian Express on religion and caste-based suicide data.
In 2014, the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), for the first time, collected data on suicides based on religion and caste groups. However, the data, which was to be published in 2015, was never released by the Home Ministry.
The NCRB data obtained by this newspaper (see page 2) shows that Christians have the highest suicide rate at 17.4, as compared to Hindus at 11.3 — the national average stands at 10.6. Muslims and Sikhs, at 7 per cent and 4.1 respectively, record the lowest rates. In this context, rate refers to the number of suicides per population of one lakh.
Among caste groups, Scheduled Tribes have the highest suicide rate at 10.4 followed by Dalits at 9.4, according to the data. Although the “general” category has a higher rate (13.6), it includes suicides by those from of all other religions as well.
Some of the other pointers revealed by the data include:
* The 2011 Census data says Christians make up 2.3 per cent of India’s population, but their share in suicides is 3.7 per cent. That virtually translates into a gap of over 60 per cent between Christian representation in the national population and in suicides.
* Hindus, too, have a greater share among suicides (83 per cent) than their representation in the population (79.8 per cent).
* The percentage of suicides among Muslims is much lower (9.2) compared to their share in population (14.2 per cent).
According to former Kerala Director General (fire and rescue services) Siby Mathews, who has written a book on suicides, “My research shows that economic security is very closely associated with suicides. One meaning that could be arrived from the data is, perhaps, the minority is not finding expected opportunities to come up.”
While the rate of suicides among SCs and STs hover around 10, which is close to the national average, the rate among other backward castes (OBC) stands at 9.2 per cent – based on the National Sample Survey’s numbers, their share in population is 40.2 per cent. The Home Ministry, incidentally, is also yet to release the caste census conducted in 2011.
P S Krishnan, former secretary, Ministry of Welfare, says the figures must be seen in the modern socio-economic context. “People commit suicide out of helplessness. There are a variety of reasons, both economic and social, that lead to suicides. The two classes of Dalits and tribals, being the most socially and economically disadvantaged, are vulnerable. Health is another prime reason because of which people commit suicide. Again, the two classes have little access to healthcare.”
Krishnan suggests that suicides could also be a reflection of social tensions and cited the suicide of Hyderabad student Rohith Vemula as an example.
“Discrimination and humiliation begin to play a part in suicides when one gets educated. An illiterate Dalit is not perturbed by humiliation as he takes it as his fate. An educated Dalit will find it difficult to deal with as in the case of Rohith Vemula,” he said.