Demystifying causes for growing incidence of suicides in Kashmir
Suicide deaths are not new to Kashmir. Self-inflicted deaths and attempts to end life have been reporting from across the Valley for a quite long time now. However, an alarming member of suicides has occurred during the past two months or so in various parts of Kashmir.
The latest incidents occurred in north Kashmir’s Bandipora district on June 26, when in two separate incidents, two men ended their lives by consuming poison. They were of 28 and 32 years of age.
A day earlier, a teen-aged boy had committed suicide by jumping into the River Jehlum near Cement Bridge in the Noor Bagh area of Srinagar. Before ending his life, the class 11th student shot a video of himself seeking forgiveness from his parents. The locals say that Cement Bridge has become a suicide point for those who want to end their lives, thus it needs to be fenced to prevent further such incidents.
Earlier, on June 18, a lady committed suicide by jumping into the river at the same place; while a few weeks before this incident, a youth, a resident of Palapora Eidgah in Srinagar, had also ended his life by jumping into the river from the same bridge.
On June 17, two men died by suicide in Batamaloo and Nowgam areas of Srinagar. They were of 24 and 27 years of age. Both hanged themselves in their respective homes. Just a few days later, on June 22, a 17-year-old boy hanged himself to death in Srinagar.
Last month, on May 28 a young man frustrated by poverty ended his life by consuming poison. Before ending his life, the son captured a video saying that his father, an employee with the Education department, had been deprived of his salary for the past two-and-half years.
Besides the suicide deaths, several suicide attempts have also been recorded during the past two months or so, across the Valley.
On June 25, police in central Kashmir’s Ganderbal prevented a minor girl from committing suicide. The girl was about to jump into a nearby river. Early this month, police saved the life of a woman who attempted suicide by jumping into the River Jehlum near Budshah Bridge in Srinagar. The lady later said that she wanted to end her life because of her domestic problems.
According to the data only from the SMHS Hospital, as many as 68 cases of poisoning were received by the hospital in April 2021 and about 120 in May.
Experts say that besides social evils, poverty, unemployment, uncertainty caused by the pandemic are the main causes behind these self-inflicted deaths and suicide attempts. They say some people feel hopeless and helpless due to the prevailing situation in the Valley; and many people are grappling with stress, anxiety, and other mental health issues due to the abnormal situations caused by the pandemic and the chronic conflict situation in Kashmir.
To understand the various dimensions of the alarming situation in terms of frequent suicide incidents, KASHMIR IMAGES spoke with some experts to know their views on the subject. Here are the excerpts:
Various reasons are creating an environment for suicides in Kashmir, and our faulty and defaulted socio-cultural background is causing these reasons. To my understanding, the one who commits suicide is actually registering his or her protest against this faulted system. It is a sort of reactionary action by the victims.
Take the example of our children: we mostly treat them with a conventional approach rather than with a scientific approach that is needed in this era. We don’t provide ample choices and the required atmosphere to our kids. As a result, many of our children feel stressed. During the past two years, we have seen some children below the age of 18 committing suicide. This indicates that something is terribly wrong with our society.
According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) and police records, earlier, people mostly between 20 to 30 years age group, would commit suicides, but now even kids have started taking this extreme step.
The problem lies in the very basic unit of our society —the family. For instance, we are letting our kids fall prey to technology and gadgets. They are consuming internet like food. As the result, these kids, particularly adolescents, indulge in harmful activities in terms of using gadgets with internet connectivity. Our kids are becoming addicted to these gadgets with each passing day; they are not conscious enough to understand the adverse impact of technology on their physical and mental health. They are innocent beings and they are not mature enough or trained to deal with this technology.
We had a case in Pulwama where an 18-years-old committed suicide just because his father had snatched away the phone from him. This incident indicates how much addictive our new generation has become to the gadgets.
This scenario needs to be changed; and here comes the role of the parents. They need to deal with the children according to the requirements of the modern era. We cannot deal with them with the conventional methods because we did not face such issues in the past. We have to provide our children with alternatives to ensure they stop excessive use of the internet and phones. School authorities should also meet the parents online to make them understand and educate how much should they allow their kids to use the internet and gadgets.
Another issue that causes stress and the possibility of suicides in our society is the growing trend of domestic violence. Presently, I am writing a paper on domestic violence in Kashmir. I can tell you on the basis of my research that domestic violence is becoming part of our culture day by day. A large number of cases of domestic violence have come to light during this pandemic. Poverty, extramarital affairs, late marriages or mismatches in marriages are some of the causes for rising domestic violence.
In some cases, parents force their choices on their children in terms of marriages and it causes stress to the youngsters. Even sometimes parents and other family members decide the career choices for their children. Such things lead to a stressful life for these youngsters in later stages.
Poverty and lack of opportunities is another component of distress of many people. Since we had already been prone to shutdowns and lockdowns but the pandemic has worsened the situation. In these tough times, we have seen the poor becoming poorer due to the Covid lockdown. Look at the bus drivers and their families. They have almost lost their source of income during the past two years. What would these people do to feed themselves?
Poverty makes such people vulnerable to suicide. I have recently seen a case where a lone bread earner of a family died in an accident, leaving three kids and an ailing widow behind. After some time, the widow ended her life by committing suicide because she was unable to feed her children.
Then, these poor people have other social burdens in terms of marriages and various social rituals as well.
The conflict situation has already caused great damage to our society in terms of stress and anxiety in people. In regions like Shopian, Kulgam, and Pulwama in south Kashmir, which has been violence-prone for a long time, many people are grappling with mental health issues. I have met many people in these areas who rely on medicines for a peaceful sleep. Many people from the victim families have physiological disorders. Even some suicides and attempts to suicide occurred in such families living with the trauma of losing their kin.
Then comes the drug menace. I recently met a group of 15 students in a border village in north Kashmir. They informed me that many youngsters in some border areas have fallen prey to drug addiction to the extent that their parents manage alcohol and weed for them to substitute for drugs like brownsburg and cocaine as they think that alcohol and weed would be less harmful to their children than the high-intensity drugs, which they are actually addicted to.
The fact is that we as a society are facing a number of social evils and problems that need to be addressed immediately. It is impossible to explain these issues in this brief conversation. Since I am working on such issues, I can tell you that we have, as a society, fallen into a number of miseries, which are actually the result of our collective failures. We need to reconstruct our society, sooner the better. In this everybody has a role to play. Since we have plenty of politicians here but not a single leader, every Masjid committee, Mohalla committee should wake up and start taking care of the society. Our Imams must talk on the growing social issues in every Friday sermon. Media has an important role to play. We must understand that there are issues beyond politics in our society that need to be talked about. We cannot tackle the growing tendency of suicides unless we address the social evils and issues.
One takes an extreme step of suicide only after he or she loses hope completely, and there can be multiple personal and social reasons for hopelessness. The personal reason of hopelessness is developed when one finds himself or herself short of avenues to fulfil needs and dreams. Gone are the days when we only needed food, clothing, and shelter for living a peaceful life. We have developed a number of requirements for ourselves over the years, and for which we need money.
However, in this scenario, particularly due to the situation created by the pandemic, most of the people lack a required economic backing. The growing inflation and financial emergencies caused by the Covid lockdown have worsened the situation of the common people further.
Then, there are emotional needs of the people, which if not fulfilled, can lead to a stressful life. Take for example the emotional needs of the youngsters, who are mostly a target population in terms of suicides. These youngsters get attracted to the opposite sex and then they developed relationships with each other. Since people of this age group mostly live in a fantasy world, they get emotionally hurt if the relationship fails. Such a situation might sometimes push a youngster to suicide.
As per my personal observations, some girls come into a relationship with boys for their financial needs, and if these needs are not accomplished they quit and boys become victims of mental stress. We have seen some boys committing suicide due to failure in relationships.
Furthermore, we are facing anomie in our society these days. The machinery of society is broken down due to the impact of the pandemic. We are grappling with a number of social problems and the irony is that nothing is being done to address these issues.
For instance, incidents of domestic violence are growing in our society with each passing day. Even in some cases, males are subjected to domestic violence and these cases go mostly unreported. The incidence of domestic violence has gone up in Covid lockdown because most of the people have been staying at home.
Another factor, which causes suicides, or at least suicide attempts, in my opinion, is the drug menace in our society. Those who are addicted to drugs but unable to take these because of their financial constraints are vulnerable to suicide attempts.
It has also been observed that those grappling with emotional health issues are mostly introverts. They do not share their problems with others till their pain gets accumulated and then force them to take extreme steps like suicides. They consider suicide as a shortcut to get rid of their problems.
To conclude, let me say that the growing trend of suicides in our society is alarming and we as a society have to do something about it. I think Mohalla committees, religious preachers; teachers…. have an important role to play to ensure that our traditional social values are revived and social evils and problems are addressed.
We cannot attribute all the recent suicide cases to the situation caused by the Covid. If that would have been the case, then there would have been the same situation, in terms of suicides, found in every other place in the world where the pandemic impacted the social and emotional life of the people.
In fact, people in Kashmir, to a large extent, had already been facing mental health issues due to exceptional reasons like conflict situation, drug menace, various social evils, and many more things. However, the situation created by the pandemic has added to the miseries of the people and eventually aggravated the problems further, which is what should explain the growing incidence of suicides of late.
Since we are providing online counselling to the people, besides the OPD services at our hospital these days, I can confirm that the number of depression and panic attack cases have grown up in Kashmir during the past two years. The pandemic has mostly impacted the mental health of kids and youth. Many of them have developed irritability and intolerance due to the constant lockdown and other restrictions in terms of Covid SOPs.
In these abnormal circumstances, parents and other caregivers have to help the young generation. We need to create a friendly environment while dealing with young children and adolescents. Our traditional behaviour of dealing with youngsters will not work in the present scenario. We must understand and realize the fact that this young generation is less tolerant than we used to be when we were of their age. We need to make peace with our kids and find the peaceful means to provide them moral education and make them understand what all things are harmful to their physical and mental health.
In terms of the emergent suicide tendencies among the people, particularly the youth, I want to draw attention to something that is called copycat suicide. It is defined as duplication or copycat suicides. Those who are in a vulnerable state of mind get influenced by seeing suicides by others. Then they follow the path, and even sometimes they adopt the same methods to ending their lives. Therefore, we should restrain from spreading the news about suicide deaths and the methods of suicide. We should not share videos and photographs related to suicide deaths.
To prevent suicides, we need to adopt a multidisciplinary approach. That means people belonging to different walks of life must come forward to address social issues and problems.
In most suicide cases, we never get to know the reasons behind these extreme steps taken by the victims. Because no proper investigation is done here to ascertain the real causes of suicides. Such cases are mostly closed citing ‘unknown reasons’ for the deaths.
However, any practicing physiologist can tell you that we have plenty of issues in our society that are becoming causes of suicides. Many times people having suicidal tendencies come to us and share their problems. On the basis of my professional experience, I can tell you that there are a number of reasons including bullying, harassment, blackmailing, domestic violence, drug menace, and so on, for the suicides. Sometimes relationship issues between a boy and a girl becomes a cause of suicide. Similarly, domestic violence forces people, particularly a woman, to end her life.
Furthermore, some other things like deceit and guilt can also be causes of suicide. As a professional psychologist, I have met a number of girls who have fallen prey to an immoral path after they had got addicted to drugs. Sometimes such people also commit suicide because of their guilt or a deep sense of regret.
Nobody, however, kills him or herself abruptly. One can always recognize suicidal tendencies in a victim much before he or she actually commits suicide. In most cases, the victims start inflicting self-harm or self-injury. They can also be seen expressing their emotions by crying and rage. Unfortunately, the parents and people around do not pay heed to these indications of a person vulnerable to suicide. Even sometimes these people are rather ridiculed further for their strange behavior. Some women who are subjected to domestic violence at their in-laws’ house are, instead of providing support to them, returned back from their parental house with sermons.
Unfortunately, media coverage of suicides in an inappropriate manner also draws an adverse impact on the vulnerable people. Vast media coverage of such incidents provides guidance for taking an extreme step. That is why we have seen suicides are becoming a trend in India since the film actor Sushant Singh Rajput ended his life.
Media should play a constructive role to stop the suicide tendency by creating awareness about the social evils and the reasons that cause suicides in our society. There are a number of reasons that are becoming reasons for the suicides. Unfortunately, we have developed a harmful society over the years.
We have forgotten the culture of appreciation. We see most people are passing judgments on others. Things like criticism, body shaming, and bullying have become a norm in our society. Due to these reasons, those who are emotionally vulnerable or those who are grappling with mental pressure and psychological imbalances are hesitant to share their miseries with others.
Then, we have things like jealousy, greed, deceit, black magic, and what not, in our society. These tendencies are harming most people and spoiling our overall society.
The conflict situation too has damaged our social fabric to a large extent. Youngsters pick up the gun even knowing that their survival chances are almost zero. Sometimes I wonder whether these youngsters are also there to commit a kind of suicide. May be they find themselves helpless and hopeless to the extent that they choose the path of guns to ensure their deaths.
To conclude, I would say we have to reconstruct our society and review our moral values to eliminate the social evils that cause suicide deaths. We all have to play our role to ensure this scenario in terms of growing stress and anxiety is controlled.