India has overtaken the United Kingdom to become the fifth largest economy in the world according to the IMF and is poised to be the fastest growing Asian economy next year according to Morgan Stanley. The GDP estimates for the latest April-June quarter have given Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman cause to celebrate, with the latter telling a gathering of the United States Chamber of Commerce: “Today, fifth; soon, third…!”
But what does this growth story mean for the ordinary Indian? Especially when neither per capita income nor employment rate is rising? According to the Ministry of Statistics & Programme Implementation, India’s annual per capita income (based on Net National Income at constant prices) continues to be below the pre-pandemic level at Rs.91,481 in 2021-22.
The unemployment rate remains high at 8 per cent in August 2022, according to the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy. The employment rate or worker population ratio among youth (aged 15-24) has fallen to 10.4 per cent in 2022 from 20.9 per cent in 2017.
Rising suicide rate
The recently released National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) 2021 report, titled “Accidental Deaths and Suicides in India”, also paints a grim picture of the average Indian’s economic health. While the suicide rate among the employable pool of Indians has steadily increased since 2014, it reached shocking levels in 2021. A total of 1,64,033 cases of suicide were reported to the police during 2021, up 7.2 per cent from 1,53,052 cases in 2020. Daily wage earners were the largest category (25.6 per cent), followed by the self-employed, the unemployed, and people in the farming sector.
When the COVID-19 pandemic struck in 2020, the Indian economy took a hard hit, in large part due to the mismanagement of the lockdowns. This led to mass migration among the employed population in urban centres, many of whom walked several hundreds of kilometres back to their villages. The full implications of the economic and psychological impact of those days are perhaps playing out now.
Economic distress ranks high as a reason for suicide in 2021 among the self-employed (12.3 per cent), the unemployed (8.35 per cent), as also farmers and farm labour (6.6 per cent). Taken together with the number of daily wage earners who took their own lives, the suicide rate in these categories is a distressing 52.85 per cent.
Since 2017, daily wage earners, the self-employed, and the unemployed have died by suicide in larger numbers than farmers and farm labourers. The three categories together reported 59,498 suicides in 2015, 61,223 in 2016, 65,426 in 2017,65,584 in 2018, 71,174 in 2019, 81,327 in 2020, and 86,830 in 2021.
According to the Ministry of Home Affairs, over 16,000 people died by suicide because of bankruptcy or indebtedness between 2018 and 2020, while 9,140 people were unemployed. Between 2015 and 2021, the figures are 2.2 lakh daily wage earners, over one lakh self-employed persons, over 90,000 unemployed persons, and 76,824 farmers and farm labourers. According to the report, 45,026 females committed suicide in 2021 while the figure was 1,18,979 for males.
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The majority of suicide cases in the farming sector were reported in Maharashtra (37.3 per cent), Karnataka (19.9 per cent), Andhra Pradesh (9.8 per cent), Madhya Pradesh (6.2 per cent), and Tamil Nadu (5.5 per cent). Out of 5,563 suicides by agricultural labourers in 2021, 5,121 were males and 442 were females. States such as West Bengal, Bihar, Jharkhand, Odisha, Tripura, Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh, and Uttarakhand and Union Territories such as Chandigarh, Lakshadweep, and Puducherry reported zero suicides of farmers and cultivators as well as agriculture labourers.
A total of 64.2 per cent (1,05,242) of persons who died by suicide had an annual income of less than Rs.1 lakh; 31.6 per cent (51,812) had annual income between Rs.1 lakh and less than Rs.5 lakh.
Other notable statistics released by the Crime in India report of the NCRB also do not reflect well on the state of the country. For instance, Gujarat recorded 23 custodial deaths in 2021 as against 15 in 2020, a 53 per cent jump. This is the highest in the country, which recorded 88 custodial deaths compared with 76 in 2020.
Jammu and Kashmir registered the most Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) cases under “special and local laws” in 2021. Of the 814 cases recorded under the UAPA in India, 289 were in Jammu and Kashmir, 157 were in Manipur, 95 in Assam, 86 in Jharkhand, and 83 in Uttar Pradesh. Jharkhand and Maharashtra filed the highest number of communal riots cases in 2021 with 100 and 77 cases respectively.
Violence against women
The crime rate against women rose by 15 per cent last year, with Delhi the most unsafe metropolitan city. Rajasthan reported the highest number of rape cases. Amongst the majority of the crimes against women, 31.8 per cent were registered under cruelty by husband or his relatives; the home continues to be an unsafe space for a majority of women. About 20 per cent cases were filed under assaults on women with intent to outrage modesty, 17.6 per cent were recorded under kidnapping and abduction, and 7.4 per cent were for rape. Also, 107 women were attacked with acid, 1,580 women were trafficked, 15 girls were sold, and 2,668 women were victims of cybercrime.
Dalit and Adivasi women continue to be the worst off, facing the dual discrimination of caste and patriarchy. Cases of rape against Schedule Caste women (including minors) account for 7.64 per cent (3,893 cases), with 2,585 cases of rape against Dalit women and 1,285 cases of minor rape, of the total cases reported. Cases of rape, attempt to rape, assault on women to outrage her modesty, and kidnapping of women and minors cumulatively stood at 16.8 per cent (8,570 cases). Cases of rape against Scheduled Tribe women stood at 15 per cent (1,324) of the total cases reported. Cases of rape, attempt to rape, assault on women to outrage her modesty, and kidnapping cumulatively stood at 26.8 per cent (2,364).
The 2021 NCRB data show the similar trend of upsurge in violence regardless of the BJP’s electoral outreach towards the communities. Atrocities against Scheduled Castes increased by 1.2 per cent in 2021 (50,900) over 2020 (50,291 cases). Uttar Pradesh reported the highest number of cases of atrocities against Scheduled Castes (13,146 cases, 25.82 per cent), followed by Rajasthan (7,524, 14.7 per cent), Madhya Pradesh (7,214, 14.1 per cent), Bihar (5,842, 11.4 per cent), and Odisha (2,327, 4.5 per cent).
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Atrocities against Scheduled Tribes increased by 6.4 per cent in 2021 (8,802 cases) over 2020 (8,272 cases). Madhya Pradesh reported the highest number of cases (2,627 cases, 29.8 per cent) followed by Rajasthan (2,121 cases, 24 per cent), and Odisha(676 cases, 7.6 per cent). Maharashtra was next in the list (628 cases, 7.13 per cent) followed by Telangana (512 cases, 5.81 per cent). These five States reported 74.57 per cent of cases of atrocities against Scheduled Tribes.
According to the National Coalition for Strengthening SCs and STs (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, a platform of more than 500 Dalits and Adivasis civil society organisations, communities, leaders and activists, even after the amendments to the Act came into force in 2016, its implementation remains a challenge.
A statement by the group read: “With the audacity with which crimes are conducted it is very much evident that there is complete absence of fear and lawlessness. Apart from violence, being perpetrated on Dalits and Adivasis, there has been an increase in untouchability practices in schools, access to drinking water, access to education, health care, and dignity remains a challenge.”