Even before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, a slowdown in India's growth had already put tremendous pressure on India's white-collar workers. Suicides among professionals had already been climbing for the past two years, with the National Crime Records Bureau confirming that the nation averaged 23 a day in 2019.
The pandemic has just made that worse.
All over India, stories are emerging of formerly bright-eyed young professionals taking their lives in the face of the pandemic.
One such story is that of Jeena, who started working at one of India's top IT companies two years ago. According to a co-worker, Jeena, a kind woman in her mid-20s, had grown increasingly stressed at work. The pandemic only intensified the pressure. Jeena's monthly salary of Rs17,000 ($231) was cut by 11 percent, while other employees were furloughed.
Jeena eventually committed suicide in mid-May after not working for weeks.
“She died in despair over losing her job,” stated her brother in the police report.
However, the company she worked for denied that she was laid off or that her salary was cut.
“It's very shocking for me. She was a good friend and colleague and like my sister,” said a coworker to the Financial Times who asked to remain anonymous. “I can’t accept that she is no longer here. I think about her every day.”
According to the co-worker, he had wanted to resign, however, just like Jeena, he still has loans to pay and a family to support.
“We are all facing family issues and debt,” he said. “It is terrible.”
India's suicide rate was already on the rise even before the pandemic hit. White-collar workers were under immense pressure as the country's growth stalled.
Now, the pandemic has compounded the country's economic challenges, with millions losing their jobs. India's economic output shrank by 24 percent in the three months ending with June compared to last year – the steepest fall among the world's largest economies. (Related: India's coronavirus caseload surges after lockdown.)
“It’s the uncertainty that causes the maximum distress,” said psychiatrist and suicide expert Dr. Lakshmi Vijayakumar. “They are burnt out and Zoomed out.”
“There is the fear of infection and financial insecurity,” she added.
According to the think-tank Center for Monitoring the Indian Economy, 6.6 million white-collar jobs in India were lost between May and August of 2020. This is the steepest fall among salaried workers.
The pandemic has laid bare deep structural issues with India's job market. For years the economy has not generated enough jobs for the more than 10 million graduates who enter the country's workforce every year.
Many graduates have been forced to put their dreams on hold, taking jobs working at food delivery companies or driving for Uber.
Meanwhile, the ongoing pandemic is exacerbating this and thwarting efforts to revive the economy. With over 6.7 million confirmed cases according to data from Johns Hopkins University, India is expected to surpass the U.S. as the country with most infections soon.
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