Who killed whom?

Dr. R. Balu speaks with empathy. He does not just report a problem; he has devoted his life to be part of honorable solutions to the miseries of less privileged. He has positively influenced people of all ages and positions. Balu’s Musings on 25 June 2011 asked “Who killed Sathyamma?” Satyamma committed suicide due to poverty and apathy. All of us, the members of society, have a responsibility to alleviate situations leading to such sad incidents.

Newspapers regularly report cases of suicide. Of them, psychotic cases are rare. Suspected reasons or what is written in suicides note vary widely. One of the core issues is lack of a larger purpose in life. Hardly anyone committed suicide in concentration camps – they had a greater cause which helped them to hold on to hope and faith. With more comfort came more stress and less meaning in life.

Shallow thinking, shadow living and hero worship reduces feeling of self-worth. Such people identify their worth in their hero’s glory. It can also be an anti-hero’s doom that matters to some. In 2004 when UPA got majority in Loksabha, a man committed suicide not wanting to accept Sonia Gandhi as the PM. When Jayalalitha lost elections in TN, a follower killed himself. Some people despair enough to lose meaning in life if the country loses a cricket match or their favorite player gets out without scoring a run. We have witnessed some willing to die or take another’s life in the name of their matinee idol who died a natural death.

Some people invest, gamble, change jobs, and develop relationships – often impulsively. This is often followed by guilt-beating. At times, they find fault in the society or others and at times on themselves. Shanta Kumar, 65, smashes wife’s head and commits suicide. He wanted to sell his house to pay debts incurred in heavy gambling; but the wife did not agree to sign the papers [TOI, 04 Jul 2011]. A boy of class 2 hangs himself, disturbed by seeing the dead body of his school caretaker.

Some young children, when angry or need help, bang their heads on the wall. With deliberate self harm they hope to gain attention and mostly succeed. When a person does not grow from this attention-seeking tendency, he continues to hurt himself in an effort to give a message to the world. He may start with excessive work, drinks, drugs, or self-medications – something that shows that they are severely suffering. When the limits cross, they could end their lives.

Stereotyping of roles and relationships can cause great harm. If we convince ourselves about a pattern of behavior from a relationship, we promote interactions that prove our assumptions. If adolescents do not expect parents to understand them and if the parents think that the teenagers are beyond redemption, strain builds up, leading to depression. An adolescent may also do something drastic to prove a point to the elders. Sunitha, a 25 year old home maker, kills mother-in-law and commits suicide [TOI, 04 Jul 2011]. A 40 year old skilled worker of Bosch and his wife killed their two sons and hanged themselves. Police told that he disliked the night shift at work [TOI, 04 Jul 2011]. A person working at managerial position in a highly reputed company tells me “work is a torture.” When probed a little, he changes the topic. Some people search for villains in their relationships.

Fantasies and phantom relationships are helped by social network media. There are hundreds of dejected young with addiction to shallow and instant gratification. There are deaths resulting from humiliating exposures in social media. Shoaib Khan, 12, a class 7 student in a bid to see what suicide felt like, hanged himself from the ceiling with a dupatta – a fantasy.

Some deaths are self-imposed euthanasia, with a philosophical desire to die because of a painful terminal illness from with little to no hope of reprieve. Even Ramayana ends with suicide of Rama by drowning himself in river Sarayu. When the life’s purpose is over, desire to live vanish in many though there may not be a resolve to die. Tagore has told “because I love this life, I know I shall love death as well.” With the idea of deathless soul and theory of reincarnation, some nurture a romantic idea about death as if it would be a glory to end one’s life. Harakiri is a form of Japanese ritual suicide. It is reported that majority of suicides are committed by men, as if this is a macho act.

“O thou the last fulfilment of life, Death, my death, come and whisper to me!
Day after day I have kept watch for thee; for thee have I borne the joys and pangs of life.” – Tagore

Supreme sacrifices are glorified in many cultures and scriptures. Giving one’s life is the highest form of sacrifice. The outlawed Sati system was also a form of suicide – a sacrifice with no cause. 12-year old Mumpy kills herself to donate eyes to father and kidney brother [TOI 04 Jul 11].

Pain mixed with guilt, anger and regret is very bitter. Anger on self is the most difficult to handle. All of this leads to depression, considered to be the most common cause of suicides. People have intense sense of suffering and think it impossible to escape from the situation. They do not strive to get out of the situation, but want automatic escape. Depression is almost always treatable. And in most cases it does not require chemical concoctions in the name of medical treatment – but sensible counseling. There are several organisations which offer such help. I am involved with Yogakshema, an NGO, which helps people understand their minds’ potential by way of training and counseling.

Fear of failure is a drain on emotional health. A student kills herself a day before the examination results are declared, fearing that she would fail. Another dies because she got only 83%, which is a failure by her yardstick. We often do not take up a challenge or use an opportunity with a fear that we could fail, a fear that we would fail in the eyes of the world. The world at large rolls on without paying specific attention to our failures or achievements. Our glory is in our minds.

They say the Lion and the Lizard keep the courts where Jamsyd gloried and drank deep; And Bahram, that great Hunter – the Wild Ass stamps o’er his Head, but cannot break his Sleep.”  - Rubaiyat


About pgbhat

A retired Naval Officer and an educationist. Has experience with software industry. A guest faculty at different institutes and a corporate trainer with software development companies.
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6 Responses to Who killed whom?

  1. Balu says:

    Very insightful.



  2. Srinivas says:

    As always, brilliant. And touching.


  3. kartik Hosanagar says:

    A very different post from you this time, uncle. Your post raised a very different set of questions in my mind. As you point out, at least 1 cause of suicide is a loss of purpose. Most of us have a sense of purpose in life. There are some goals for the day (get this project completed, pick up groceries), for the week (go to a play during the weekend, spend time with fmily), month, year, etc. These goals gives us a sense of purpose and help us look forward purposefully. But in the grand scheme of things, what is the purpose of life? What is nature trying to achieve through the creation & destruction of life? What is the end goal? And accordingly, what is the role that each of us can play in achieving that end goal?

    I am not sure anyone knows the answer. Or if anyone has an answer that I find satisfactory. Yet I feel that is at the heart of these issues.


  4. pgbhat says:

    Thanks, Kartik, Srinivas, and Balu.
    When the short term goals seek instant gratification, we may experience short lived pleasure when we achieve the goal or disappointment when we fail. We get addicted to such pleasures and lose the meaning of lasting joy. We lose patience for delayed gratification and the disappointments add up leading to dejection.


  5. Keshav says:

    Great topic. Thank you for the post Cdr.PG.

    My 2 cents:
    I think our society in general seems to take a hide-your-emotions approach. For instance, several parents spank their child to “stop crying” instead of inquiring the cause for the emotion. When a child is sad because he lost something, instead of acknowledging the emotions, he gets yelled at for not keeping his things in a safe place… day in and day out this continues till adolescence by which time his emotional balance is already set.

    Being stoic is considered a virtue. Even Bhagavad gita says “Wise person is one who is free from longing, fear and anger”. May be it is a virtue. But stoicism is not everyone. Hiding emotions instead of acknowledging them seems to do a lot of damage to the emotional brain.

    In the mid-90s when I first read Daniel Goleman’s “Emotional Intelligence”, there were not many schools in the US that taught life skills. Now there are 10s of thousands of schools in the US that teach emotional intelligence as part of curriculum. According to Goleman himself in a recent article, “In the US, several districts and even entire states made it mandatory that along with math & science, students must attain a certain level of competence in emotional intelligence”. The course is called SEL – Social and emotional learning in schools.

    Curriculum from the US Schools may not necessarily work in the Indian context. Still, may be it is useful to introduce emotional education as part of a social experiment. We are a nation full of very anxious people. We can see that on the roads, in the trains, at the airports and we can notice this even inside flights when it just lands.. everyone rushes to the door as if its an emergency landing… I have heard people attributing this behavior to lack of opportunities, population density etc, etc, but in the end, it is still an emotional problem. I believe it has to be handled in early childhood both in the house and in the school. Going even further, may be Goleman & John Gottman’s books should be made compulsory reading for teachers and Grad school students.

    Thanks again for the post.


    • pgbhat says:

      Thanks for your kind observations and drawing my attention to emotional intelligence, Keshav.

      We can introduce SEL – Social and Emotional Learning – in some schools. I seek your help on this.

      Internet has several good references on SEL programs on, which develop five core social and emotional competencies: Self-awareness, Self-management, Social Awareness, Relationship Skills, and Responsible Decision-making. Daniel Goleman himself has written about SEL at http://danielgoleman.info/topics/social-emotional-learning/.

      Please share references on the topic.

      In our courses through http://www.yoga-kshema.org we discuss destructive and healing emotions. I have conducted a few courses on Emotional Literacy based on Claude Steiner’s work. See http://www.emotional-literacy.com/ for his views, complementing those of Daniel Goleman.


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