Why Indian Housewives Are Killing Themselves

Kapil Kajal | Feb 17, 2020 | 8 min read


In 2016, Shivani (name changed), 36, a resident of Rohtak in Haryana, attempted suicide by consuming sleeping pills but was saved by the doctors. At her in-laws’ house, she was treated as a servant and was confined to household work. She had started gaining weight and falling sick regularly. After she was diagnosed with depression, her husband, instead of taking care, would insult her for being overweight. She had told her family she wanted a divorce but they had convinced her against it, citing the taboo that divorce is.

In 2018, almost 63 housewives killed themselves every day, according to data from the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB). The record also reveals that every second woman dying of suicide is a housewife. Every year, more than 20,000 housewives end their lives, constituting up to 18% of the total suicides in India. Housewives accounted for 54.1% of the total female victims and constitute 17.1% of the total victims who committed suicides in 2018. 

The prevalence of overall suicidality was higher in women (6%) than in men (4.1%), and the prevalence of overall suicidality was highest in those aged 40-49 years among women, according to a study by the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences.

Deepa Narayan, a social scientist who has worked with several United Nations organisations, told IndiaSpend that she has seen many young women going through depression without seeking any professional help. “Women are very excited about the wedding itself but then once the reality of the marriage hits, it becomes an abusive prison,” she said. 

She said such are the dynamics of the Indian society that they end up isolating women. Even when they are mistreated, usually their family asks them to ‘adjust,’ causing them further despair, which she feels is one of the primary reasons leading housewives to suicide.

In 2018, there was an increase of 6.9% in the number of housewives committing suicide (22,937) when compared with 2017 data (21,454). 

(Percentage Distribution of Suicide Victims by Profession During 2018, Source: NCRB)

A majority of the suicides committed by housewives were reported in Madhya Pradesh (2,876 out of 22,937 total suicides) followed by Maharashtra (2,743) and Tamil Nadu (2,472). 


Number of Housewives who committed suicide

Percentage distribution of housewives of the total suicide victims 

Percentage distribution of housewives of the total female suicide victims 

States with the maximum number of housewives’ suicide





Madhya Pradesh (2,876) Maharashtra (2,743)

Tamil Nadu (2,472)





Madhya Pradesh (2,904) Maharashtra (2,599)

Tamil Nadu (2,385) 





Maharashtra (2,725) 

Madhya Pradesh (2,714) 

Tamil Nadu (2,673) 





West Bengal (2,908) Maharashtra (2,819)

 Madhya Pradesh (2,701)





Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh





Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh





Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh





Madhya Pradesh

Data- NCRB

Rise in suicides

India's contribution to global suicide deaths increased from 25.3% in 1990 to 36.6% in 2016 among women, according to a Lancet report. Married women account for the highest proportion of suicide deaths among women in India, it said. It listed out early arranged marriages, young motherhood, low social status, domestic violence and economic dependence as reasons behind this phenomenon.

Karnika Seth, a lawyer and the owner of Foundation for Institutional Reform & Education (an organisation focusing on social and gender equality), stated that forced marriages, infertility, domestic violence, husband’s infidelity, dowry demands and the inability to continue their education or job lead women to severe depression, and eventually to suicide.

Once married, the woman’s parents feel that their responsibility towards their daughter ceases to exist, she pointed out. She mentioned that a woman who struggles to adjust with the in-laws’, particularly in a joint family set up, has to either suffer in silence or seek legal recourse. Seeking legal recourse is rare, particularly if they have children, fear of stigma and the inability to afford living expenses as a single parent, she stated. 

Biological, social odds

Debdattya Mitra, a psychologist with The Mind Research Foundation (TMRF, an organisation offering mental health support), highlighted that the cause behind the high number of housewives committing suicide is not only social but also biological. 

She mentioned that it’s extremely common for young women to go through premenstrual dysphoric disorder or postpartum depression. He explained that the progesterone in men prevents the stress hormone levels from rising, while adding that women are more prone to stress. 

According to an Oxfam India survey, 53% of the respondents said it was acceptable to harshly criticise a woman if she failed to care well for the children and 33% felt it was acceptable even to beat a woman for the same reason,.

(Social Norms, Women’s Unpaid Care Work and Gender-based Violence, Source- Oxfam India Survey,2018)

Over 65% of women were married at the time of suicide. When compared, widowed, divorced and separated women have accounted for only 2.5% of the total women who committed suicide. The NCRB report shows that a major chunk of women who commit suicide owing to marriage-related issues have problems related to dowry or impotence/infertility. 


Cause of Suicide

Number of women suicides

Marriage Related Issues (Total) 


1.1 Non-Settlement of Marriage


1.2 Dowry Related Issues


1.3 Extra Marital Affairs 


1.4 Divorce 


1.5 Others




Family Problems 




Physical Abuse (Rape, etc.) 


Major causes of women suicide in 2018, NCRB

Another NCRB report suggests that nearly 20 dowry deaths and 35 dowry cases are reported every day in India. Each day 283 women, i.e. 12 every hour, fall prey to cruelty by her husband or his relatives.  


Crime Head

Cases Reported during the year


Dowry Deaths



Abetment to Suicide of Women



Cruelty by Husband or his relatives



Assault on Women with Intent to Outrage her Modesty



Insult to the Modesty of Women 



Dowry Prohibition Act



Kidnapping and Abduction of Women





(Cases Reported for the crime on women in 2018, NCRB)

Johnson Thomas, the director of AASRA (a non-governmental organisation focused on suicide prevention), told IndiaSpend that the majority of housewives commit suicide because they don’t have a support system, people they can talk to regarding their problems. 

India is the most dangerous country to live for women, according to a Thomson Reuters Foundation report. The report lists six main areas where women face problems, such as culture & religion, sexual violence and discrimination, among other things. 

Area of Problems

Inclusion in the area

Culture & religion

Acid attacks, genital mutilation, child marriage, forced marriage, punishment/retribution through stoning or physical abuse or mutilation and female infanticide/foeticide

Sexual violence

Rape as a weapon of war, domestic rape, rape by a stranger, the lack of access to justice in rape cases, sexual harassment and coercion into sex as a form of corruption. 

Non-Sexual Violence

Conflict-related violence and forms of domestic physical and mental abuse


Job discrimination, inability to make a livelihood, discriminatory land, property or inheritance rights, lack of access to education and lack of access to adequate nutrition

Human Trafficking

Domestic servitude, forced labour, forced marriage and sexual slavery


Maternal mortality, lack of access to healthcare, lack of control over reproductive health and HIV/AIDS

(Major problems women face in India, Thomson Reuters Foundation Report)

Inability to access help

For Rohtak-based Shivani, the idea of committing suicide was not new. Her sister-in-law (brother-in-law’s wife) had committed suicide in 2012. While other family members claimed that the reason she ended her life was migraine, Shivani pointed out that the victim had never complained of having a migraine attack. 

Social scientist Narayan said the issue of mental health is so stigmatised that women don’t feel free to talk about it. “Women are in fear, a great fear. There is nowhere for them to go. We have to take them out of this fear,” she commented.

Nang Tanvi Manpoong, media consultant with the National Commission for Women (NCW), listed out the initiatives taken by the NCW to help women, such as offering counselling or easing access to the district magistrate, but laments the fact that women in Indian society don’t speak up or utilise the avenues present to help them.

She pointed out that even though they carry out a lot of awareness programmes, she feels that society needs to treat women as equals. Referring to a recent Bollywood movie about an acid-attack survivor, she mentioned that the NCW alone can’t stop the sale of acid, and the law enforcement agencies should intervene. 

Dr Vishwakirti Bhan Chhabra, co-founder of TMRF, told IndiaSpend that social disparity has affected access to education, and believes that education would be able to bridge the gap. She mentioned that the social conditioning of men also affected this phenomenon. The usual man in the patriarchal set-up wouldn’t want his wife to work, and expect her to conform to the traditional notion of a housewife. This, she believes, cannot be changed only by creating awareness and a shift in perception is required. 

She stated that only a few of the suffering housewives seek professional help because, for a majority of them, depression is not even considered a problem. This is because they have to worry about basic things such as food, she explained. Only after people are able to manage their basic needs would they visit a psychologist, she said. 

Social scientist Narayan stated that the high rate of suicide among housewives is because society doesn’t let the woman exist as she wants. “In our society, a man’s voice is overvalued, while a woman’s voice is undervalued,” she commented. 

She highlighted that we can’t only treat the symptoms of this problem and need to treat it at the root. A man shouldn’t feel that his wife is a servant but treat her as an equal partner in the marriage. 

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