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Wednesday, Jul 08, 2020 12:45 [IST]

Last Update: Wednesday, Jul 08, 2020 07:15 [IST]

Suicide: The Unforgivable Act

Did our ancestors know suicide was contagious?

DR. SUDARSAN TAMANG

DISTILLATION OF THOUGHTS

Not all sad and depressed people chose to write suicide notes or end life. But some do, and sadly the numbers are alarming in a peaceful state of Sikkim.  Many of us are deeply touched and want to help anyone who is suicidal. However, anybody setting him or herself up as a ‘counsellor’ can be anything: helpful or dangerous depending on his training, understanding and communication skills. Suicide is a phenomenon and is so profound and complex that one school of thought is not enough to address the problem. 
In this article, let's look at it from a perspective of our ancestors who viewed suicide as unforgivable and unwarranted rather than unfortunate and worth-mourning. Although, the trade-off between shame and sorry is important as it is a sensitive case, yet open-minded views must be encouraged if at all they are helpful in containing the phenomenon.
There must be some reason why our ancestors used to shame the act of suicide. The dreaded term like “agate” is not from fiction. Deaths by “agate” were thought to be deplorable in our culture. The usual community mourning sessions of several weeks used to be reduced to a mere 3 days. Our ancestors clearly did not glorify or even lamented the suicide as if they knew it is contagious, and that's how we made strong mountain communities.
Many researchers believe that Japan is not able to deal with suicidal deaths despite having the best support and health care system because of its culture and practices of honouring suicide in the past. In Japan, it is natural to view suicide as a morally responsible action. This cultural tolerance stems from the glorification of suicide as an honourable and formal death among Samurai (Japanese warrior). The act was considered a justified response to failure or inevitable defeat in battle. They refer honour suicides as hara-kiri, literally "belly-cutting". In America and many other developed nations, suicide has been knowingly or unknowingly glorified by followers of young and famous rock stars who killed themselves. Our ancestors did the opposite, they shamed the idea of suicide and that is why the number of suicide deaths was far and few in the mountains.
In the aftermath of any suicide case, many of us express sadness and write a heartfelt note on this sensitive topic in social media.   In the age of social media, if someone dies of suicide, almost all of us mourn the death. However, unknowingly we undermine that suicide is a special kind of death where our simple gesture of public mourning can trigger more deaths. Researchers have found that suicide, in effect, is contagious. The people involved may not have had any direct contact, but the publicity of the suicide, including through social media page, large vigils and assemblies, may trigger more suicides. In fact, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention recommends that schools should have a “muted response” to suicide. It is because students already vulnerable to suicide may be attracted to the idea of getting recognition or gratification in death. In a nutshell, if terminally-ill people willfully opt to visits Divnitas at Switzerland to commit doctor-assisted suicide, that can be perhaps forgiven but suicide for any other temporal and temporary reasons like finance, love, loss or even nepotism cannot be and should not be forgiven.
Let's break it here. If the cause was only medical in nature, the suicide rate would not have drastically varied from place to place and perhaps that holds the key to corrective measures. One can throw random guesses on the cause of it in Sikkim. Is it easy access to media stardom that feeds our teens with a false sense of success, eventually burdening them with heavy expectation at that tender age? One cover song and she is the celebrity the next day. One self-sponsored music video and he is the model overnight. Is it helping, in a world where it takes time to earn real success? It could also be the spoon-feeding some of our parents are so well versed with, that has occasioned the birth of a fragile generation though. Even drug and substance abuse, failed relationships, financial crunches and other adversities are always there for the take. Some people can even blame the politics for this fiasco. The cause is not important, however.  The temptation is. The effect is. Life is difficult and we can’t remove the causes but our ancestors perhaps knew how to remove or minimise the temptation by shaming the act of suicide.
Of course, it is important that we extend helping hands to those who want to talk about it and fight it out. But time has come to stop glorifying wannabe Kurt Cobains who think suicide can fetch them a state of nirvana, free from worldly worries! Shaming every suicidal death, no matter what great deed the victim did while alive may be an effective way to send a strong message across, especially to those waiting in the queue: that suicide is not heroic but it is shameful.  Only then, perhaps the temptation is overruled. The effect is dealt with. Only then perhaps we will have stopped the chain reaction started by some of the western rockstars high on stardom, false sense of glory and drug.

Sikkim at a Glance

  • Area: 7096 Sq Kms
  • Capital: Gangtok
  • Altitude: 5,840 ft
  • Population: 6.10 Lakhs
  • Topography: Hilly terrain elevation from 600 to over 28,509 ft above sea level
  • Climate:
  • Summer: Min- 13°C - Max 21°C
  • Winter: Min- 0.48°C - Max 13°C
  • Rainfall: 325 cms per annum
  • Language Spoken: Nepali, Bhutia, Lepcha, Tibetan, English, Hindi