The annual dossier on crime is out. The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) Report 2022 speaks volumes about crime and its magnitude. True, the report shows a decline of 7.2 percent in the number of crimes registered, as compared to 2020. Nonetheless, the report has unfolded several horrifying facts. Lower registration does not mean that the crime rate has actually declined. Be it crime against women or children, cybercrime or economic offences, they all have increased many times.
The national capital continues to be the most unsafe place for women. The report shows that there has been a 40 percent increase in the crime against women and children. Out of this, chargesheet has been issued only in 31 percent cases.
Crime under the protection of children against sexual offences Act (POCSO), too, has increased manifold. What is alarming is the rate at which death from suicide has increased over the last one year. The report shows that over 1.6 lakh people died by suicide, which is 7.2 percent more than the last year. In fact, it is 10 percent more than the deaths that took place due to Covid-19. Despite this, our focus had remained mainly on containing the invisible virus.
If we look at this data closely, we will find that one in four people who committed suicide was a daily wage worker! The percentage of daily wage workers committing suicide has been increasing steadily since 2014. One evident reason could be the fall in income, unemployment and familial issues emanating from stress caused by such circumstances.
After the economic downturn in 2020-21, the Indian economy has started showing signs of recovery. The industrial sector bounced back with rigour but the growth has not been even across all the sectors. The Reserve Bank of India has estimated that India will grow at a rate of 7.2 percent. But had growth been the perfect indicator, everyone would have had a better source of income.
If one visits any industrial area, one can easily make out that many companies have permanently closed their businesses. If a few large ones had more than one production unit, only one or two would be found to be functional, that too at a much lower capacity than the pre-pandemic period.
Barring a few sectors like power, there is hardly any area, which has remained unaffected due to Covid-19. Only a few privileged like Gautam Adani could grow at a tremendous rate. He has surpassed Jeff Bezos to become the third richest person in the world, that too in a matter of a few months. That’s the irony of growth rate! It is uneven, unequal and unfair. The averages are often misleading. Hence, a positive growth rate would generally mean that all is well with everyone. It is only when one looks at ground zero that the fallacy of growth rate becomes evident.
Coming back to the daily wage workers, who depended for work on such factories and would eat food or buy provisions from whatever they earned on a daily basis, had no or minimal source of income during the lockdown period. Many had to take loans, sell their precious possessions, to survive the pandemic. The post-pandemic period has not offered much respite to them. Many business houses are struggling to make a comeback, affecting the daily-wage earners and casual labourers.
The scale of distress is evident from the increased dependence on MNREGA. During 2019-20, 7.8 crore people worked under the scheme. The number increased to 11.19 crore during the first year of the pandemic. While it dipped to 10.62 crore in 2020-21, it is nowhere close to the pre-pandemic levels. In the current financial year too, 6.29 crore people have already availed the benefit under the scheme. How effectively has the scheme been used for development purposes is a different matter altogether. The data does indicate that 100 days of work certainly offered some solace to people at the ground when they had no other source of income.
Another factor, which indicates economic distress is a higher incidence of cybercrime for earning easy money. If one looks at the national capital itself, there has been an increase of 111 percent in cybercrime. Generally, unemployment coupled with economic distress force the youth to direct their energy towards such heinous crimes, forgetting basic humanistic values that form our culture. In a large majority of the cases, cybercrime has been used for sexual harassment. Had these youth been given employment or means of earning a respectable income, they would have contributed to the economic growth of the country, rather than increasing the crime rate.
A report shows that over 2.3 crore insurance policies were surrendered much before their maturity period. This was three times more than the previous year. It indicates that people were exploring ways and means to have cash in hand to meet either day-to-day expenses during a state of joblessness or medical exigencies.
Clearly, the post-pandemic period does paint a gloomy picture from the general public’s point of view. Reduced income levels coupled with rising inflation have only added fuel to the fire. The government should look at economic revival in a holistic manner. Unfortunately, it is busy labelling roads (the iconic Raj Path is now Kartavya path), forgetting its real Kartavya, avoiding dialogue and discussions at the larger level.
The recent report released by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has placed India at the 132nd position out of 191 countries and territories on the Human Development Index (HDI). It is an indicator of a nation’s health, education and average income. Data shows that HDI has declined over the last two consecutive years, reversing the progress made during the last five years. Not only this, life expectancy in India has also come down from 72.8 years in 2019 to 71.4 years in 2021.
The report also suggests that, “stress, sadness, anger, and worry have been increasing over the last decade. It has now reached record levels.” This is one reason why the number of deaths by suicide have shot up suddenly. After daily wage workers, NCRB reveals that self-employed persons formed the second largest population by profession, who committed suicide. Lack of liquidity, stringent laws, piling debt, and bankruptcy have been the main reasons for a small businessman to commit suicide.
Interestingly, there has been a slight dip in the number of suicides committed by farmers/cultivators. As far as women are concerned, around 50 percent who committed suicide were housewives, generally facing domestic issues like dowry, marital problems, infertility, etc. The report shows an increase of 5 percent in suicides committed by students owing to professional/career problems, sense of isolation, abuse, violence, family problems, mental disorders, addiction to drugs, alcohol, financial loss, etc.
The NCRB report should not be merely read as a documentary on crime but should act as an eye-opener for the statutory authorities for taking appropriate policy-level decisions. To say the least, deaths by suicide were preventable. Had those people received guidance and counselling at the right time, so many lives could have been saved.
The sad part of the story is that more than 25 percent of the global suicides happen in India. Our people are going through severe stress. It is more dangerous than Covid-19. The virus may become powerless in a few years. But the mental health crisis will worsen if it is not addressed suitably and timely. Unfortunately, not much emphasis is laid on mental health. It is still considered an enigma.
People don’t like to accept such issues. Even if some level of acceptance is there, it is a treatment, which only the rich can afford to have. A few non-government organisations have certainly come up with free helplines in the wake of Covid-19 but how many are aware of such helplines. Many do not even know that they are suffering from mental health issues.
Apart from re-looking at the economic policies, the government has to develop a comprehensive policy for prevention of suicides. From awareness creation to provision of counselling to launching counselling helpline for the distressed to provision of social security, there is an immediate need to address this issue on a war footing. It requires a multi-disciplinary approach and a working partnership with health professionals, government agencies and non-government organisations at different levels, be it for policy formulation, its implementation and monitoring and evaluation.
The real Kartavya lies in restoring a sense of happiness, fulfilment and justice among the common man, which the government must fulfil.