Wedlock to hemlock
|In India, one married man commits suicide every nine minutes — versus one married woman taking her life almost every 17 minutes — thanks to work pressures, an inability to tackle sorrow and laws that favour women, says Sonia Sarkar|
The words were ominous. "The growing differences with my wife have become unbearable. It is better to end my life," Amit Bhaskar told a Mumbai-based suicide help- line, run by non-government organisation Aasra, before he was found dead in his bedroom. A glass with the dregs of sleeping pills was found by his side.
Bhaskar is one of 61,453 married men in India who committed suicide last year. In India, one married man commits suicide every nine minutes, as opposed to one married woman taking her life almost every 17 minutes.
Recent data revealed by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) on suicides in 2010 show that almost 76 per cent of the total number of men who committed suicide were married. The number of suicides among married men was almost double that of married women, 31,754 of whom took their lives in 2010.
"Out of 25 calls that we receive a day, at least seven are from distressed husbands, as opposed to three or four from troubled wives," says Johnson Thomas, director of Aasra. "We come across at least five such cases every month," adds Dr Jai Ranjan Ram, psychiatrist at Calcutta's Apollo Gleneagles.
Doctors also testify to the rise in the numbers of husbands committing suicide in recent years. "In a month, we come across about 40 suicide cases, out of which 50 per cent are invariably married men. The number was lower by 10 per cent five years ago," says the head of psychiatry at Mumbai's KEM Hospital, Dr Shubhangi Parkar, who's conducted a joint study on suicides.
Mumbai-based Shekhar Aggarwal, 31, was one such patient whom the counsellors could not save. Aggarwal was in love with an old sweetheart who was forced by her parents to marry another man. Aggarwal got married too, but was not happy. For a couple of weeks he talked about death with his counsellors, who tried to help him battle depression. But nothing helped — and Aggarwal one day hanged himself.
Though the NCRB has not revealed the socio-economic class of the married men, experts point out that the trend is common to all classes. The reasons, however, are different. "For lower middle-class men, addiction to alcohol and debt are the common reasons for suicide. For the middle and upper middle-class, family dispute and loss of money in gambling or horse racing are often the cause," says a senior official at CID (Crime), Maharashtra, which has the dubious distinction of recording the second highest number of suicides by married men — 8,138 in 2010 — among all states. Andhra Pradesh topped the list with 8,659 cases.
Possibly, economic upheavals in recent years — with job losses in many sectors — have taken their toll on married men, who are still the traditional bread earners. The demands of the fast-paced information technology industry are exacting. With the economic slowdown and job losses, depression has been mounting.
Not surprisingly, most suicides were committed by men who worked in the private sector. Last year in Bangalore, 366 private sector job holders took their lives versus 232 self-employed and 12 public sector employees. Around 210 men working in private companies in Chennai committed suicide as opposed to 99 self-employed ones and five public sector employees.
But clearly there is no one reason why married men take their own lives. The factors differ from case to case, though there are some generalities. In Bangalore, for instance, work pressures often drive men towards suicide, the police say. "Most of these suicides are committed by IT professionals who have a stressful life. There is an imbalance between their personal and work lives, which leads to marital rifts and causes depression," says Praveen Sood, additional director general (crime records bureau), Bangalore.
Men, according to clinical psychologist Manju Mehta of Delhi's All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), tend to harm themselves when they are not able to cope with stress. "Even emotionally strong men can harm themselves. This is one of their ways to escape pain and suffering," she says.
But why do men outnumber women on the suicide front so starkly? Part of it, psychologists say, is because they find it difficult to tackle sorrow and tend to bottle up depression. "Owing to the social stigma attached to weeping, men don't cry. Expressing sadness, fear, disappointment or regret is seen as being less acceptable for men than women, who share their problems with others," says Dr Sujatha Sharma, who runs a marital therapy clinic, Parivartan, in Delhi. "This cultural stereotype is very difficult to shake off. Since women are open to approach, suicides can be averted in their case, unlike in the case of men."
Though married women commit suicide as well, the figures are much lower than that of men. In the past five years, the number of married men taking their lives has gone up by 17 per cent versus 12.6 per cent for married women.
"Men often suffer from a prolonged sense of not belonging, of not being integrated in the family. These feelings give rise to a sense of meaninglessness, apathy, melancholy and depression. Conflict in personal relationships, which is quite common these days, adds to the stress," explains Mehta.
Counsellors believe that extra-marital relationships also force men into a corner. "Often, cracks in marriages start showing up when either of the spouses has an extra-marital affair. Men suffer more since their coping strategies are weaker than those of women," adds Mehta.
For K. Srinivas, a 40-year-old IT professional from Chennai, it was his wife's infidelity that prompted him to take his life. He was married for 10 years, and when he suspected that his wife had a lover he confronted her. But when her affair continued, the father of two daughters took an overdose of sleeping pills. "He felt helpless and debilitated," says a counsellor.
Male suicide is often called "egoistic" suicide by experts. "On many occasions, men contemplating suicide have confessed that their ego doesn't let them compromise and take the first step needed to fix a problem in a relationship. In such a situation, they also feel a strong sense of failure," says Dr Parkar.
For most Indians, the family is a pivotal force of strength and support. But when things go wrong, it may also be their greatest torment, the experts point out. Failure to meet the high expectations of their partners often goads men into taking extreme steps. "Men become very sensitive about relationships and they feel ashamed of not meeting their partner's expectations, resulting in a lowering of self-esteem," says Dr M. Gowri Devi of the Niloufer Hospital in Hyderabad.
The changing man-woman equation has also made a dent on the male ego. Andhra Pradesh is a case in point. "With 33 per cent reservation for girls in all colleges, including professional courses, there are more educated women than men in the state. Education is empowering women more and making them independent and perhaps less adjusting. Dissatisfied and frustrated with family life, men see suicide as an option to get over their emotional loss," says Dr Devi.
Associations that espouse the cause of husbands blame pro-women laws for the trend. "For example, there is misuse of section 498A of the Indian Penal Code, under which an uninvestigated complaint by a wife against her husband and his family can land him and the family in jail. Or take the Domestic Violence Act, under which a husband can lose his hard-earned property thanks to a simple complaint of domestic violence, even without a fair trial," says Niladri Das of male rights group Save Family Foundation.
"We want the government to set up a men's welfare ministry and also a commission for men to look after such cases. It is unfortunate that the pain and suffering of married men are never taken into account when the government designs its welfare policies," he says.
Delhi-based lawyer Meenakshi Lekhi also believes the law can be unfair to men. "In the urban scenario, women can be equally abusive and cruel as men. One cannot ignore the fact that offensive wives often push their husbands into such a corner that they are forced to end their lives," feels Lekhi.
Doctors say that suicides can be avoided if the warning signals are read at an appropriate time. "Nobody commits suicide at the very thought of it. There is a gradual escalation of the feeling that death is a better option. It is for friends and close group associates to keep a tab on the mood swings of the person and also help him vent his frustration and anxiety,"says Dr Ram.
Activists have also started awareness campaigns that could help men seek assistance rather than suffer in silence. "Men should speak out," says Das.
(Some names have been changed to protect their identities)
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