One morning in early June, 33-year-old Jaspreet Kaur allegedly hanged herself to death at her residence in Mehli in Shimla, two days after writing about problems with her husband on a social media forum. Her mother told the police that Kaur had called her two days before her death, complaining that she was being “tortured for every petty thing”, following which the husband was arrested on charges of abetment to suicide
Kaur is among 35 women, mostly homemakers, who died by suicide this year allegedly due to abetment by someone, while 140 other women committed non-abetted suicides.
Homemakers and economically distressed workers comprise the bulk of 466-odd suicide victims in Himachal this year, particularly since May when the weekly suicide rate in the state doubled. The sudden surge has prompted the state police to “red-flag” the issue and ask health authorities to launch intervention measures.
The average number of suicides per week in the state from January to April was 10.25, which shot up to around 25 during May to July, according to a police report released Wednesday. It said that the months of May, June and July witnessed around 100 suicides per month on an average, up from an average of 41 cases during January to April.
DGP Sanjay Kundu said that the police have written about this spike to the health and family welfare department, as well as to the department of social justice and empowerment, so that they can initiate an adequate response to the challenge.
Following the lockdown, a number of suicides were committed by workers facing economic hardship. A labourer committed suicide for not being paid by his contractor while an employee of JSW company at a hydroelectric project in Kinnaur killed himself due to retrenchment by the company, the DGP said.
There have been 466 suicide cases in the first seven months this year (around 67 per month), while the state reported a total of 710 cases, or around 59 per month, in 2019 and 780 cases, or 65 per month, in 2018.
Kundu said that 70 to 113 people per year have been murdered in the last five years, and the police are trying to “bring the issue of suicides under the radar” because the number of people dying by suicides is much larger.
Of the 466 suicides reported this year, 55 were allegedly abetted by someone, and FIRs under section 306 of the IPC were registered in such cases. The abetment cases included 35 female victims and 20 male victims. Last month, a husband-wife duo died by suicide at a forest in Rohru by hanging themselves from a tree, leaving behind a note which accused some of their family members of harassment.
In the remaining 411 cases, inquest proceedings under section 174 of the Criminal Procedure Code were initiated. In these cases, 271 victims were male and 140 female.
The age of the victims has ranged from 13 to 58 years, and a maximum of nine cases were reported in a single day. The police said that a majority of the victims were homemakers and economically distressed workers. Other victims included students and people suffering from ailments. The districts of Kangra, Hamirpur and Shimla have reported more cases than others, the DGP said.
The issue of increasing number of suicides has also been raised by two Congress leaders. In June, Leader of Opposition Mukesh Agnihotri said that incidents of suicides have shot up during the pandemic due to loss of livelihood, and appealed to the government to come to the rescue of people who lost their jobs. AICC secretary Sudhir Sharma, too, raised the issue of surge in mental health issues triggered by the effects of pandemic.
Dr Sanjay Pathak, senior medical superintendent of Himachal Hospital of Mental Health & Rehabilitation, said that suicide is a complex psycho social phenomenon, which needs intervention at multiple levels. “Covid-19 pandemic is an anxiety-provoking factor, which leads to a depressive state of mind. Social and economic insecurity can lead to suicidal ideas in vulnerable people,” he said.
Another medical officer from the hospital, Dr Jai Chand, said that psychological pressures resulting from domestic violence, Covid regulations, pandemic fears etc. have resulted in a spike in mental health patients in the state in recent months. “Factors such as alcoholics not having access to liquor during the initial period of the lockdown have also contributed to this problem,” he said.
Last year, a study published in Lancet Psychiatry had estimated that one in seven Indians suffered from mental disorders of varying severity in 2017, with Himachal Pradesh showing a high prevalence of bipolar and anxiety disorders.
‘8 lakh suicides every year across globe’
According to the WHO, close to eight lakh people die due to suicide each year, and for every suicide, there are many others who make an attempt. It’s the third leading cause of death in 15 to 19 year olds, and 79 per cent of global suicides occur in low- and middle-income countries.
“Faced with new realities of working from home, temporary unemployment, home-schooling of children, and lack of physical contact with other family members, friends and colleagues, it is important that we look after our mental as well our physical health,” the organisation has advised.