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Why do we see a successful suicide as a victim, but an unsuccessful one as a pretender? Do we demand that a suicidal person die to prove that they want to die?

MidDay published the news of an attempted suicide in Mumbai with this title:

2-hour suicide drama atop South Mumbai highrise; woman slits wrist, tries to jump off building's terrace

and I am left wondering what exactly was the expectation here.

woman attempting <strong class='StrictlyAutoTagBold'>suicide</strong> from top of building

The story goes on to describe how a woman got into a high rise building and made her way to the terrace, walking the parapet as she prepared to jump, while people in the building... "They soon discovered that a rank stranger was attempting to take her life in their building." as if someone known to them had a right to jump off their terrace.

She had slit her wrists and was bleeding and threatening to jump if anyone approached close. The police, firebrigade and neighbouring people were trying to talk her down. Her friend was called to the place.

Alarmed neighbours called the police. Her friend was called and he managed to lunge forward and save her just as she was about to jump.

By any standards, this is a suicide attempt. It is unfortunate that Mid-Day reports this as a "drama" in monumental insensitivity to the distress of the person driven to take such a drastic step. The entire article reports the incident as a problem created by the woman for others. Not unlike Mamata Banerjee terming farmer suicides as a conspiracy against her.

There is no mention as to what the woman said or wanted. There is no mention of how the friend of this "rank stranger" was identified and called to the spot. There is no mention of why she allowed him to approach. There is no mention of what he said. There isn't even a quote asked from him after such a brave rescue. The story isn't interested in the woman's problems or survival at all. The story is one of the unnecessary headache caused to people in this "nail-biting drama that brought life in a whole neighbourhood to a screeching halt". Not all that different from reporting a traffic jam.

woman attempting <strong class='StrictlyAutoTagBold'>suicide</strong> from edge of 15 story building

This callousness is hardly new. It is common for people who threaten suicide to be discredited if they didn't go through with it. The implication is that the person attempting suicide did not intend to go through and was pretending for other purposes - usually to coerce someone into something.

The supposed Men's Rights Activists often refer to threats of suicide as one of the ways women abuse men.

Is it possible that a person who attempts suicide feels all the hopelessess as one who succeeds in it? Why do we see a successful suicide as a victim, but an unsuccessful one as a pretender? Do we demand death as our price for believing someone?

Why would a suicidal person want to continue in a world that couldn't care less about them? Where something of the magnitude of making life not worth living is not even worth asking about, but they are expected to overcome their misery to not be an inconvenience to others? Yeah right. Really will make someone want to live.

woman walking on building parapet

Is a part of us urging a person to commit suicide with the lure of finally believing them, if they go through on their threat? Are we punishing them for failing to commit suicide by denying their suffering as merely a show?

Is this rather not like reporting a traffic accident resulting in a near death like a deliberate road block? "Vehicles were at a standstill for two kilometers as the accident continued to occupy the street"? This is the height of media catering to "people like us" if an incident with the greatest suffering and threat to one person gets reported as the problem that person created for others.

Whatever it is, I believe media has the power to suggest ways of understanding the world to people, and it holds a responsibility to not promote a manipulative view about victims.

All photos from original report at MidDay.


Been reading a lot of news about people committing suicide. Suicides in general seem to be increasing. A few weeks ago, a friend spoke of a patient of his who had been suicidal, and I realized that this blog has very little on the subject in spite of me having thought about it a lot.

I have wanted to commit suicide a few times, though it was rather idle and it never got to even a planning stage, let alone attempting. But I know what that feels like. To be so fed up of everything and so dejected about any hope for a change that you want an exit. Instead of dying, I walked out. In a way, that was the death of the relationship and allowed me a new start, which is pretty much what the need of a suicidal person is.

Over the years, news of suicide has always got me wondering about what the conditions that person living in were. I have talked with several people on the subject and discovered a few things:

  1. Suicide is not an "ok" subject for conversation. If you talk about suicide, unless you clearly mention a specific person, the assumption is that "you may be thinking of something stupid". It is not even considered that you may be talking about suicide as a phenomenon that happens among people in general. There are immediate attempts to shut down the conversation or move to other subjects.
  2. Every person I spoke with. EVERY PERSON. Has thought about suicide. As in, their own death, at their own hands. It has usually been at a time of great frustration, but more than that, it has been curiosity about suicide itself. Every person I discussed this with has given some thoughts as to what a "viable" suicide would be - usually in terms of painless.
  3. Almost no person I spoke with had actually tried to commit suicide, or even planned to do it. Those who had almost always backed off the idea and called it their cowardice, or changed their minds and decided to fight back, or endure or otherwise hang on to hope. One person I know had made an attempt and got rescued. One person - who had actually talked about it with me as a kid - when I hadn't even thought about it yet - did commit suicide a few years ago - successfully. I am not aware of the details - I came to know much later through a mutual friend. One person I know committed suicide when all seemed to be going well. Had not talked with him. He wasn't that close a friend.
  4. Suicide is seen as a sign of weakness and shame in common conversation. Suicide is talked of as an angry rejection or frustrated giving up when speaking of own contemplations.
  5. Suicide is very personal. Be it thinking of your own, or someone you love, or someone you know, or someone you read of in the news. It is still very personal. Generates a lot of emotion - usually in favor of the victim, but I have known some who have hated the person committing suicide for "doing this to us".

I thought more about this when I first heard that we have a law making suicide illegal. It seemed rather strange. What does the court do? Judge a dead body? At that point, the only suicides I had known of were in films or media, etc.

As I grew up, I realized that suicides also fail. By then, I had suffered enough life to have wondered about death, and I felt an empathy for the poor person who was sad enough to want to die, and the court would then punish him for living. Seemed counter-intuitive. Still does.

Then I started thinking of other kinds of suicides that don't get this suicide treatment. The saints in the Indian history - samadhi was a kind of suicide. Only it was seen as a sign of a life completed rather than "atma hatya" - the word more common that implies the shame and other stuff. And then there were the other "shames" like Sati, or Jauhar and Saka among the Rajputs when faced with defeat at the hands of Islamic invaders. Sallekhana among the Jains.

Iccha mrityu (death as wished) is a revered concept in Indian mythology - the mark of a very superior being.

I read about the suicide warriors - soldiers who died in war in very risky attempts knowing full well that they wouldn't survive them. Suicide missions. The Kamikaze pilots of WWII, suicide bombers of the Taliban.

In the process, I realized that there were two kinds of suicide itself. One objectified the subject and planned its termination as a part of a larger understanding. The other was an escape when all other options looked bad.

I think, among the suicides we see today, as suicides (not attacks) the overwhelming story is one of inescapable odds being perceived by the victim (victim of self - now that's a thought we have adopted without realizing!).

I think, the stigma around suicide is claimed to be shame on behalf of the person who died, but in reality is shame for creating conditions where a person preferred death to the company s/he was in. Or, among less related people, it is a hesitation to antagonize the living over someone who has died.

In general, we have a morbid fear of death (which I think is very Christian) enshrined into our laws. I find far less hesitation to talk about suicide or death itself among the religious people, whose identity is not so westernized and they are fine with talking about things in their scriptures. Possibly the only subject where I think religious inclination is healthier than non-religious.

I think it is important that we stop this massive paranoia over death and suicide in particular, and be more open to really talking and sharing insights so that we may address these choices desperate people make better than calling them illegal and ignoring them.

I for one think it should be mandatory for all the people in the environment of the suicidal person to get counselling - whether home or work or school. Whatever. I also think that the best therapy for a suicidal person would be to give him or her a long paid holiday in a totally different place with totally different people and help them see if at the end of it they want to create a new life there or in another place, or return to their environment if they feel more able to tackle it.

More importantly, I see suicides as an indicator of failing systems, particularly when there is an alarming increase. Those systems can be educational, financial, social, professional or other, but they are situations that are so rigid that survival seems impossible. For example, this tweeted news that this week in Delhi, there has been one suicide every 17 hours so far. We need to wake up and see the cost of rigidity and intolerance on the weaker among us, because that is the first sign only. If we continue to create a world that is more and more difficult to live in, it won't be long till we consume ourselves.