Daily wage worker suicides unlikely to end soon

Bharat Bhushan

One in four suicides in India is committed by a daily wage worker. Farmer suicides come way down the list, below the self-employed, salaried, unemployed, students, business and private sector suicides. Yet, unlike farmers, suicides by daily wagers do not grab media attention. Bharat Bhushan writes.

On February 14, the Ministry of Labour and Employment informed the Lok Sabha that daily wage workers constitute the single-largest category of those who committed suicide between 2019 and 2021. In December, the government had informed Parliament that 115 daily wage workers committed suicide every day in 2021. This was also a record year for suicides by daily wage workers in the last eight years.

According to the National Crime Records Bureau, the share of this vulnerable group in the overall number of suicides had been going up steadily since 2014 when it constituted 12% of the total, going up to 17.8% in 2015, 19.2% in 2016, 22.1% in 2017, 22.4% in 2018, 23.4% in 2019, 24.6% in 2020  and to 25.1% in 2021. Over 1.12 lakh daily wage earners committed suicide between 2018 and 2021, i.e., daily wage earner suicides were routine even before the pandemic as well.

The high suicide figure for daily wage workers during the pandemic can be explained by the loss of employment and earning because of the nationwide lockdown. The triple blow of a steep decline in income, wage-theft by unscrupulous employers and loss of employment probably drove  many daily wage workers to suicide. However, the incidence of suicide did not go down even after the main Covid waves tapered. When the lockdown was lifted or became localised, while the labour supply increased, demand for labour did not pick up, putting downward pressure on wages. As the effects of the pandemic persisted, so did suicides by daily wage workers….