Suicides, drug addiction on rise in MP due to Covid induced job losses

“I am unable to face hunger, future, illness, fee debt, house rent and unemployment” said the four  page suicide note.

On the night of 27 August 2021 Ravi Thackeray*, an engineer in Bhopal’s Sahara township, aided by his wife Ranjana*, slit the throats of their young son Chirag* and daughter Gunjan* with stone cutters.

Soon after, the couple consumed poison in a bid to kill themselves. However, while the engineer father and son died, miraculously the mother and daughter somehow survived.

The main reason for Thackeray’s shocking act was depression over losing his job several months ago. His relatives and neighbours, who spoke to Covid Response Watch, paint the picture of a hardworking and kind hearted man pushed to desperate measures due to the financial stress he was going through,

According to them before the pandemic Ravi Thackeray used to earn 35 to 40 thousand rupees every month but lost his job during the first wave Covid last year. He was sitting home without a job for several months but  joined a company soon after the second wave peaked in May this year. The job lasted only till the end of June though.

In his suicide note, found by the police, Thackeray wrote “ The future is dark. I haven’t done anything for the kids and  am not able to even deposit their school fees. There is a loan of Rs.17 lakh from the bank for which I have been paying instalments for eight years. I am still living in a rented house. I’m tired”.

Ravi Thackeray is just one out of many examples of the desperate measures taken by several families in MP, pushed into bankruptcy or deep debt due to the impact of Covid on the economy.

Unemployment in the state was already high before Covid hit early last year.  It had increased from 5.65 lakh in December 2015 to 23.90 lakh in December 2017, as per data from district employment offices. The situation has been made worse by the Covid pandemic and according to one estimate, currently the number of unemployed youth in the state is over 30 lakhs.

COVID Response Watch LogoThe reason for rising joblessness in MP is the lack of any employment generation measures or policies from successive state governments. The absence of policy direction in turn is due to the political instability in the state since 2018 when assembly elections were held but the new Congress government fell due to political machinations. The BJP, then in opposition, bought over 22 MLAs belonging to the Congress and went on to form the government in early 2020 just as the pandemic was gathering pace.

In the midst of all this political turmoil neither the old nor the new government had any time to resolve issues related to the pandemic or growing unemployment crisis. Instead, using the pretext of the pandemic, no recruitments to vacant government posts have been done nor are loans being given to anyone under self-employment schemes.

The state’s youth in particular are very badly affected, many of them suffering from depression and turning to narcotics or crime as a result. The even more fragile among these are committing suicide or in extreme cases – like that of Ravi Thackeray – trying to kill their entire families too.

Another tragic example of the toll taken by economic distress in recent times is that of

Kundan*, a youth in his early twenties from Rajgarh district, close to the border with Rajasthan, who hanged himself due to frustration over the job situation. He left a recorded  video statement addressed to Shivraj Singh Chouhan, Chief Minister of MP explaining why he decided to end his life, “I request you to give jobs to the students. I am hanging myself today because of unemployment”.

In his video Kundan recounts how he had dreamt of joining the Indian army since childhood as he wanted to serve his country. While he was making preparations for the tests to join the armed forces the recruitment process was cancelled in early 2020 due to the pandemic. He then turned 21 years of age and became ineligible for recruitment in the general soldier category.

During the lockdown period Kundan took up a job at a factory in Indore, but the job did not last very long. His friends say he was someone with a very positive outlook of life and a source of inspiration for them. They cannot imagine how he could get depressed enough to take his own life.

The jobs crisis is also affecting the mental health of youth in the state, some of whom have taken to drugs to divert their attention from the severe jobs crisis. Many youth are also unable to find brides due to unemployment and lack of steady income.

“I am worried about my son’s future. He is 32 years old. It has been three years since he completed an MBA from a college in Mumbai. He hasn’t got a good job yet. Before Covid arrived he had a job for Rs 17,000 per month, but he lost that and is unable to get new employment. Government posts are not being advertised. I thought I should get him married, but the girl’s people ask what does the son do? When they discover he is unemployed, the talks of marriage break down. I am frustrated” says Vaibhav Khandelwal* of Indore.

His son, according to him,  is depressed and has started taking drugs. Khandelwal says he had to take a bank loan to get his son through college, with the hope he will get a good earning job. There is not much future in self-employment or business either as it requires a lot of capital to start up.

Not surprisingly the state has seen large protests by unemployed youth in recent times. In the second week of August 2021 in Bhopal jobless youth were brutally caned by the police as they tried to move towards the Chief Minister’s residence in a bid to gherao it. Cases were also filed against many of the protestors, who were demanding jobs.

Ashok Kapse is a freelance journalist based in Bhopal

* Name changed

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