Friday, December 17 2021

Dive In


Sourav knows what it takes to win a series overseas. He doesn’t wish to disturb the team’s focus before such an important World Test Championship series. Nothing is more satisfying than the team’s success.

That’s “a source close to” BCCI President Sourav Ganguly explaining why he will not be issuing any statement or holding a press conference to respond to Virat Kohli—who called him out for lying about the ODI and T20 captaincy. As usual, Ganguly and the board will be relying on unsourced leaks instead—which is, no doubt, great for team morale.


Stuff to check out: On the latest episode of the splainer podcast ‘Press Decode’, the splainer team looks at the internet, past and present—suicide sites on Google search and the future of Web3. Be sure to head over to the IVM website, Spotify or Apple Podcasts to listen to it.

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Big Story

Death by suicide in India: What’s the role of gender?

The TLDR: Each year, without fail, there is a story on the high rate of suicide by housewives in India. And yet more men die by suicide than women in this country—and by a magnitude. Rather than get into futile debates over who is more at risk, we look at the different reasons why Indian men and women take that irrevocable step.


The big picture

Here’s the latest data on suicide in India:


  • Suicides rose 10% from 2019 to an all-time high of 1,53,052 during the pandemic in 2020. This was the highest jump since 1982.
  • The number of suicides per lakh—the suicide rate—also spiked from 10.4% to 11.3% in 2020.
  • Unsurprisingly, daily wage earners made up the largest share at 37,666—and account for 24.6% in 2020. That share has doubled between 2014 to 2020.
  • Next in line, housewives who make up 14.6% of the total—and represent more than 50% of the total number of women who killed themselves.
  • Big data point to note: “India reports the highest numbers of suicides globally: Indian men make up a quarter of global suicides, while Indian women make up 36% of all global suicides in the 15 to 39 years age group.”
  • Also this: multiple studies show that suicides in India are under-reported by between 30% and 100%.


The gender split: Men accounted for nearly 71% of total suicides—45,000 women died by suicide compared to more than 100,000 men.


Looking at Indian women…

The data: It isn’t exactly news that women are one of the most vulnerable groups in India. 


  • According to a 2018 Lancet study, Indian women accounted for over one third (36.6%) of female suicides in the world in 2016, up from 25.3% in 1990—and married women made up the highest percentage.
  • Suicide was the leading cause of death among Indian women ages 15 to 29.
  • More importantly this: If you compare India to other countries with similar education levels, average income etc, we have the highest suicide rate among young and middle-aged women.
  • Since 2001, more than 20,000 housewives have died by suicide each year.
  • According to the latest numbers, an average of 61 housewives lost their lives every day—or one every 25 minutes—to suicide. 


The reasons offered for these appalling numbers remain almost exactly the same.


Marriage: One of the authors of the Lancet study points out that young women between the ages of 15 and 30 are most at risk. After 30, suicide rates among Indian women drops dramatically. One likely reason:


“Indian women below the age of 30 were exposed to major life changes and social pressures that come after marriage. Many lived with their in-laws in a patriarchal joint family setup and were denied basic freedom. But after 30, most women had children and [their] status in the family changed. Even though the pressures and difficulties remained the same, her attention shifted to her children. She became less suicidal.”


Point to note: Suicide rates for men remains the same irrespective of age.


Domestic violence: The most recent government survey shows that 30% of all women are victims of violence at home. And independent research suggests that one-third of Indian women who take their lives have a history of domestic violence—which is not even mentioned in government data as a cause for suicide. 


Education: Greater literacy fosters greater ambitions and independence—which are soon crushed by marriage, as a clinical psychologist notes:


“She becomes a wife and a daughter-in-law and spends her entire day at home, cooking and cleaning and doing household chores. All sorts of restrictions are placed on her, she has little personal freedom and rarely has access to any money of her own. Her education and dreams no longer matter and her ambition begins to extinguish slowly, and despair and disappointment set in and the mere existence become torture."


It’s another reason why suicide rates for women are higher in southern states with higher female literacy, according to the Lancet study authors: “suicide rates in the rural, more traditional northern states could be lower because women there may have ‘less knowledge that they could actually live a better life.’” 


One interesting exception: Kerala—perhaps because it is less patriarchal than other states. 


Lack of community support: Ironically, the same Indian traditions that destroy women’s ambitions can also offer protection:


“[T]he researchers say that suicide rates among housewives are lowest in the most ‘traditional’ states, where family sizes are big and extended families are common. Rates are higher in states where households are closer to nuclear families—Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala.”


And it’s not just families. As one Mumbai psychiatrist notes, Indian housewives form informal support groups with neighbours etc.—which disappeared during the pandemic:


“They had no other avenue to express themselves and sometimes their sanity depended on this conversation they could have with just one person… Housewives had a safe space after the menfolk would leave for work, but that disappeared during the pandemic.”


Looking at Indian men…


Headlines that matter

‘Worst fashion wage theft’ in Karnataka

An international labour rights watchdog revealed that more than 400,000 garment workers in Karnataka have been denied the legal minimum wage since April last year. They work in factories that make apparel for the likes of Nike, Zara and H&M. The estimated amount of unpaid wages is around £41 million (around $54.7 million). One worker said: “Throughout this year I have only fed my family rice and chutney sauce.”


What’s shocking is the paltry amount that these factory owners are refusing to pay:


“The annual cost of living increase to the minimum wage, the ‘variable dearness allowance’ (VDA), was increased to Rs 417 (£4.10) a month in April 2020. The WRC said that as this supplement for low-paid workers, which amounts to 16p a day, had gone unpaid for 20 months, each employee had been underpaid by Rs 8,351 (£83).”

When confronted with the data, the big brands said they expect local suppliers to comply with the law—and will be very upset at them if they don’t. In other words, they passed the buck—which is a truly ironic phrase in this context. (The Guardian)


A row over gender-neutral uniforms

A government school in Kerala introduced gender-neutral uniforms—which have triggered immediate protests from Muslim groups:


“Alleging that it was an infringement on the students’ personal freedom, they said it would ‘outrage the modesty of women’. The members pointed out that shirts and trousers were ‘boys’ dress’ and the effort was to forcibly impose ‘liberal ideas’ on students.”


The school and state ministers say the move is aimed at promoting gender equality. And the parents seem mostly on board. Indian Express has quotes from delighted students. The Hindu has more on the controversy.


Birds top the music charts

An album made up entirely of the tweets and squawks has debuted in the top five of Australia’s music charts. The album—titled ‘Songs of Disappearance’ and features bird songs from 53 of Australia’s most endangered species—has beaten Abba and The Weeknd. You can listen to the chartbusters here. (BBC News)

A special UberEats delivery

Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa arrived at the International Space Station bearing a special gift—a delivery from UberEats. The khana delivered: “dishes including boiled mackerel in miso, beef bowl cooked in sweet sauce, simmered chicken with bamboo shoots, and braised pork.” (Cnet)



In today’s edition

Sanity Break

  • An introduction to classical Japanese paintings on nature 


Weekend Advisory 

  • Good stuff to watch this weekend
  • A list of good reads

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