Suicide Statistics

The connection between self-immolation and domestic violence

The easy accessibility of kerosene at home could be a factor behind the high rate of self-immolation of women.

Indian men are twice as likely as women to kill themselves, but of all the methods of suicide, self-immolation is the only one that claims more women than men, according to national crime data.

In 2014 – the latest data available – the likelihood of a suicide victim being a woman (61%) was significantly more in the case of self-immolation than for all other methods combined (28%), said this report on accidental deaths and suicides published by the National Crime Records Bureau, echoing past trends.

Source: National Crime Records Bureau
Source: National Crime Records Bureau

In absolute numbers, hanging and poisoning themselves were the preferred ways to die for women. Housewives – not farmers, as popularly believed – are more likely to kill themselves than any other demographic group in India, IndiaSpend had reported. As many as 20,148 housewives committed suicide in 2014.

Source: National Crime Records Bureau
Source: National Crime Records Bureau

The self-immolation phenomenon is related to the high rates of suicides by housewives in India as a result of domestic violence, said Flavia Agnes, a women’s rights activist who runs Majlis, an advocacy. The cultural significance of fire, she said, made women prefer kerosene over poisoning or hanging, which also take more effort.

Ritual self-immolation is an Indian tradition, noted this 2003 study, which identified dowry as the modern motivating factor. “When dowry expectations are not met, the young bride may be killed or compelled to commit suicide, most frequently by burning,” wrote the author, Virendra Kumar, a forensic professor. In Kumar’s sample set of burned wives, most killed themselves within two to five years of marriage.

The main problemmarriage as the central focus of women’s lives

“In India, we have continued to look at marriage as the only option for women,” said Agnes, who has faced domestic violence and once considered self-immolation. “When faced with problems, the option for them is to either stay married, or die. The state has not paid sufficient attention to providing alternatives. Marriage seems to be the central focus in India, more than in any other country.”

Often, said Agnes, when women take to legal recourse, cases run for long and the society accuses them of misusing the law. “What is the option for the woman, but to die?” asked Agnes.

Source: National Crime Records Bureau
Source: National Crime Records Bureau

The easy accessibility of kerosene at home could be a factor behind the high rate of self-immolation of women, past research has indicated.

Hanging and poisoning are preferred ways to die

In 2014, the ratio of men and women committing suicide was lowest for “fire/self-immolation” (0.63 men per woman), followed by “consumption of sleeping pills” (1.63 men per woman). The highest ratios were for people who were run over by trains or vehicles (5.46 men per woman), and contact with electric wires (4.08 men per woman).

In absolute numbers, 5,576 women burned themselves, against 3,545 men in 2014. Seven of 11 methods of suicide had a ratio of more than two men for each woman. However, in absolute numbers, hanging (15,631) and poisoning (11,126) claimed more women than self-immolation did.

Source: National Crime Records Bureau, MInistry of Home Affairs.
Source: National Crime Records Bureau, MInistry of Home Affairs.

From 2011 to 2014, about 27,000 women burned themselves, compared to less than 16,000 men. Self-immolation appears to be a mode of dying particular to South Asian women.

Self-immolation rare in the developed world but common elsewhere

Self-immolation is common in South Asia, but not elsewhere in the world. “In other countries, poisoning, gunfire, etc. are more common in domestic deaths,” said Agnes. “But in the Indian context, it’s always burning.”

India has a high rate of self-immolation relative to Western societies, noted a 2016 book The Psychology of Arson. It said that the “number of women coerced to commit suicide by fire was deemed such a concern that the Indian government enacted laws to ban dowries in 1961”.

However, motivation is hard to establish, since many women do not talk about it and, in some cases, are not aware why they did it, as this 2012 study in the International Journal of Burns and Trauma noted, although some indicators are available.

“An Iranian study in 2005 found that up to 15% of self-immolation cases had a clinical history of mental disorders,” said the study. “Much higher figures have been reported from Turkey (83%), Finland (87%), Egypt (30%) and Germany (33%)”.

“While suicide by self-immolation is very rare in the developed world, it is more frequent in Baltic region (including Lithuania, Finland, Russia,etc), Africa (including Egypt), the Middle East (including Iran), the Far East, particularly India and Vietnam.”

This article first appeared on Indiaspend, a data-driven and public-interest journalism non-profit.

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Modern home design trends that are radically changing living spaces in India

From structure to finishes, modern homes embody lifestyle.

Homes in India are evolving to become works of art as home owners look to express their taste and lifestyle through design. It’s no surprise that global home design platform Houzz saw over a million visitors every month from India, even before their services were locally available. Architects and homeowners are spending enormous time and effort over structural elements as well as interior features, to create beautiful and comfortable living spaces.

Here’s a look at the top trends that are altering and enhancing home spaces in India.

Cantilevers. A cantilever is a rigid structural element like a beam or slab that protrudes horizontally out of the main structure of a building. The cantilevered structure almost seems to float on air. While small balconies of such type have existed for eons, construction technology has now enabled large cantilevers, that can even become large rooms. A cantilever allows for glass facades on multiple sides, bringing in more sunlight and garden views. It works wonderfully to enhance spectacular views especially in hill or seaside homes. The space below the cantilever can be transformed to a semi-covered garden, porch or a sit-out deck. Cantilevers also help conserve ground space, for lawns or backyards, while enabling more built-up area. Cantilevers need to be designed and constructed carefully else the structure could be unstable and lead to floor vibrations.

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Butterfly roof and cantilever (Image credit: Design Milk on
Butterfly roof and cantilever (Image credit: Design Milk on

Skylights. Designing a home to allow natural light in is always preferred. However, spaces, surrounding environment and privacy issues don’t always allow for large enough windows. Skylights are essentially windows in the roof, though they can take a variety of forms. A well-positioned skylight can fill a room with natural light and make a huge difference to small rooms as well as large living areas. However, skylights must be intelligently designed to suit the climate and the room. Skylights facing north, if on a sloping roof, will bring in soft light, while a skylight on a flat roof will bring in sharp glare in the afternoons. In the Indian climate, a skylight will definitely reduce the need for artificial lighting but could also increase the need for air-conditioning during the warm months. Apart from this cleaning a skylight requires some effort. Nevertheless, a skylight is a very stylish addition to a home, and one that has huge practical value.

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Floating staircase (Image credit: Design Milk on
Floating staircase (Image credit: Design Milk on

Exposed Brick Walls. Brickwork is traditionally covered with plaster and painted. However, ‘exposed’ bricks, that is un-plastered masonry, is becoming popular in homes, restaurants and cafes. It adds a rustic and earthy feel. Exposed brick surfaces can be used in home interiors, on select walls or throughout, as well as exteriors. Exposed bricks need to be treated to be moisture proof. They are also prone to gathering dust and mould, making regular cleaning a must.

Cement work. Don’t underestimate cement and concrete when it comes to design potential. Exposed concrete interiors, like exposed brick, are becoming very popular. The design philosophy is ‘Less is more’ - the structure is simplistic and pops of colour are added through furniture and soft furnishings.

Exposed concrete wall (Image Credit: Getty Images)
Exposed concrete wall (Image Credit: Getty Images)

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