Illnesses were behind half the suicides in Punjab in 2021

Healthcare costs too high, farmers at risk due to pesticide use says expert

By Bhagirath
Published: Friday 02 September 2022
Farmers and agricultural workers are the biggest victims of suicides in Punjab, according to an expert. Photo: Vikas Choudhary / CSE

The suicide rate in Punjab may be lower than the national average, but the state ranks first for suicides by people suffering from illnesses. In 2021, there were 2,600 suicides in the state, of which 44.8 per cent or 1,164 were due to diseases. 

Punjab’s rate of suicides due to diseases is about 2.5 times higher than the national average of 18.6 per cent, according to National Crime Records Bureau’s (NCRB) Accidental Death and Suicides in India, 2021 report. 

For the past decade, the suicide rate due to diseases in Punjab has remained higher than the national average. Four times in the last 10 years, Punjab has stood first in this matter.  

A total of 1,64,033 suicides were registered in the country in 2021, out of which 30,446 (18.6 per cent) suicides were due to diseases. 

Read more: Punjab, cancer capital of India

Sikkim is in second place (44.7 per cent), Andaman and Nicobar Islands at third (33.3 per cent), Andhra Pradesh fourth (30.6 per cent) and Tamil Nadu fifth (28.6 per cent) in the list of states and Union Territories with the highest suicide rates due to diseases.

In the year 2021, the suicide rate due to illness was higher than the national average in a total of 15 states and union territories. Family disputes (33.2 per cent) were the leading cause of suicide in India. 

Punjab is on the list of the most prosperous states in India. However, it continues to report high suicide rates. Diseases accounted for 19.7 per cent of the total suicides in Punjab in 2016, according to the NCRB. 

A total of 1,440 people died by suicide in the state in 2016 and 283 people died due to diseases. Punjab was ranked 11th in the list of such states. In 2017, the suicide rate due to diseases in Punjab rose to 31.7 per cent, second only to Sikkim (37.9 per cent).

In 2018, Punjab topped the charts for suicide rate due to illnesses. Diseases became the reason for 42.1 per cent of the suicides. Of the 1,714 suicides in the state, diseases were at the root of 722. In 2019, the contribution of diseases to suicides rose to 27.7 per cent, reaching the sixth position.

The contribution of diseases to suicides in Punjab rose again to 36.4 per cent in 2020, second only to Lakshadweep. A total of 192 suicides were recorded in 2021 due to diseases in Punjab’s Ludhiana.

Mental illness and other chronic diseases are the biggest causes of suicide, according to NCRB. In the year 2021, Punjab has the highest number of 1,095 suicides due to mental illnesses out of 1,164 suicides due to diseases. These included 882 men and 213 women.

Causes of diseases

Widespread use of pesticides and fertilisers in Punjab is linked to diseases, said agriculture expert Devinder Sharma. 

Read more: Nearly 600 farmer suicides in 8 months: Is Marathwada facing agri-distress

The state primarily consumes wheat and the chemicals used in cultivation are making people sick, said Sharma. “The cost of falling ill in Punjab is very high and most people can’t bear it. Farmers and agricultural workers are the biggest victims of suicides,” he said.

Cancer cases are also high among farmers and contaminated water is also a major cause of diseases in Punjab, said the food policy expert. “The rivers here have turned into drains due to industrial waste,” he said. 

Major illnesses in a family increase their debt by 40 per cent, alleged Sharma. “When one member of the family falls ill, the whole family reaches below the poverty line. People are often forced to commit suicide due to debt and illness because they do not see a way out of it,” he said.

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