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.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Watch Ruchir's journey: A story that captures the impact of accessible technology

Accessible technology has the potential to change lives.

“Technology can be a great leveller”, affirms Ruchir Falodia, Social Media Manager, TATA CLiQ. Out of the many qualities that define Ruchir as a person, one that stands out is that he is an autodidact – a self-taught coder and lover of technology.

Ruchir’s story is one that humanises technology - it has always played the role of a supportive friend who would look beyond his visual impairment. A top ranker through school and college, Ruchir would scan course books and convert them to a format which could be read out to him (in the absence of e-books for school). He also developed a lot of his work ethos on the philosophy of Open Source software, having contributed to various open source projects. The access provided by Open Source, where users could take a source code, modify it and distribute their own versions of the program, attracted him because of the even footing it gave everyone.

That is why I like being in programming. Nobody cares if you are in a wheelchair. Whatever be your physical disability, you are equal with every other developer. If your code works, good. If it doesn’t, you’ll be told so.

— Ruchir.

Motivated by the objectivity that technology provided, Ruchir made it his career. Despite having earned degree in computer engineering and an MBA, friends and family feared his visual impairment would prove difficult to overcome in a work setting. But Ruchir, who doesn’t like quotas or the ‘special’ tag he is often labelled with, used technology to prove that differently abled persons can work on an equal footing.

As he delved deeper into the tech space, Ruchir realised that he sought to explore the human side of technology. A fan of Agatha Christie and other crime novels, he wanted to express himself through storytelling and steered his career towards branding and marketing – which he sees as another way to tell stories.

Ruchir, then, migrated to Mumbai for the next phase in his career. It was in the Maximum City that his belief in technology being the great leveller was reinforced. “The city’s infrastructure is a challenging one, Uber helped me navigate the city” says Ruchir. By using the VoiceOver features, Ruchir could call an Uber wherever he was and move around easily. He reached out to Uber to see if together they could spread the message of accessible technology. This partnership resulted in a video that captures the essence of Ruchir’s story: The World in Voices.

Play

It was important for Ruchir to get rid of the sympathetic lens through which others saw him. His story serves as a message of reassurance to other differently abled persons and abolishes some of the fears, doubts and prejudices present in families, friends, employers or colleagues.

To know more about Ruchir’s journey, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Uber and not by the Scroll editorial team.