Disclaimer – The following write-up contains my thoughts on the problem of suicide. I’m personally not suffering from any dilemma or depression.
I was in class 8th when it happened. A big family of 12 members – six sons, three daughters, parents and the grandmother – lived in my neighborhood. They were small businessmen and modestly well-off. Suddenly, one day, the father, the head of the family, died. As far as I can recall, people said he had a cardiac arrest. Sahil, the second son, was a handsome young man and had a well-built body. I still can visualize him while writing this piece. He could lift up more than hundred kilograms of weight. He always looked happy. He had a girlfriend and his marriage was fixed. He was attached to his mother. After two months of his father’s demise, he committed suicide by poisoning himself. He was just 20 or 21.
I made a few close friends during my training period in Teachers’ Training Institute. One of them was Shiv Mani – a bright, young, jolly good boy. He was quite fond of my singing, and I, of his jokes. We used to share lunch and ate together. He belonged to a rich and respected family from a nearby village. His father was an officer; mother, a principal; and his brothers, too, were in government offices. He himself was going to be a teacher after the training. But our friendship didn’t last longer, after the second semester he committed suicide by hanging himself with a rope. I was just 20 then and he was also of the same age.
These two cases are my first-hand experience with someone who committed suicide. What were the reasons? Well, in the first case, Sahil saw his mother in a compromising position with a family-friend uncle after the demise of his father. He couldn’t cope with this. He thought his father also died because of the lechery of his mom. He could talk with someone, could yell on his mother or could beat that uncle or could left the house forever. But he couldn’t, he just took the toll on himself and ended his life. He didn’t leave any suicide note, but such and such were the chit-chats one could listen between two people talking to each other in those days. I, too, had listened that and that’s what I’m writing now.
In the second case, my friend Shiv Mani did leave a note, but nothing concrete was written in that. He had written some shlokas from Bhagvad Geeta reflecting the immortality of soul and that that he was tired of this body and wanted to renew it by rebirth. “Moron!” that’s what I had said in the rage and sorrow when I came to know about the suicide note. I wish I could guess his inner turmoil when he used to talk on the philosophy of death, rebirth, karma, dharma and all the so called philosofucking drama of religion. I wish I could help him! But I simply could not. I was neither aware nor mature enough to guess that.
Every now and then when I listen someone has killed himself, it puzzles me. Though many philosophers and sociologists have written on this subject, and I’m no match to them, still, I think it’s always better and satisfying if I analyze the problem myself.
Reasons of suicide are as varied as the people affected by it, but a comprehensive study will provide you two basic categories of reasons: social and psychological. And if we look into it more comprehensively, it has only one – philosophical. But rest assured, I will go through the both aspects first.
There are various reasons in social category, some of them are: an unexpected change in economical status, political disturbances, family-discords, marriage related problems, imposing or alienating nature of society etc.
A lot of people find unable to cope with a sudden downfall or huge loss. They find it almost impossible to maintain their reputation, values and ideals, and it generates in them a kind of insurmountable dejection that prompts to embrace death. Statistics reported by Galbraith show that suicide rate in US during the Great Depression (1929-1939) increased from 17.0 per 100000 people in 1929 to 21.3 per 100000, in 1932; businessmen jumped from the multi-storied buildings and farmers jumped on the railway tracks. It’s interesting to note that among other causes of death only suicide rate increased. You can relate it to the suicides of farmers and the unemployed in India or in any other part of the world. If you care enough, try to observe the data of suicides during this pandemic hit economic crisis around the world, in 2020.
Political situations, too, motivate people for killing themselves. During the Indo-Pak partitions, many women killed themselves because they were afraid of being raped by the mob; many set fire themselves, jumped into the rivers, wells or just cut down each other. A lot of parents killed themselves and their children. If you study the Holocaust, you will find such cases in plenty where a Jew killed his family and himself due to fear of Gestapo or being sent to the gas chambers. Political upheavals, riots and wars create such situations when a man becomes helpless and kills himself and his dear ones.
Family-discord is a major social reason of suicides. I didn’t believe in this earlier; there is not a single family in India or in any other part of the world that doesn’t have any kind of discord. I took it just as one of the characteristics, not a problem, of the family. And I may be right, or wrong, or both.
I had a colleague who was pretty much oppressed by his wife. It might be the other way around because I never got the chance to listen his wife’s side. But he, my colleague, was so much anxious and dismal about it that he once said that he would commit suicide. He was not punctual on duty, often went on leave without taking permission, started yelling and crying when someone complained of his behavior and his threat of committing suicide became his ultimate weapon to disarm officers who might take severe actions against him. At last, he got the transfer order to his favorite place. The lawsuit with his wife is still in process and he hasn’t committed suicide yet. I pray for his well-being, however.
Sometimes, some people express it literally in exasperation or give some hints, but most often, they don’t, and there is no certainty who might commit and who might not. Nonetheless, we should always be cautious about any such hints and should offer every help which can be availed right then.
The statistical evidence on ‘family problems’ as the major cause of committing suicide is horrifying. A total of 134,516 suicides were reported in India during 2018 showing an increase of 3.6% in comparison to 2017. Among the major causes, ‘family problems’ had the biggest share (30.4%) succeeding ‘illness’, on the second number (17.7%).
‘Marriage related problems’ are also one of the leading causes of suicides. It’s usually said that people become more sensible and responsible after marriage, but the data show a quite different picture. It is observed that 68.8% (92,533 out of 134,516) of the suicide victims were married, 22.7% were unmarried (30,503). Widowed/widowers, Divorcees, Separated have accounted for 1.7% (2,329), 0.7% (943) and 0.6% (849) of total suicide victims respectively in India during the year 2018. And reports verify that married men are twice as likely prone to commit suicide than married women. However, married women are more prone to suicidal thoughts than the unmarried. On the whole, men are way too larger in number than women in committing suicide.
I admit, this data from NCRB – 2018 reports are disturbing and confusing. There must be manifold overlappings with other causes that are subsumed with ‘marital status’ or being ‘married’, but the connection between marriage and suicide is not ignorable.
According to popular belief among psychologists and sociologists, marriage provides both men and women happiness, stability and relaxation, but let me make it clear: marriage alone doesn’t make a person happy, but a happy marriage makes a person happy. There must be a survey to collect the data as how many people are married just for the sake of marriage, especially in India, where separation is still considered a taboo, if I leave 4-5% urbanized population aside.
I’m not married. So one can say, since I haven’t a first-hand experience, I can’t have a practical opinion. Well, that’s not true. You needn’t to be oppressed to talk about oppression; you needn’t to be depressed to talk about depression; you needn’t to be a Jew to talk about the Holocaust and you certainly needn’t to be a freedom fighter or leader to talk about your nation’s past; all that matters is – observation. So, wherever you are living, observe – in your family, neighborhood, vicinity – how many people are actually happy in marriage. However, it won’t be an easy task, because 70-80% couples pretend to be happy, 10-15% might talk about the problems and 5-10% might be really happy. You can say that my calculations are harsh, but try yourself, and you can prove me wrong.
The imposing and alienating nature of society, I think, plays a great role in creating personal disturbance. The nature and structure of society in India is as diverse as its cultural and geographical aspects, but on the whole, Indian society has an imposing nature, and the same is true about the whole Indian Subcontinent.
Some people say India is going through a transitional period and the process of transition is not completed yet. In my opinion, it will never be completed. Some societies, some places will be transitioned and the others would lag behind. When ‘the lagged behind’ will be transitioned, ‘the already transitioned’ will be preparing for some different transition; there will be no ideal and saturated situation.
Every man is doomed to his society – the people he affects and the people he is affected by. His individuality is surrounded by family, workplace, friends, admirers, critics and the indifferent ones; ideas from culture, history and religion also make an impact. So, if he has developed and nourished his individuality by the surrounding values and morals, the chances of conflict will be less, but if he hasn’t (that is quite possible in a closely connected and easily available world of people and knowledge today), chances are in plenty for him to go through confusion and frustration. Now, here, the imposing and alienating nature of the society matters a lot and both factors can affect a personality. Suppose that a man/woman wants divorce from his/her spouse; one can’t tolerate the other anymore, the last drop of toleration is squeezed from both of them by the daily discords at home, but they are living under one roof because the family, relatives, neighborhood and the whole society don’t consider the separation as a solution. What will happen? They will carry their lives like two parallel lines that never meet (though, Einstein has said that parallel lines can meet, but in the infinity, in the spherical geometry, of which, the chances in our three-dimensional cuboidal world are bleak).
Individuals suffer from alienation of society in highly urbanized places. Urbanization shatters the norms, breaks the rules and establishes Freedom as the core value of society. Well, freedom alone can’t lead the life, everyone wants some meaning and value, and thus, in the search of meaning and values, he often comes across to frustrations and dilemmas, and if they remain for a long time, they turn into depression. And that can lead to suicidal thoughts.
How good a society really is depends on its cooperation with its inhabitants.
The thing that matters most in the end is how well a person suffers through that frustration and confusion and solves the problems of life, searches the answers of puzzling questions and starts for a new endeavor; and even if he fails in this, he should be able to admit that life is absurd. Pain is inevitable, but so is happiness in life; it’s like the occurrence of day and night in twenty-four hours. The is no meaning in life, so don’t search for it; if there is any that you find out, that will only be suitable for certain situations, not for all.
There’s a long list of philosophers who have written about the problem of suicide, but I would like to quote only the Franco-Algerian existentialist, Albert Camus. He starts his famous essay, ‘The Myth of Sisyphus,’ with the following lines –
“There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy. All the rest — whether or not the world has three dimensions, whether the mind has nine or twelve categories — comes afterwards.”
Camus’ entire philosophy is based on the idea of absurd. He says, humans have a drive to find meaning in things and where it doesn’t exist, they create it. However, as the universe is cold and indifferent to this quest of meaning, they will always be faced with absurd situations where their attempts to find the meaning would fail. Camus doesn’t see meaninglessness as bad. He explains that to understand that life is absurd is the first step to be fully alive.
The big question comes here, what makes life worth living then? Across his body of work, Camus praises sunshine, women, the beach, kissing, dancing, good food etc. In simple way, he just advises us to take great enjoyment in little things. Just because life is meaningless doesn’t mean it can’t be enjoyable!
P.S. – Names are changed. For the references and source of information, go to the links.