NEW DELHI - Ram Babu's last days were typical in India's growing rash of suicides.
The poor farmer's crop failed and he defaulted on the $6,000 loan he had taken to buy a tractor. The bank's collectors hounded him, even hiring drummers to go round the village drawing attention to his shame.
"My father found it unbearable. He was an honorable man and he couldn't take the humiliation. The next day he hanged himself from a tree on his farm," his son Ram Gulam said Friday.
Babu's suicide went unreported in local newspapers, just another statistic in a country where more than 15 people kill themselves every hour, according to a new government report.
The report released late Thursday said nearly 135,000 people killed themselves in the country of 1.2 billion last year, a 5.9 percent jump in the number of suicides over the past year.
The suicide rate increased to 11.4 per 100,000 people in 2010 from 10.9 the year before, according to the statistics from the National Crime Records Bureau.
Financial difficulties and debts led to most of the male suicides while women were driven to take their lives because of domestic pressures, including physical and mental abuse and demands for dowry.
A 2008 World Health Organization report ranked India 41st for its suicide rate, but because of its huge population it accounted for 20 percent of global suicides.
The largest numbers of suicides were reported from the southern Indian states of Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, where tens of thousands of impoverished farmers have killed themselves after suffering under insurmountable debts.
The loans from banks and loan sharks were often used to buy seeds and farm equipment, or to pay large dowries to get their daughters married. But a bad harvest could plunge the farmer over the edge.
Sociologists say the rapid rise in incomes in India's booming economy has resulted in a surge in aspirations as well among the lower and middle classes, and the failure to attain material success can trigger young people to suicide.
"The support that traditionally large Indian families and village communities offered no longer exists in urban situations. Young men and women move to the cities and find they have no one to turn to for succor in times of distress," said Abhilasha Kumari, a sociology professor in New Delhi.