Suicide is a topic close to my heart because I have been suicidal myself. Okay, I’m not a doppelganger – I am alive and kicking.
Statistics show that Malaysian Indians rank first in suicide rates in this country. This makes me wonder if suicide is interspersed in the Indian culturalism.
Perhaps the most famous suicide in the Indian culturalism is sati, the live cremation of widows on their husbands’ pyres. Initially, widows jumped into the funeral inferno of their husbands either because they couldn’t bear to be apart from their better half or they did not want another man to capture and bed them which applied to the ancient Rajput queens and their womenfolk. This self immolation of queens is known as Jauhar which refers to the ancient Indian Rajput Hindu tradition of honourable self-immolation of women and subsequent march of men to the battlefield (against any odds) to end their life with respect. That action of the Rajput men is known as Saka. Jauhar and Saka were followed by the Rajput clans in order to avoid capture, enslavement and dishonour at the hands of Muslim invaders. It was the Indian, distorted version of kamikaze.
The latter is true in the history of the 3 Jauhars that took place in Chittor, the most famous being the Jauhar of Rani Padmini and Rani Karnavati. The third jauhar happened during Akbar’s conquest mission and this historical event was made into the movie Jodha Akbar. The third Jauhar of Chittorgarh is not portrayed in the movie though.
In later years, widows were forced to immolate themselves on the funeral pyre of their husbands, in a warped continuation of the Jauhar. The British imperialists outlawed this practice during colonial times but sati is still practiced today in rural India.
In Mahabaratha, Duryodhana always threatens to commit suicide if things don’t go the way he wants. All these history and stories seem to have a link between suicide and Indian culturalism.
How suicide is related to Indian culturalism
I mentioned before that in Malaysia, Indians top the suicide statistics and it is not something to be proud of. The Jauhar and Saka were committed on the base of preserving princely pride, honour and dignity but nowadays the fold has taken different dimensions. Suicide has become a short cut to escape from disappointments, failures and sometimes used as a threat to get others to do what one wants – emotional blackmail. And, it is not wrong to say that suicide has been absorbed into the Indian culturalism albeit differently.
One of my elder sisters has the tendency to say she will die if her wishes are not fulfilled or if someone scolds her. She once took a bottle of weed killer, went and sat on the termite mound behind our house in the estate and staged a drama that she’d drink the poison because Mother had scolded her. When Father arrived home from work, she quietly returned home – she had done such histrionics many times.
My grandfather suffered from a stroke attack and got bedridden – he hated such an existence and since he had no way of taking his own life, he’d ask my uncle and aunt who took care of him to throw him into the sea. He passed on naturally when I was 11. Many aged Indian parents contemplate or commit suicide because they don’t wanna burden their children or because they are simply helpless or lonely. This too, comes under the category of preserving pride and dignity, the Indian maanam, rosham, soodu and soranai. This is why I believe that suicide is part of the Indian culturalism and we practice it, then and now.
Three suicides happened in my family and all three happened because they seemingly have lost dignity and pride as well as on what other people would think. My granduncle hanged himself because his eldest daughter eloped with a man of a low caste. He left behind his widow and eight children in grave adversity. One of my grandaunt pounded some arali (nerium/oleander) seeds which are poisonous and drank it and died because she had a fight with her husband. Her youngest son was 2 at the time of her death and still breastfeeding. My another aunt drank Roundup because she had an altercation with her daughter-in-law. She was taken to the hospital but she went comatose and died two years later.
Now, for the disappointments. I am sure that by now all of you would know who Elliot Rodgers is. He did what he did because he was disappointed and frustrated on girls not wanting him. In our Indian households suicide or suicidal tendencies among youngsters are due to not getting perfect scores in governmental exams. Parents be like,”Avanukku padichi kudukere vaathiyar thane unnakum padichi kuduthangge.. Avan tuition ke poleh. Onne tuition ku anupunen. Avan 10 A+ yeduthan aana naa unakku ivlo senjum, nee 9 A+ 1 A tha yeduthe.. Ippo naa epdi sonthe karenengge kitte moonja kaaturathu, ellam phone pannuvanggele..” Before relatives rub it in, parents would have killed the kid mentally and many of us, in the obsession of straight A+ s fail to see kids as individuals or at least a person with distinct strengths and weaknesses. Instead, we see them as A+ churning machines that cannot slip up. All this pressure would make kids consider suicide to escape such taunts that ferments from over-expectations. Words can scar anyone for life. This is a new fit in the Indian culturalism pertaining to suicide. One of my uncles who’s timid, painfully shy, reticent and introvert attempted suicide because his mother, my grandmother kept on telling him that he’s good for nothing. He survived but his digestive system suffered some damage and he had never been very healthy nor happy and unintentionally drank himself to death in 2005.
All reasons given to suicide are unacceptable but the most unacceptable reason is love failure. Recently, apparently a 16 year old girl called Gowree took her own life because she broke up with her boyfriend and it was all a brouhaha on Facebook. What left me flabbergasted was how a substantial number of our Indian teens reacted to her suicide. They glorified her act as the ultimate sacrifice for love and pieced together songs for her and opened Facebook fan pages for her, which, since have been deleted. Again, this is a new form fitting of suicide in Indian culturalism whereby the act of the girl is hailed because she has loved sincerely and gave up her life for it. This is due to Tamil movies’ influence.
Okay, you committed suicide. What’s in store for your family after your eternal departure
You will go up peacefully after swigging down rat poison but the mental anguish and agony for your loved ones and family members are just beginning. When my granduncle lynched himself, his family was devastated – he was the sole breadwinner of the family. After he died, his family went into tatters – siblings got torn apart. My widowed grandaunt gave several of her kids away to childless families because she couldn’t afford to feed them all. My aunt who attempted suicide after a dissonance with her daughter-in-law went comatose and it was the very daughter-in-law who took care of my aunt. She was the one who ensured that her mother-in-law in the vegetated state was always clean, fed and not develop bed sores for two square years until she breathed her last. If only those elders I mentioned above didn’t end their lives so unthinkingly, my granduncle’s family would not have disintegrated and my aunt would have reveled in the love of her daughter-in-law, son and grandchildren.
Suicide also brings a bad name for families – they will be answerable from the police and nosy relatives. Also the family would be known as the family whose son/daughter/mother/father etc committed suicide. Brusque interrogations from authority to busybodies will take place which are extremely difficult. So, think thrice before swallowing the whole bottle of sleeping pills.
Cliche has it that suicide is a symbol of cowardice. It’s not – it takes loads of guts to commit suicide because the dying process is a beyond return event – death is a foregone conclusion and you consciously know that life is slipping away from you and you cannot do anything to revert from discovering the greatest of all mysteries. Likewise, problems in life do make you feel like life is slipping away from you but you can do something to revert yourself from the troubling circumstances by being ALIVE. Apply the guts you cultivate to commit suicide in resolving the problems that besiege you and you will go places.
Besides the factors I addressed above, in the representation that suicide is latched in Indian culturalism, mental illness can lead to suicides too as seen in the movies Julie Ganapathy which is the Tamil adaptation of the movie Misery, starring Kathy Bates and the movie Moonu. If diagnosed early on and treated accordingly, mental disturbances can be mitigated and cured. Sadly, Asian culture considers mental illness as hypochondriac – many of us don’t recognize mental illness like we recognize cancer and this a major hindrance that needs tackling.
If anyone talks about ending their lives to you do take them seriously and lend them a shoulder to cry on. If there are signs of manic depression in the person talk, him/her into consulting a psychiatrist. Never leave them alone because they might harm themselves. Bottled up emotions is also not good – it would explode one day with a big bang. Of course mental illness is very hard to detect but suicidal thoughts is one of the symptoms. If you need someone to talk to, confide in a trusted person or just pour your heart out at services like Befrienders.
Suicide ain’t gonna solve a thing. It will only cause more problems to the people you leave behind. Suicide should never be an option to solve problems. Aren’t people with disabilities living? You have a perfectly functioning body system so what’s your excuse? Let us kick out suicide out of Indian culturalism together.