Early February this year, a Class IX student in Chennai killed a teacher inside the classroom. My grandmother from heaven could not believe that this gruesome incident happened in the school in which she studied 80 years ago. Continuing, more deaths in the form of suicides in college campuses started occupying prime space in the media. College students took this extreme step for reasons best known to them though media carried different versions.
The common thread in all these unfortunate deaths is the immediate response of career counsellors and NGOs who repeatedly highlighted the pressure exerted by the education system on its students. I am not entering into an argument, though I have a different opinion on this, but would like to address the issue from a theological perspective.
Almost all religions of the world have expressed their views on suicide. Abrahamic and Indian religions in different ways have not accepted suicide as an individual’s right to claim his or her own life. Hinduism strongly believes that suicide amounts to breaking the code of Ahimsa (non-violence) and therefore equally sinful as murdering another. Except for Prayopavesa, meant for people with no desire or ambition, Hinduism decries suicide and believes that persons committing suicide shall wander as ghosts until one would have otherwise died. Buddhism also strongly believes in the karma-samsara philosophy and considers destruction of life, including one’s own life, as a negative form of action. Except for Santhara, a non-violent form of fasting to death, there is no record that Jainism supports suicide.
The theology of Roman Catholic Church holds death by suicide as a grave or serious sin. The Church considers life as the property of God and a gift to the world. To destroy that life is to wrongly assert authority over what is God’s. Conservative Protestants hold suicide as self-murder and synonymous with murdering another person and hence an act of sin. The religion of Islam also views suicide as detrimental to one’s spiritual journey and considers it a greatest sin. Muslim scholars have cited from the holy Quran commandments that forbid suicide and some even consider it as an unpardonable sin equivalent to eternal sin in Christianity.
I am not an expert on theology nor am I an expert psychologist. As a concerned academic, I silently observed the reactions of career counsellors and psychologists who didn’t miss an opportunity to blame the academic system.
They may be right in some cases, but definitely not in all. Some of the reasons alleged behind the college suicides are beyond academics. The first question that every stakeholder, including the media, asks is whether the college has a counsellor? Does this really help? To meet the approval criteria or for statistical purposes, a counsellor on campus may be useful. Will one counsellor or replacing ceiling fans in hostels with air-coolers totally arrest suicidal tendencies in a college campus? It is about state of mind that is beyond comprehension. On one hand, we have reports that expose the abysmal employability standards of our engineers (though I disagree) and on the other, the academic rigour as the villain. An uninterested child is forced by parents to enroll for courses to which the child is attitudinally unprepared. Should not parents start placing confidence in their own wards than being carried away by their next door neighbour’s? Were the blockbuster hits 3 Idiots and its Tamil version Nanban only for entertainment and not enlightenment? More questions than answers can be raised on this sensitive issue.
While we search for some solutions, can we begin to respect our religious views first? India needs to give its resourceful youth longevity.
The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s own.