Desperate endgame

There has been a spate of suicides by youngsters ever since the year began. Shoma A. Chatterji tries to analyse the factors behind the malady

(To be) threatened with tomorrow’s profoundly insulting...I sentence this nature, which has so unceremoniously and impudently brought me into annihilation...and because I am unable to destroy nature, I am destroying only myself, weary of enduring a tyranny in which there is no guilty one.

— Dostoevsky in Diary of a Writer

Eleven-year-old Neha Sawant, who had participated in three TV dance reality shows, hung herself with a dupatta at home in Thane. Her parents had stopped her from participating in more such shows as her academic grades were falling and had pulled her out of the dance academy

IN 3 Idiots, a scathing indictment on the numbers-chasing, grades-grabbing rigid education system, a talented youngster, Joy, commits suicide because the principal of the elite engineering college refuses to accept his invention of an innovative project as part of his assignment. The wall behind the hanging body is filled with two words, scribbled in large letters – I QUIT.

This was a film. Reality is more brutal, merciless and irreversible. Eighteen-year-old Grenville Gomes could not gain admission to any college after he passed his board exams with 53 per cent. He slashed his wrists with a knife. And to make sure he died, he also hanged himself, that too on his 18th birthday. "The reason given was that there were no vacant seats. But he had been told that there were agents operating in some of these colleges who could help him buy a seat anywhere between Rs 5,000 and Rs 35,000," said his older brother, Recton. Grenville had also burnt his certificates before ending his life. In a suicide note to his mother, he wrote, "Mummy, I wanted to live." This happened in 1995 in Mumbai.


  • Share your thoughts and feelings with people who you think will understand your pain. If there is nobody you can trust, meet a professional counsellor, who would be non-judgmental and objective.
  • Set realistic goals and standards. Stop, if you think or see yourself pushing beyond the limits.
  • Set aside time for leisure and relaxation. It would help you to stay fresh and prevent burn out.
  • Always think positive and be rational. Remember, one failure is in no way a reflection of what you are in totality. Failing an exam or an interview is not the end of the world — look beyond.
  • Give yourself an opportunity to explore and discover yourself. Get experimental and do things that you haven’t tried before. It may be a hobby, a new skill or an adventure trip — you might just learn more about yourself and your talent that improves your sense of self-worth.

— Dr Sanjay Chugh

Flash forward to 2010: Eleven-year-old Neha Sawant hung herself with a dupatta at her home in Thane. She had participated in three TV dance reality shows. But her parents had stopped her from participating in more such shows as her academic grades were falling and had pulled her out of the dance academy. Fourteen-year-old Rupali Shinde committed suicide by hanging herself at her Thane home. Seventeen-year-old Reshma Dhotre killed herself at her Mulund residence in Mumbai. Dhanashree Patil, a former student of Amritvahini College of Engineering in Sangamner (Ahmednagar), ended her life in Nashik. Twenty-year-old MBBS Part-I student, Bhajanpreet Bhullar of D.Y. Patil College (Navi Mumbai), killed herself. Thirteen-year-old Sushant Patil hanged himself in the toilet of Shardashram Boys High School (Dadar). Seventeen-year-old Vineet More, too, hanged himself. Eighteen-year-old Vrushali Kale was found hanging from the ceiling of her hostel room in DP Institute of Nursing in Haveli, on the outskirts of Pune. Twentyone-year-old Prajakta K. Kshatriya was found hanging in her home in Sinnar, Nashik. Investigations suggest she took the step after performing badly in her third year graduation examinations. All these deaths happened between January 2 and 8.

These suicides are symptoms of a dreaded, hidden and undiagnosed social disease that has taken root and is slowly spreading to infect those left behind. According to figures by the National Crime Records Bureau of the Home Ministry, 13 out of every 100 suicides are by teenagers. However, it gives no figures for attempted suicide, which could be in multiples of the actual suicide figures. The last available report (2007) on Accidental Deaths and Suicides in India prepared by the National Crime Records Bureau shows West Bengal leading the country, with 419 children up to 14 having killed themselves, followed by Andhra Pradesh (315) and Madhya Pradesh (205). Most deaths are related to the pressure of examinations. West Bengal children are especially prone to this pressure because, "our socio-economic aspirations are inextricably linked to education," says economist Avirup Sarkar.

Edwin Shneidman, co-founder of the Los Angeles Suicide Prevention Centre, points out four common factors: the first is inimicality, hostility against oneself. The second is perturbation, a state of extreme anxiety, with the feeling of being closed in, having no way out. The third is constriction, with the suicidal person’s perceptions narrowing into a tunnel vision where the mind focusses only on one unendurable emotion. The last is cessation, death as the only way out. Each of these teenage suicides could be fitted into either of these descriptions, thus blurring, beyond recognition, all attempts to identify specific causes.

According to figures given by the National Crime Records Bureau of the Home Ministry, 13 out of every 100 suicides are by teenagers. Photo: AFP

"Lot of importance is given to education in our country. The pressure to excel and become a success is huge, which only deepens the competitive feeling. People’s identities are measured only by their grades, degrees, educational institutes, where they study or the companies they work for. Thus, from a very early age, children are trained to judge themselves by their academic performance and not looking at the complete picture," says Dr Sanjay Chugh, a Delhi-based senior consultant and neuro-psychiatrist.

Teenage and adolescent suicides, say psychiatrists, are not triggered by identifiable psychiatric disorders but are more stress-related. These suicides are the result of an environmentally induced stressful situation or event, which makes the person helpless and vulnerable. Overcome by negative feelings, they decide to take their own life.

"Suicides are often the result of a society in transition," says Dr Shekhar Sheshadri, professor at the child and adolescent psychiatry department, National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro-Sciences (NIMHANS). He added that in Kolkata alone, there were around 12,000 to 15,000 attempted suicides in the 18 -25 age-group. A report published in the official journal of the Central Social Welfare Board shows that 60 per cent of Indians, who commit suicide, are below 30 years and about 40 per cent are below 18.Youth is more prone to despair and have lower levels of tolerance to endure pain, the report said.

Kerala had a dubious world record of 27 out of every 1,00,000 persons committing suicide every day in 1994. A majority of those persons belonged to the 18-20 age-group, totalling a staggering 2,824 suicides out of the total number of suicides. Dr V. Suraraj Mani, Chief, department of psychiatry, General Hospital, Kerala Health Services, Thiruvananthapuram, says: "Kerala, more than any other state, had very rapid urbanisation. This has led to a radical change in the value systems, especially of the younger generation. This change has led to mental stress. The other factor is the collapse of the joint family system. Members of a joint family can share their problems among themselves. But in a nuclear family, each member is condemned to suffer his or her burden privately. There is no meaningful interaction between parents and the children or even between the husband and wife. When the pressure becomes too much for one individual, the suicidal tendency is bound to develop."

Competition in education is a major trigger for teenage and child suicides. Ten students in Thiruvananthapuram killed themselves soon after the SSC results were declared in 1992. The fear of failure or of not getting high marks causes severe stress. Parents drive the children hard. Teachers put pressure. Children are tormented by a sense of guilt when they fail to live up to their parents’ expectations. It is this guilt that drives them to suicide than actual failure or fear of failure in examinations.

Personality Pointers

Emile Durkheim, in his book Suicide (1897), stated that the suicidal tendency is the result of collective forces acting upon the individual and its strength varies inversely with the degree of cohesion that exists in society. The current spate of teenage and adolescent suicides could be said to be a blend of egoistic and anomic suicide. Egoistic because suicide-prone teenagers are very self-centred, individualistic and have a reduced immunity against "collective suicidal inclination." And anomic because our society — parents, peer group, school and friends — is no longer able to anticipate, understand and control these actions.

Impulsive act

Youngsters are often vulnerable to impulsive suicides. Nine-year-old Deepak wanted to accompany his father who was going out to buy a pair of shoes for him. The father said no. By the time he returned with the shoes, the boy had hanged himself from the ceiling fan. Another boy studying in Class XII hanged himself when his father’s friend met him at the local theatre where, having skipped classes, he had gone to watch an adult English film. He had feared that the friend might complain to his father.


Of the 1 million cases of suicides reported the world over in 2000, over 1 lakh were in India. In 1989, a suicide was attempted every 7.6 minutes; today, it occurs every five minutes. With a suicide being committed every fifth minute and about 15 attempts being made for every suicide committed, India faces a major crisis.

Source: Choosing to Live-Guidelines for Suicide Prevention Counselling in Domestic Violence

– Report by Aruna Burte, Sangeeta Rege, Padma Deosthali


In 1995, there were a number of teenage suicides in Mumbai after the SSC and HSC results. The LTMG hospital in Sion registered nine attempted suicides by students. Three SSC students (all girls), two engineering students (a boy and girl), three B.A. students (all girls) and a boy studying in Class VIII were the victims. Only one, the boy from the engineering college, died. All these cases, except for the three girls doing their B.A., were related to academic stress. The three undergraduate girls, one Christian and two Muslim, were listed as ‘social problems.’ Ironically, the girl, who anticipated failure at the SSC exams and died after taking poison, passed the exam.

One reason given for the high rate of teenage suicides in India is the rapid social and political transformation. The culture of violence and corruption spreads through cinema, the media and the body politic enhances negative influences pervading a society, in general, and the family, in particular. Nuclear families, working couples, consumerism and the influx of global culture means parents, who become the victims of stress, transfer much of it to their offspring. They do not give themselves or their children enough space to understand each other. Parenting against the backdrop of an upwardly mobile consumerist culture is equated with the quantity of material comforts and luxuries it can provide the younger ones in the family instead of sustaining a relationship of mutual love, understanding, empathy and goodwill.

Dr James Vadakkumcherry, retired trainer at Police Training College, Thiruvananthapuram, says that television and homework have snuffed out family prayers in the Christian family. Children grow up without imbibing life-supporting values and "in the face of challenges, they choose the easy and comforting option of suicide." Dr Ranjit Basu, a behavioural psychologist and professor of applied psychology, University of Calcutta, singles out academic pressure as the major culprit. "The most significant reason is the hyper-competitive educational system. The competitiveness begins even before a child starts school. The pressure increases at the college level and this is one reason why so many engineering and medical students attempt suicide."

"Factors that force people to attempt or commit suicide could be external or internal. For many people standard of performance and evaluation is too high, failure in which leads to a sense of shame and worthlessness. Suicide might just be their way of punishing themselves. For others, it is the high expectations of parents, teachers, employers and relatives that place them under enormous pressure to perform and excel. Failure to perform reflects negatively on one’s self-worth and ability and the inability to handle the emotional pain that stems out of this might just make living too suffocating and stressful," Dr Chugh elucidates.

"I do not like this life. Therefore, I am ending it. Nobody should cry over my death. I do not like the school. The marks I am getting are too less," wrote one boy in his suicide note. The note spells out its own sad story.