Why does a 17-year-old boy throw himself in front of a hurtling train minutes after texting to his father, “I haven’t been able to become a good son to you. Now on you will have only a daughter”? A life full of promise and possibilities is extinguished in a blink, plunging the family in sorrow that will never cease. The bereaved family should be left alone in this moment of grief, but this news item has left the writer of these lines deeply disturbed. In recent months, there has been a spate of teenage suicides—two from the city of Kota that has acquired unenviable notoriety as a pressure cooker that allegedly mass produces successful entrants to the IITs. Not long ago, two youngsters ended their lives hanging themselves in their rooms. What is shocking that no one—their peers/classmates or their teachers/coaches/mentors had noticed their dropping under the radar. Their absence for weeks from classes or interaction with other inhabitants failed to create an alarming blip.
What are the circumstances that spawn self-destructive thoughts in young minds that propel them to choose death over life and jump into the dark abyss? Not all such cases can be explained due to clinical depression.
Not long ago, most of the reported young suicides were girls—victims of rape, stalking and acid attacks. Quite a few ‘suicides’ seemed to hide (dis)honour killings. Unwanted pregnancies, unrequitted love, self-sacrifice to relieve poor parents from the unbearable burden of marrying the daughters suitably, domestic violence and impossible demands for dowry are some of the causes that attempt to explain cases of extreme self-harm. Abetment to suicide is punishable akin to murder and many cases go unpunished. What is extremely distressing isn’t the failure of law enforcement agencies, but the widespread apathy and ostrich-like mindset not to face the problem.
Despair leading to death doesn’t spare the rich nor is it confined to those suffering from terminal and excruciatingly painful illness. But here we are talking about young persons, barely out of their teens, throwing away their lives. What kind of failure or crippling fear of failure cuts them off from family and friends? Or, is it some terrifying realisation about one’s sexual orientation, betrayal of trust by a confidante who becomes a menacing black-mailer? Unfortunately sensation-seeking blood-thirsty news hounds jump at juicy morsels of rumours when a celebrity is concerned. Innuendoes are aplenty about drug abuse, promiscuity etc. There is hardly any protection against predators prowling on the internet preying on the children. Stray items of ‘local’ news buried in least-visited pages in the newspapers or fleeting mention on the ticker on TV breaking news are seldom followed up and reduce the dead—pupil of someone’s eye—to a forgettable statistic.
A dangerous epidemic transforms into an epidemic we must learn to live with. Life goes on till the virus strikes nearer home. There are stirring words of ancient wisdom that tell us about the dreams and the visions. The problem becomes acute and spins out of control when roles are reversed, when the dreams of the young are shattered and the elderly begin chasing mirages, instead of envisioning futures where young can realise their dreams. It is this mismatch that is heartbreaking.
India is a nation with a predominantly large young population. Those in their mid-teens and early-20s form a large segment in its demographic profile. There is—like in everything else—great diversity in young dreams. There are young in the cities and in small towns and villages. Literacy has grown, but the digital divide is real. Caste and gender, employment status, etc. complicate the picture. No one can turn a blind eye to extremes in riches and poverty. The risk of dreams turning into mortifying nightmares is real. There was a time when one talked of generational gap and clash of contending values. These phrases sound hollow and meaningless at the moment.
Different generations have always coexisted. Parents and children, by definition, belong to different generations. There always have been spoilt brats and delinquents—juveniles in conflict with law—but never in living memory has communication broken down so tragically and totally between sons and fathers, mothers and daughters. This is what rendered children worse than orphans even when the parents are alive. What is referred to as the nuclear family is threatening to split catastrophically into sub-atomic particles.
No useful purpose is served by stating that this is a global phenomenon. India, as it pursues its ambition to emerge a major power, must find solutions to its societal problems.
The ideal of vasudhaiva kutumbkam can only be realised when we accept that no man is an island. There is no child of a lesser god whose death doesn’t diminish us.
Former professor, Jawaharlal Nehru University