A poignant episode of the show Pazer (The Truth) on Red FM J&K Youtube Channel, hosted by multi-talented Rayees Mohiuddin, tried to peep into the mind of a suicide survivor. It evoked anguish and brooding over the dismal state of affairs.
Across Kashmir, suicides are rising. Especially among youth. People are tired in general but youth are more tired and closed off. Fuelled by mistrust, unemployment and general disillusionment around, suicides are becoming a leading cause of death in Kashmir. The data compiled by National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) records around 6000 cases of suicide in Kashmir between 1990 and 2019, with experts attributing the cause to the armed conflict. Experts also cite underlying health issues like anxiety, major depressive disorders and drug addiction as related causes for suicide.
As the attempted suicide cases and deaths run in thousands through three decades, it is becoming an upsetting concern. Recently, there has been a dramatic spurt in suicides here. A kind of ‘suicide contagion’ seems to work as more people take their life or suffer morbidity because of a failed attempt to suicide. A news report Amid Suicides, Experts Warn Against ‘Copycat Phenomena’ in Kashmir quoted experts warning about the ‘copycat phenomenon’ wherein distressed and vulnerable persons feel inspired to end their life by consuming an overdose of information about suicides through media ( Kashmir Observer, 01 June-2021).
Such ‘copycat suicides’ are triggered by widespread media coverage of suicide incidents with glaring headlines and graphic details. In fact, the dissemination of “last videos” of suicide victims proves counterproductive. People with mental issues start identifying themselves with the victim and internalize all the negativity in these videos and see suicide as a solution. The pre-suicide video, recorded by a Kulgam boy and shared widely on social media, had enough content to allow many others beset by economic woes and discontent to relate to it. And stimulate their suicidal thoughts as an impulsive reaction. A string of similar cases of self-annihilation followed. From the number of jumping into river Jhelum to self hangings, the WhatsApp forwards and social media redirects complicated the mess. For reporting suicides, beyond sensational use, this ‘over-indulgence’ creates an ugly bounce back.
Conversely, the stories of suicide survivors don’t get a mention anywhere (Pazer show by Rayees being a brilliant exception). The 2007 India Today news report cites “Nearly 24,000 men and women, mostly young, have attempted suicide in the last 17 years in Kashmir. Of them about 3,000 have been successful” (Mental health breakdown leads increased suicidal every year). Since then, 14 years down, the situation has exacerbated into a foreboding cataclysm. The suicide survivors outnumber actual suicide fatalities. Against this backdrop, it’s not only about the devastating impact on the families of the persons who die of suicide, numerous cases luckily survive after suicide attempts but have long-lasting and severe associated physical health issues. Lately, a young girl tried to end her life by consuming acid. She survived only after a portion of her stomach and food pipe was removed surgically.
Sadly, many persons who survive after attempted suicide by toxins experience lifelong neurological disorders. In many cases, we may not necessarily notice poor health and social functioning after a suicide attempt. However, this should ring an alarm as young suicide- attempters usually warrant long-term follow-up by psychiatrists and supportive care at home after the attempt. Besides, studies suggest that persons who have a history of an attempt to suicide have added tendency towards attempting suicide than the persons who don’t have any history of an attempt to suicide.
So while suicide survivors need help from psychiatric counsellors besides care and mental support from their respective families, they usually get cursed and condemned for their actions. We as a society reject seeing their action as a symptom of their mental problem and fail providing them proper treatment to alleviate their stress. We mourn for those we lose. But we ignore those who are on the brink of collapse.
Of course, suicide is not a way out of any crisis. We are all fragile, mere weaklings. People don’t have jobs and have to struggle to make ends meet. People lose their loved ones and foster the wound forever. And then, Kashmir is a breeding ground of sob stories. Being stressed doesn’t have to mean a lack of education or poverty. It also means you feel that you aren’t being seen and heard---you are Invisible. Whether it’s the flamboyant presence on social media platforms or jamborees of neo-rich here; the extravaganza and lurid display of possessions, from cars to houses—there is a serious schism growing in our society. A son whose father’s salary didn’t arrive for months and a young girl whose parents couldn’t afford dowry; an unemployed man lost to drugs and a shattered family bearing the cost of conflict---between haves and have-nots in every sphere, from political to socio-economic class.
The need of the hour is to work on knowing our society and understanding it better. Dispassionately, without prejudices and taboos. Especially our religious preachers and scholars (imams and ulemas) must be far less righteous in their tone and a lot more humble. The suicide menace is more complicated than the way we comment and look at it. Before any suicide wave hits us, we need to look inwards and sort the binary in us, amongst us and outside us.