By Richa Gupta:
The suicide rates of Indian housewives are skyrocketing: over 20,000 housewives killed themselves in 2014. 5,650 farmers took their lives in the same year but the media coverage for the latter was widespread while there was barely any notice of the thousands of women who passed into oblivion. This observation, in fact, is a subtle reminder of the deep gender gap that is so prevalent on the Indian subcontinent, and enmeshed in societal mindsets.
Almost 11 housewives per 100,000 people commit suicide; this alarming rate is higher in the states of Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Goa, and Karnataka (where it is 20 housewives per 100,000). On the other hand, the states of Punjab, Bihar, and Uttar Pradesh showed lower suicide rates. Furthermore, it is a shocking and distressing actuality that the suicide rate for housewives was more than triple the rate of farmer suicides in 2014. Over 20,000 housewives having been taking their lives every year in India since 1997 (as compiled by the National Crime Records Bureau); this statistic reached a peak of 25,092 deaths in 2009. In the words of Peter Mayer, a teacher at the University of Adelaide, “Marriage confers protection from suicide to married women.” However, this doesn’t mean that married women are safe from the clutches of suicide and self-harm. As said by Della Steen, “[the] risk of suicide is, on the whole, highest in what are probably the first or second decades of marriage, that is, for those aged between 30 and 45.”
Why is this pressing issue so prevalent? Financial dependence, conflicts and fights with the husband, physical and domestic abuse, and poor relationships with the husband’s in-laws. A lack of education among Indian housewives would further exacerbate this issue, since this would imply complete financial dependence, and would make it more difficult for them to speak out. Furthermore, being forced into an arranged marriage with a husband who doesn’t support the wife’s dreams, plans, and hopes for the future could lead to mental illnesses like depression.
And again, a further lack of education would prevent these women from seeking help or therapy, due to the social stigmas associated with mental illnesses. For example, if an Indian housewife seeks therapy to cure depression or another mental illness, her position and image in society would probably deteriorate —hence leading her into a vicious cycle of pain, followed by either a painful silence or ostracism from the societal fabric.
There is another factor that could be a crucial reason behind this helplessness: dowry. The concept of dowry naturally puts great stress on the bride’s family which consequently mars the woman’s emotional health; the harassment that ensues may drive the wife to commit suicide.
Even though the payment of dowry has been prohibited under the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961, it still takes place across the nation. Although legislation has been taken care of, there is still a massive gap when it comes to implementation and enforcement. The same applies to the sexual abuse and harassment of women — and the situation isn’t improving.
Indian housewives form a massive percentage of Indian society, and play an important role, yet, not only do they face mental troubles, marital conflict, and possibly even abuse, but their sufferings are not even a front-page event. This is an indication of gender discrimination at its worst — and the main way to mitigate this issue would be by raising awareness. Indeed, the discrepancies in reporting lead to a gendered idea of what makes news in Indian society.
In the words of Kalpana Sharma, “This, in some ways, is worse than misogyny. There is a lack of engagement with issues relating to women, and the media is not even aware of the problem.” Raising awareness can be done in numerous ways — by posting messages and garnering support on social media, writing blog posts and articles on online forums, and conducting interviews with these women to be displayed in magazines or newspapers. So, even though the rising suicide rates of housewives are not getting the media coverage they deserve, there are always other means of raising awareness about this highly important issue; indeed, as long as we do not lose sight of what’s important, positive social change will never evade us.
Therefore, it may be stated that these upsetting and highly widespread deaths of innocent, helpless women are in fact cries for help and the best way to help them would be to raise awareness regarding the growing suicide rates, the problems that they face in almost all facets of life, and the shocking case of gender discrimination in our nation. Women in society symbolise power and strength; therefore, their grievances and sufferings also deserve to be heard.
As said by Barack Obama, “You can judge a nation, and how successful it will be, based on how it treats its women and its girls.” Indeed, our country has a lot to learn when it comes to handling and broadcasting women’s issues. The Indian housewives represent a multitude of dreams and aspirations for the future; all we have to do is appreciate this fact, refuse to close our minds, and listen.