Opposition leaders on Thursday criticised Prime Minister Narendra Modi for making a joke about a suicide note, saying his comments show “insensitive disregard for human life”.

While addressing a conclave organised by news channel Republic TV on Wednesday, the prime minister said: “In our childhood, we would hear a joke. A professor’s daughter died by suicide and she left a chit saying ‘I am tired of life and I do not want to live. So I will jump into Kankaria Lake and die’. In the morning, when the professor saw the chit he became angry...He said after serving so many years as a professor, she [the daughter] has still spelled ‘Kankaria’ incorrectly.”

The prime minister then goes on to say that Republic TV Editor-in-Chief Arnab Goswami had started speaking well in Hindi.

Reacting to the comments, Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra on Thursday said that Modi and those laughing at his joke should educate themselves better rather than ridicule mental health issues in an insensitive manner.

“Depression and suicide, especially among the youth IS NOT a laughing matter,” she wrote on Twitter. “According to NCRB [National Crime Records Bureau] data, 1,64,033 Indians committed suicide in 2021. Of which a huge percentage were below the age of 30. This is a tragedy not a joke.”

In 2021, the rate of suicide – the number of death due to suicides per one lakh population – stood at 12, data from the National Crime Records Bureau showed in August. This is the highest rate of deaths from suicides since 1967, the earliest year for which data is available. Before this, the highest rate of suicide – 11.3 – was reported in the country in 2010.

Former Congress chief Rahul Gandhi said that the prime minister should not make fun of thousands of families who lose their children due to suicide.

The Congress in a tweet asked: “How can anyone be so insensitive about suicide? Government statistics show that in 2021 more than 1.64 lakh Indians committed suicide. Every day 450 people are forced to commit suicide in our country and this is a ‘joke’ for the prime minister.”

At a press conference, the party’s media department head Pawan Khera said that such remarks do not behove the post of prime minister.

The Aam Aadmi Party also criticised Modi’s remarks, saying that this “illiterate” prime minister had made a “sick and cruel joke” about a girl’s suicide.

Rashtriya Janata Dal leader Manoj Kumar Jha said that the applause and the laughter that followed Modi’s comments were “more frightening”. He added, “We have become a very sick society.”

If you have suicidal feelings, please consider seeking help through the helplines and resources listed here.