In this paper, we study the data from the National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB) of India and disaggregate across demographic and leading causes of suicides. We find that mental and physical health are the leading causes of suicides in India (20%) while the often cited factor, indebtedness, causes significantly lower number of suicides (less than 5%). Among the different demographic categories, housewives report the largest number of suicides (18%) while farmers report lower (11%).
The trends over the last two decades show decline in suicides across most demographics in India, and the sharpest decline is in farmer suicides, with the most decline occurring over the last five years. Suicide is caused by many factors and there is empirical evidence to believe that this phenomenon could be a contagion in India (Kapoor and Ravi, 2007), where farmers are committing copycat suicides. There have been a number of highly sensationalized suicide contagions in recent years across the world. Suicide contagions are typically very highly publicized suicide outbreaks. Another likely contagion in India could be the suicides of students around exam times. The farmer suicide outbreak in India is alarming. But to attribute it to debt alone is too simplistic.