Family members of farmer who committed suicide mourn at his home in Malda, West Bengal, eastern India. (Photo by AFP)
Government data reporting a suicide rate among Christians, Dalits and tribal people in India needs to be analyzed, but also point to discrimination that these communities in the country face, Christian leaders said.
"It is a very disturbing since Christianity is so pro-life," Father Z. Devasagayaraj, secretary of the Indian Catholic bishops' Commission for Dalit and Indigenous people, told ucanews.com.
He said the data and reasons for the high rate of suicides among Christians and other groups needs to be analyzed.
Dalits and tribal people make up 70 percent of India's 27 million Christians.
The National Crime Records Bureau said that data from 2014 revealed that a Christian in India is 1.5 times more likely to commit suicide as compared to a Hindu or a Muslim in the country, the Indian Express reported June 6. In 2014 more than 131,000 people committed suicide.
Christians form 2.3 percent of the country’s 1.3 billion population but their share in suicides is 3.7 percent.
"That virtually translates into a gap of over 60 percent between Christian representation in the national population and in suicides," the Indian Expresssaid.
Among social groups, tribal people have the highest suicide rate at 10.4, followed by Dalits at 9.4, the Indian Express reported.
"This is really shocking, but a true picture. Among Christians, discrimination against Dalit Christians in some parts of the country is a big problem," Father Ranjit Tigga, a rights activist for indigenous people, told ucanews.com.
Due to the caste system, social stigma and unemployment, Dalit Christians often resort to suicide, he said.
Also, among tribal people, their displacement, exclusion from mainstream society, poverty and atrocities meted out to them in terms of rape could be the reasons of suicide within the community, he said.
Although the Indian Constitution has banned the caste system, it remains deeply ingrained within society and Dalits are often the target of disempowerment, oppression and persecution.
Father Devasagayaraj said Dalit Christian are "doubly affected" because of the discrimination they face in the society and also within the church.
Dalit Christians are not even given quotas in government jobs and educational institutions like their Hindu counterparts, which pushes them further to poverty, he said.
In response to the recent data, Bhopal Archdiocese in central India will introduce a crisis intervention cell that will include psychologists "so that people can contact them and find solutions to their problems," Father Maria Stephen, the archdiocesan spokesman told ucanews.com.
The archdiocese based in Madhya Pradesh state will publish the contacts of these counselors in newspapers and church directories so that it becomes easy for people to access their services, he said.
Bhopal, the Madhya Pradesh state capital, has the highest suicide rate among cities in the entire country. The state has also witnessed several cases of violence against minority Christians often with tacit government support.