In the heart of Rajasthan’s Barmer district, a concerning and tragic trend has emerged—young married women are resorting to self-inflicted deaths by jumping into wells. This phenomenon, termed “well suicides,” has gripped the region, prompting a closer look at the underlying factors, causes, and efforts made to address this alarming crisis.

The Well Suicides Epidemic

Barmer, a district famed for its natural resources such as oil, coal, and gas, has become a focal point for a distressing surge in suicides among its young married women since 2019. The disturbing pattern involves women, often with their young children, ending their lives by plunging into wells or man-made water storage tanks known as tankas.

This distressing surge has prompted attention from local authorities, media outlets, and law enforcement agencies.

For instance, Hanuman Ram’s ordeal encapsulates the heart-wrenching nature of this trend. Waking up one morning to find his 20-year-old wife Mamta missing, he discovered her footprints leading to a nearby well.

His worst fears were realized when he encountered her lifeless body within the well—a poignant example of the tragic outcomes this trend has led to.

Furthermore, the data and statistics underline the gravity of the situation. Despite the absolute number of suicides being higher for men, the ratio of women taking their own lives in Barmer is higher than the national average.

The district recorded 48 women suicide cases in 2019, 54 in 2020, and 64 in 2021—figures that underscore the persistence and growing concern of this crisis.

Unraveling The Underlying Causes

Amid the growing concern, experts and officials have been working to unravel the complex factors contributing to the well suicides. A comprehensive district-wide survey, led by village leaders and educators, has identified a range of factors contributing to this phenomenon.

Among these are inter-caste relationships, extra-marital affairs, child marriages, domestic violence, harassment by in-laws, dowry issues, drought, and debt. Furthermore, the sensationalization of these incidents by the media without providing adequate support resources has exacerbated the crisis.

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Strategic Efforts To Tackle The Crisis

District Magistrate Lok Bandhu, an IAS (Indian Administrative Service) officer, played a pivotal role in addressing the well suicides crisis through the “Anmol Jeevan” campaign. He recognized the urgency of the situation and the need for comprehensive intervention. Bandhu, who assumed his role in Barmer in April 2021, found himself facing not only a viral pandemic but also an epidemic of suicides.

According to Bandhu, the gravity of the situation extended beyond the number of deaths; it was about the disturbing manner in which these deaths were occurring. He noted that a significant proportion of the suicides were taking place by jumping into wells, making it an even more distressing phenomenon.

He revealed that Barmer reported 48 women suicide cases in 2019, 54 in 2020, and 64 in 2021. Among these, around 60% were categorized as “well deaths.”

In response, Bandhu and the district administration launched the “Anmol Jeevan” campaign on World Mental Health Day, October 10, 2021. This campaign was a multifaceted effort aimed at providing vital support to vulnerable individuals and addressing the complex factors driving the well suicides.

The campaign included the establishment of a 24-hour helpline, training village officials to identify warning signs of distress and implementing measures such as sealing wells with concrete to prevent access. The goal was not only to address immediate crises but also to foster a supportive environment that could mitigate the factors leading to suicides.

The initiative yielded tangible results, with the helpline receiving around 15 to 20 calls every month. Notably, the number of reported suicides, especially among women, saw a decline of 42% in 2022, as per district administration data.

This marked a significant step toward curbing the crisis and providing much-needed assistance to those in need. However, despite the initial success, the “Anmol Jeevan” campaign was halted in October 2022, leading to a disturbing resurgence in suicide rates. 

The Contagion Effect And Media Influence

A poignant example of the concept of copycat suicides can be found in the case of Deu Kumari, a 22-year-old woman from Doongeron Ka Tala. Deu Kumari’s tragic decision to end her life is a stark illustration of how exposure to tragic incidents and media sensationalism can influence vulnerable individuals to consider similar actions.

Deu Kumari’s story is one that reflects the challenges faced by many young women in Barmer. She reportedly fell in love with Khema Ram, her husband’s cousin. This illicit relationship, fraught with societal norms and restrictions, became a source of turmoil.

When Khema Ram shared a WhatsApp story featuring old videos of himself, Deu Kumari, and her daughter—moments of happiness marred by crying smiley emojis—it triggered a cascade of events.

The story, shared on social media, caught the attention of her family and village, resulting in uproar. The emotional distress, coupled with societal pressure and scrutiny, culminated in a tragic decision. Khema Ram and Deu Kumari took their own lives, tragically ending their struggles.

This heartbreaking incident exemplifies how exposure to such incidents, especially when sensationalized or shared on platforms like social media, can contribute to the “contagion” effect.

Vulnerable individuals in similar situations may be influenced by these stories, viewing them as potential solution to their own challenges. As seen in Deu Kumari’s case, the media’s portrayal of such incidents can amplify distress and contribute to the spreading of harmful behaviors.

The concept of copycat suicides has emerged, where one instance of self-inflicted death can trigger a domino effect among others. This phenomenon is particularly pronounced among young women aged 15-29.

Exposure to such tragic incidents, especially when sensationalized by the media or shared on platforms like YouTube, can lead vulnerable individuals to consider similar actions. Media coverage plays a significant role in spreading this “contagion,” making responsible reporting crucial in preventing further instances.

Socioeconomic Complexity

The well suicides epidemic in the Barmer district is not simply a matter of isolated incidents; rather, it is deeply intertwined with the intricate socioeconomic dynamics that shape the region’s society. Traditional norms and practices, such as forced marriages, child marriages, and inter-caste relationships, play a pivotal role in exacerbating emotional distress among women.

The case of Deu Kumari illustrates the pressure and turmoil that forced and inter-caste relationships can impose on individuals. Falling in love with Khema Ram, her husband’s cousin, Deu Kumari found herself ensnared in a web of societal norms and restrictions. These relationships challenge established norms, often leading to ostracization, harassment, and emotional turmoil for those involved.

Another significant factor contributing to the well suicides is the absence of husbands due to migration for employment opportunities. In a quest to secure livelihoods, many men from Barmer migrate to states like Maharashtra and Gujarat.

This leaves families, especially women, grappling with isolation and despair. The long periods of separation, often lasting seven to eight months, create a void that exacerbates the emotional challenges faced by women.

In this conservative society, societal blame disproportionately falls on women, deepening the emotional struggles they endure. Instances like Deu Kumari’s demonstrate this phenomenon vividly. The prevailing narrative often attributes women’s hardships to qualities like greed, material desires, and impatience. This unjust blame can further isolate and demoralize women who are already grappling with immense challenges.

The well suicides epidemic in Barmer district serves as a stark reminder of the pressing need to address the multidimensional challenges faced by young married women in a traditional and conservative society. While efforts have been made through campaigns like “Anmol Jeevan,” sustained and comprehensive measures are essential to tackle the root causes of this crisis.

Empowerment, mental health support, awareness campaigns, and responsible media reporting are all critical components of a holistic approach aimed at preventing further tragic loss of life among Barmer’s vulnerable population.

Image Credits: Google Images

Feature Image designed by Saudamini Seth

Sources: The Print, News 18, Outlook India

Find the blogger: Katyayani Joshi

This post is tagged under: Rajasthan, Barmer, suicide, well, Anmol Jeevan, mental health, socio-economic complexities, Youtube, media, social media, contagion effect, Khema Rao, Deu Kumari, young women, well suicides, suicide epidemic

Disclaimer: We do not hold any right, or copyright over any of the images used, these have been taken from Google. In case of credits or removal, the owner may kindly mail us.

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