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What is the reason for a high rate of suicide among young Indian women, and especially suicide among Indian homemakers?
According to the Los Angeles Times blog (June 22, 2012) women in India who are divorced, widowed or separated from their husbands are less likely to commit suicide than married women as found in a study reported in the Lancet. The Global Post blog, quoting the same study, says that suicide may soon surpass maternal mortality to become the leading cause of death for young Indian women.
A report in the Times of India (July 15, 2012) states that in 2011, 24,596 housewives in the country committed suicide, that is, 51.5% of all female suicide victims, and out of these, 43.6% were in the age-group 15-29.
This report, quoting the NCRB, says that while social and economic causes led most males to commit suicide, in the case of most females the causes were emotional and personal. Interestingly, the report quotes a psychiatrist (Dr. Jitendra Nagpal) who says that a negative self-image is a crucial issue with young educated women who are not employed. He is quoted as saying, “That’s because of too much glorification of the working woman. A woman who isn’t employed despite being qualified doesn’t feel complete…existential questions start bothering such homemakers, leading to depression. That is the flagging point for an eventual suicide.”
Reading these articles and reports led my thoughts to the theory of anomic suicide as propounded by Durkheim (He classified suicide into altruistic, egoistic and anomic). Anomie, according to Durkheim, is a state where norms (expectations on behaviors) are confused, unclear or not present. Further, he opined, changing conditions as well as adjustment of life leads to dissatisfaction, conflict, and deviance. He observed that periods of disruption brought about greater anomie and higher rates of crime, suicide, and deviance.
Robert Merton reinterpreted the theory to say that anomie refers to a situation in which there is an apparent lack of fit between the culture’s norms about what constitutes success in life (goals) and the culture’s norms about the appropriate ways to achieve those goals (means). [In the Indian context, most people might think that a placid marriage can be the only success a woman should strive for, while the woman herself may think otherwise].
Anomic suicide, then, is suicide arising out of normlessness. Taking Durkheim’s theory further, and redefining it a bit as Merton did, I would say that normlessness, confusion, intense role conflict all lead to rootlessness, and that in turn leads to the existential questions that the psychiatrist quoted above refers to.
Are we then saying that anomic suicide (as interpreted by me!) might soon become one of the leading causes of suicide among educated, full-time homemakers who have dreams other than of just being homemakers?
Pic credit: Crystal Artwork (Used under a Creative Commons license)
I am a former bureaucrat, and have worked a lot on gender issues, disaster management and good governance. I am also the proud father of two lovely daughters. read more...
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