India reeling under corona vs joblessness

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The condition of unemployment in India was already precarious before the Covid-19 hit the nation necessitating a nationwide lockdown on March 24, 2020. The episode has been worsening since then. The rate at which people are losing jobs, given the lockdowns and economic slowdown has only multiplied the unemployment rate in the country.

The current joblessness and unemployment scenario has given rise to a new problem – mental health instability among many young individuals. There are reports of rising suicide rates coming in from across the country. The rise in unemployment had directly impacted the rise in suicide cases and mental instability among the working-class population of the country. Incidents of suicides are now more frequently appearing in the media indicating that the Modi government has, somewhere or the other, failed to keep up to its promises and address the issue properly. Though, a detailed record of suicides for the years 2020 and 2021 is currently not available, hence the latest data in our hand is that of 2019 before the pandemic struck the country. The overall suicides in the country had been rising since 2017, from 9.9 percent then to 10.4 percent in 2019.

Interestingly, it is the same period when the unemployment scenario in the country started worsening. NSSO official data revealed that India’s unemployment rate stood at 6.1 percent in 2017-18 and by April 2019, it stood at 7.6 percent as per CMIE data. This makes the correlation between the two – quite obvious. The unemployment rate in January 2021 was 6.52 percent which rose to 8.2 percent in May, according to CMIE data. Now, as the pandemic has impacted harshly on urban employment, the reports of suicides are often from urban areas rather than rural India.

Notably, the rural areas in India at least have schemes like Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment GuaranteeAct (MNREGA) for its population, but nothing of the sort is in place for the urban poor population. The urban areas depend totally on the mercy of market forces and as lockdowns seem to be staying for more, a rise in reports of suicides will not be surprising. Most of the people committing suicides in the country belong to the 18-45 years age group. The informal sectors, migrant laborers, and daily wage earners are the most affected in the country. With no job security and government aid, this section of the population has been left to fend for themselves. The data on suicides by profession during 2019 clearly points to the precariousness of the working class acquiring frightening proportions during the pandemic.

Most of the suicides in 2019 were committed by daily wage earners – 23.4 percent of the total suicides, followed by housewives 15.4 percent, self-employed 11.6 percent, unemployed 10.1 percent, professionals and salaried persons 9.1 percent, farmers 7.4 percent, students 7.4 percent, and retired persons 0.9 percent. It is high time the Union government notes the problem at hand and does something about it. The launching of a job guarantee and some relief for the informal sector might bring in respite for the people. The informal industry where most of the daily wage earners are employed constitutes a major chunk of the working-class population in the country. The government must also address this section if an overall development is targeted.

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