MUMBAI: Death by suicide increased 30% nationwide among small business owners in 2020, the first year of the Covid-19 pandemic, as compared to 2019, according to the National Crime Records Bureau’s (NCRB) accidental deaths & suicide report 2020.
Experts said the surge in suicides in this group — from 9,052 in 2019 to 11,716 in 2020 — underlined the economic hardships due to the Covid-imposed lockdown. The NCRB report classified vendors, tradesmen and other small business owners among the self-employed categories most affected (overall, death by suicide among the self-employed in India rose to 17,332, up from 16,098 in 2019).
Among the states, Maharashtra, which has the highest Covid case tally (66 lakh) and death toll (1.4 lakh), logged a 25% increase in suicides among vendors, tradesmen and small business owners. The NCRB report said 1,610 such self-employed individuals took their own lives in Maharashtra in 2020 as against 1,289 in 2019. Tamil Nadu, which has the maximum deaths in the self-employed category, registered a 36% increase from 1,061 in 2019 to 1,447 in 2020. Karnataka recorded a 102% rise in deaths (from 875 in 2019 to 1,772 in 2020). Incidentally, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka record higher number of overall suicides as compared to other Indian states.
Dr Vibhuti Patel, retired economics professor from TISS, Mumbai, said the NCRB findings reflect the fact that people in the informal sector “lost everything”. “These were self-made people who couldn’t step out to earn their living. If they did, they were brutalized by the police. Many of them had to queue up for ration,” she said. Dr Patel said vendors and small traders not only suffered economic losses, “they lost their identity and self-esteem”.
Federation of Retail Traders Welfare Association president Viren Shah said shopkeepers and traders in the lower and medium income groups were the worst-hit by the pandemic. “Any advantage was only to industrialists and the corporate world, leaving small shopkeepers with no option but suicide as they couldn’t pay loans and rent,’’ said Shah.
Shishir Joshi of NGO Project Mumbai which worked closely with marginalised groups during the lockdown said, “The pandemic impacted people at multiple levels. For the small businessman, the pandemic not only meant loss of income, but a struggle to get hospital beds for his family members and to pay school fees for his children.’’
Maharashtra topped the chart the second consecutive year for most suicides among 28 states and eight UTs with 19,909 in 2020 against 18,916 the previous year. Apart from the self-employed, it was the farm sector in the state that was impacted the most. The state had 4,006 suicides among farmers, cultivators and agricultural labourers in 2020 against 3,927 cases in 2019.




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