Leap of Death

Last Updated: Tue, Sep 04, 2012 16:09 hrs

The leap of death by a green activist, her sister and mother from Kolkata's tallest residential tower has left the city stunned. But statistics says there is a rise in suicide cases in India owing to depressive state of mind caused by poverty, academic and family pressure and relationship tangles. Sujoy Dhar reports ahead of the World Suicide Prevention Day on Sept 10

Behind the veneer of a hardcore environmental activist, Mukuta Mukherjee was a helpless 47-year-old woman whose moral ammunition to fight with life was slowly exhausting. So when her father Nihar Mukherjee died at the ripe old age of 91, the former journalist and trained pilot turned environmentalist entered into a suicide pact with her 81-year-old mother Amita and sister Kheya, who was only 35 and a state level table tennis coach.

From their austere looking Golf Green apartment, the shiny sky-kissing towers of Kolkata's tallest residential complex were like catalysts of death for the family. The white-brown towers were not triggers to aspire more in life but an invitation to embrace death to end the endless struggle for a dignified living.

The tall towers of South City can be a symbol of a common man's aspiration to one day live in a similar apartment escaping from the squalid reality around. But for Mukuta, they were a foolproof setting to end thee lives that now seems were inseparably connected in common grief and vulnerability.

So when the family of three women drove in a Maruti car inside the complex, foxed everyone at reception to go up in the roof on the 35th floor and then jumped to death in the wee hours of Aug 31, the residents of the posh building were sleeping, oblivious of the fatal leap to death by these women.

Suicide is the great social leveller in India, uniting the poor farmers of Vidharbha with the existential crisis of urban middle class, a spurned lover, a sexual minority, a harassed air hostess or a school boy at the receiving end of academic and peer pressure.
According to the latest statistics of India's National Crime Records Bureau, 1,35,585 people in the country committed suicide in 2011 with states like West Bengal leading in the tragedies.

This indicates an increase of 0.7% over the previous year´s figure (1,34,599). The number of suicides in the country during the decade (2001-2011) has recorded an increase of 25.0% (from 1,08,506 in 2001 to 1,35,585 in 2010), according to NCRB.
The rate of suicides had shown a declining trend between 2001 to 2003, but it shot up again during 2007 to 2010.
In urban centres, the victims are often choosing high rise buildings to jump to death.

When a 25-year-old management graduate jumped off from a high rise in Malad only four months before her marriage, she became the 14th woman to have jumped to death in Mumbai in August 2012 itself.

However, eastern state of West Bengal is a dubious front runner in suicides.

According to Lifeline Foundation, the only suicide prevention organization in West Bengal, the causes of such drastic steps range from peer pressure, school pressure, parental pressure, society pressure and break up of relationships.

"The shocking case in Kolkata according to media reports is triggered by the death of the father of the family. I wished they had called us up and perhaps that could have given them a second thought," says Anita D'Souza, Coodinator, Lifeline Foundation.
Daya Sandhu, a counseling psychology professor at the University of Louisville, USA, who is researching on suicides, says India is now the world's suicide capital.

As a Fulbright-Nehru Senior Research Scholar at Guru Nanak Dev University in Amritsar earlier, Sandhu had spent months in India to research on the social trend.

"When I was in India from early 2010, I was troubled to read headline news almost on a daily basis about students, farmers, and housewives hanging themselves, jumping before trains, taking poisons, and committing self-immolation," says Sandhu.

What was saddening was that while the media was full of such stories, the government remained indifferent to the tragedies.

"There is a serious lack of knowledge and awareness about suicide and suicide ideations in India, besides a huge paucity of provisions to address mental health problems," he says.

"There is no awareness about depression in India."

After extensive interviews of young people in India, Sandhu found academic pressure, parental expectations, marriage tensions and love life as the primary causes of suicide.

"I was stunned that all the students I interviewed mentioned that at least 70 percent of them have a prem rog [love sickness] and they live loveless lives.

"They do not feel anchored anywhere. There seems to be no genuine parental love, but only a conditional love. They are also strictly prohibited to engage in romantic love, as there is no dating system," says Sandhu.

He also found very few conselling centres in India to address the problem.

Sandhu got interested in this very tragic but extremely important area of research after being deeply touched by suicide deaths of sons of his two very close friends.

"One of these friends lives in the United States whose 20 years old son committed suicide by single gunshot wound to his head and died instantly. This tragedy was caused mainly due to intergenerational value conflicts, when parents like to arrange marriages, but their children strongly believe in choosing their life partners by own choice.

"Sadly, a birthday party ended in a funeral, when this young man brought his girlfriend against the wishes of his parents and humiliating parental rebuke ended in his very untimely tragic death," he says.

According to Sandhu, often the cause of suicide are preventable.

"My second friend's 26 years old son took his own life by ingesting rat poison that was readily available from his own medical store where he worked as a pharmacist A few days earlier he had an altercation with his parents over his desire to emigrate to the United States for better career opportunities as a pharmacist," he says.

According to Sandhu, if suicide is an ultimate indicator of psychological distress and psychopathology, it sends a stunning warning that something is wrong with the psychological health of India.

"As India is becoming a world economic power, unfortunately it is also becoming the suicide capital of the world," he says.
" Within last 36 years, India's suicide rate has arose nearly 60 percent. But there is an acute shortage of trained mental health professionals and psychiatrists in the country. While a country like the United States has 56 psychiatrists for every 400,000 people, India has only one," he says.

" Indian Mental Health Act of 1987 is limited in scope and services that precludes persons who suffer from numerous other mental health problems such suicide ideations, alcoholism and substance abuse problems, family, and community violence, anxiety and stress disorders, to name a few," he says.

"Unfortunately, all these unresolved psychological problems become the underlying reasons for many untold number of suicides, homicides, family and marital difficulties, school-related problems, and workplace incompetence and violence.

"While Indian Mental Health Act 1987 is applauded which focuses mainly on psychiatric services in hospitals and institutions, regrettably it does not address issues relating to psychological mental health," says Sandhu.

But with organizations like Lifeline Foundation trying to reach out to the people and prevent suicides, there is a silver lining.
"We have brought together the families which dealt with suicide to network and interact and counsel others," says Anita D'Souza.
"There are about 20 calls that we receive in a day. We empathize with them, instead of sympathizing. We counsel in a non-judgemental way, help them find their own solutions instead of we providing any suggestion," she says.

"When we accept the person as he or she is, and provide them a platform to talk under strict confidentiality, things look up for them," says D'Souza.

"The parents often fail to be friends of children or bond with them freely. There are fears about talking out relationship problems or break ups," she says.

However, with organizations like Lifeline Foundation fewer - it is the only of its kind counselling centre in suicide-prone West Bengal state of 80 million people- and in the absence of a general awareness on the issue, many like Mukuta and her family embrace death over life.


According to research by Dr Sandhu of University of Louisville, following are the main causes of suicides in India.

1.Too much academic pressure
2.Extremely high parental expectations
3.Severe economic problems
4.A lot of marital problems: domestic violence, extramarital affairs
5.Arranged marriages vs love marriages tensions
6.Ills of dowry system.
7.Dissatisfaction with educational system
8.Lack of job opportunities
9.Lack of medical help due to financial problems
10.Extended family system where relationship between mother-in-law and daughter-in-law
are notoriously troubling
11.Craze for going to foreign countries
12.Love-sickness (mingling of sexes is strictly prohibited)
13.Quota system (reservation for scheduled and backward classes and backward classes which create helplessness, sense of inequities, justice and fairness.

14. Excessive use of alcohol, tobacco, and substance abuse
15. Desire to become quickly rich and high economic expectations
16. Lack of knowledge and awareness about depression
17. Lack of knowledge and awareness about suicide
18. Lack of knowledge and awareness about using pesticides.
19. Urbanization and industrialization
20. Powerful politicians or government forcibly acquiring land from powerless farmers.

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