New Delhi: It’s often said in India that marriages are for eternity. And there’s even data to support it: According to UN Women’s Progress of the World’s Women report, India has one of lowest divorce rates in the world — only 1.1 per cent of women aged 45-49 were divorced by 2010.
However, this does not necessarily mean these marriages are happy; in fact, according to the National Crime Records Bureau’s (NCRB) data in recent years, a higher number of those in unhappy marriages seem to be choosing death over divorce.
According to the NCRB report, Accidental Deaths and Suicides in India, released last month, marital problems have driven about 37,591 people to suicide between 2016 and 2020 — an average of about 20 people daily.
The data, analysed by ThePrint, reveals that of these, divorce has driven 2,688 people (about 7 per cent of the total) to end their lives. This means 13 times as many people died by suicide due to non-divorce-related issues.
The report also shows that the number of women who committed suicide owing to ‘marriage-related issues’ was more than that of men.
Reasons for marriages ending in suicides
A detailed analysis of the reasons cited under ‘marriage-related suicides’ reveals that dowry — an illegal practice in which the groom’s family demands money and other material benefits from the bride’s family — is the biggest killer among women, but non-settlement of marriage (difference between spouses) edges it out in the total tally.
Overall, there have been 10,282 suicides due to dowry, while non-settlement of marriage accounted for 10,584 deaths.
There has been an average of 2,056 suicides every year due to dowry, while the figure for non-settlement of marriage was 2,100 people per year.
Extramarital affairs caused 1,100 suicides per year, or a five-year total of 5,737.
As mentioned above, divorce has been the reason for 2,600 suicide deaths, while the rest have been classified as ‘others’ in the NCRB report, without specifying the reasons.
Geeta Luthra, senior advocate at the Supreme Court of India told ThePrint that the biggest reason for suicide is depression, which is “poorly accounted for”.
“The quality of marriage counseling is also not well developed. Think of it this way, if a bad marriage is troubling you mentally, staying in it will pain you 24 hours a day,” she said.
“But if you separate yourself from the atmosphere, that toxicity, and reduce the suffering to either one hour a day or to none at all — you are emotionally well-off — which could explain the low suicide rate among divorcees,” she added.
Though overall numbers suggest that more women die of marriage related issues than men, the numbers are skewed by the extremely high incidence of dowry related deaths among women.
The total number of women who died by suicide due to any marriage related reason between 2016 and 2020 was 21,570 while the number of men was 16,021.
In the past five years, dowry has been the cause of suicide for 9,385 women, which means 1,877 per year, or five women every day.
Of the 7,239 marriage-related suicides in 2020, about 2,018 (26 per cent) were because of dowry related issues. Of these, 1,749 were women, and 249 were men. The previous year, the total number of dowry related deaths was 3 per cent lower, at 1,956.
In contrast, other marriage-related causes for suicide — such as divorce or extra-marital affairs, for example — claimed the lives of more men than women.
In 2020, divorce pushed 287 men to commit suicide, which is a little more than the number of women — 264. In the case of extramarital affairs, 724 men committed suicide, while the number for women was 636, or 14 per cent less.
According to Luthra, more men commit suicide because of work or business-related stress or failure. Divorce and other marriage-related issues, such as extramarital affairs, too become a matter of dignity, which could explain the higher number of suicides among men.
“For women, I think those who are financially secure are able to handle divorce better than men… the fear of losing out (in terms of social/financial security) is extremely high,” she said.
Does counselling help?
If divorce reduces the chances of suicide, why do so many people continue to remain in bad marriages?
“Fear can be a great thing, as it is your brain’s way of protecting you from potential hazards. It is when you become immobilised by fear and stop taking actions or making right decisions… that’s when things get tricky,” said Richa Hora, founder of Metaanoi, an organisation based in Delhi, that provides family counselling, ranging from relationships to marital counselling.
“(People) say they want to stay in the marriage because of the children; they keep reminding themselves of good memories, and of course, financial and social security. The biggest problem is that people have been conditioned to normalise a bad marriage,” she continued.
All these reasons, Hora said, are “misguided”.
“When you have a tolerable marriage, staying for the kids can help them, but if you and your spouse constantly fight or have a great deal of contention between you, staying together will probably harm your children. It’s important to consider what you model for your children about marriage and relationships and ask yourself if you are conveying good messages about marriage,” she said.
What’s interesting is that young people are more proactive in seeking help, and not only when they are on the verge of divorce, Hora added.
“I have seen young couples coming to me after two-three years of marriage to seek opinion on if there’s any potential in their marriage. We also provide pre-marriage counselling, where people are counselled about each other in order to mitigate the chances of a divorce, and these people do not wish to stay in bad marriages,” she said.
(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)