New Delhi: A staggering 25,164 daily wage earners took their own lives in 2016, the highest share of suicides among all occupational groups, data from the latest National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) report showed.
The number is 5.7% above the previous year’s 23,799, and is more than double the 11,379 suicides by farmers and agricultural labourers recorded during 2016.
The latest data points to a grim reality, where daily wage earners, among the poorest on the economic ladder, are taking their own lives at an unprecedented scale, despite several social security schemes. These include the rural employment guarantee scheme, where labourers toil for below-stipulated minimum wages for agricultural labourers in as many as 33 states and Union territories, and old-age pensions, which have remained stagnant since 2006.
A possible explanation for the distress among daily wage earners could lie in the non-farm sector’s linkages to the farm sector, said Anamitra Roychowdhury, assistant professor at the informal sector and labour studies department of Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi.
“Consecutive years of drought in 2014 and 2015 likely increased the supply of labour to the non-farm sector, impacting wages and availability of work. The fact that growth in real wages for casual labourers halved between 2004-2011 and 2011-2017 (according to the Periodic Labour Force Survey report released in 2019) also paints a dismal picture for the non-farm sector," said Roychowdhury.
Another possibility is state governments classifying suicides in the farm sector as those of daily wage earners, to limit the political fallout of farmer suicides. For instance, nine states, including West Bengal, Bihar and Haryana, reported zero suicides by farmers in 2016.
Between 2014 and 2016, suicides by daily wage earners rose to 25,164 from 15,735, an increase of 60%. This came at a time when farm sector suicides fell to 11,379 from 12,360, and suicides by housewives rose from 20,148 to 21,563. NCRB, which comes under the Union home ministry, created the category of daily wage earners in 2014, and it excludes agricultural labourers.
The “Accidental Deaths and Suicides in India" (ADSI) report, published on Friday after a delay of more than two years, showed that the number of suicides by daily wage earners surpassed the number of suicides by housewives for the second year in a row in 2016. Till 2014, housewives accounted for the highest number of suicides.
According to the ADSI report, daily wage earners accounted for 19.2%, or nearly a fifth of all suicides recorded in 2016, far surpassing those engaged in agriculture (8.7%) and housewives (16.5%). The data further shows that among states, Tamil Nadu accounted for the highest number of suicides by daily wage earners (4,888), followed by Maharashtra (3,168).