Calcutta, June 6: Choke on your morning tea, Bengal.
The state has clocked the highest number of suicides in the country with rural Bengal accounting for nearly 99 per cent of the deaths.
The state is also the place where over 4,100 women are driven to death in a year by husbands and in-laws.
The depressing data, compiled by the National Crime Records Bureau, deals with suicides in 2005 — the latest year for which information has been collected.
This is the first time since the data compilation began in 1995 that Bengal has topped the list. In the process, Bengal has toppled the 2004 topper, Maharashtra — a feat the eastern state has yet to achieve in industrialisation.
As high as 98.4 per cent of the suicides in Bengal were in rural areas. In the rest of the top five states, the urban rate hovered around 10 per cent.
“This could be an indicator of the socio-economic scenario in Bengal,” said Swapan Bhattacharya, a senior sociology professor at Calcutta University. “But, of course, nothing can be said for sure till a detailed study is done on this as it could be very misleading.”
Statistics is a double-edged weapon that can be made to fit into any sword arm. An academic said a “tempting assumption” could be a possible link with insecurity triggered by acquisition of farmland for industry. But an inconvenient fact: land acquisition had not become an issue in Bengal in 2005.
The same professor pointed out that “a decrease in levels of crop productivity may have increased rural poverty and led to the suicides”. If any comprehensive study reaches such a conclusion, it will strengthen the hands of those advocating a decisive shift from farming to industry.
According to the bureau’s report, 20.9 per cent of the victims from rural Bengal were either involved in farming or used to work as daily labourers.
The reasons could also have been personal, rather than political or economic. “Suicide is an impulsive act on the spur of the moment, driven by extreme emotional distress. It may not necessarily reflect great socio-economic turmoil,” Swapan Pramanik, a sociologist and vice-chancellor of Vidyasagar University, said.
But he suggested that the “large-scale” development in Calcutta over the past few years could have had a role in the relatively fewer number of suicides (260) in the city.
The lot of women in rural Bengal — the bastion of the supposedly progressive Left — is another blot. Among the 6,401 women who committed suicide in rural Bengal, 4,155 were tortured by their husbands and in-laws, the report said.
“This clearly reflects the status of women in rural Bengal,” said Gayatri Bhattacharya, a professor of sociology at Calcutta University. “Who knows how many of them may have been sexually exploited as well'”
Her concern is not without cause. In 2006, Bengal had topped the same bureau’s list on trafficking in women.