Every Keralite heard with shock and sorrow the suicide story of a mother and daughter on Monday, in Marayamuttam, near Neyyattinkara, Thiruvananthapuram. Initial reports were that the cause of suicide was the fear attachment of their home and compound by the lending bank, on their failure to repay a loan.
Irate locals rose in fierce protest against the bank, marched to the branch and blocked the road. It was the husband of the deceased woman himself who informed the media that there was threat of attachment and that the suicides were due to the mental torture they felt over it. But it took only anothyer day for the latter revelation that those reports were incorrect, and the real cause of suicide was the persistent torture by the husband and mother-in-law. The forensic team that inspected the house found a suicide note on the wall and in paper, based on which the husband and the mother-in –law and two close relatives were taken into custody.
The 44-year old Lekha and her 19-year old daughter, Vaishnavi were the ones who committed suicide. The mother's impassioned suicide note begins by saying "I have been experiencing this ever since I entered this house". Most of the usual ingredients of the common family problems like dowry, sorcery and scandal figure in the note too. If a mother has to suffer torment in the name of dowry even after her daughter attains the age of 19, that is a tragic situation. The abusive mother-in-law and the husband who abetted her, appear to be the main villains of the piece. The tale also contains the strange ways of superstitution in which they seek help from a miracle man to escape the bank's attachment moves. To cut a long story short, in a family background surpassing a detective story, when the mother and daughter realized they could not survive, they resorted to self-immolation.
In fact the plight of the mother and daughter of Neyyattinkara came to public notice mostly thanks to its twists and turns in news reports. But such suicides are not unfamiliar to Malayalis. Along with Kerala's ranking in literacy, the state also has the dubious distinction of leading the suicide rate table. This can be seen as a queer phenomenon of yielding to defeat in life even when ranking high in living standards. But perhaps this is not unique to Kerala. At the global level, countries that rank high in development indices also have high rates of suicide. Although several studies researching on their causes have been made and remedial suggestions put forward, the trend is still continuing. It all boils down to a lesson that material resources alone do not equip them to view life positively and tide over life's crises with equanimity.
But such bad news is emerging not only in the matter of suicides. Reports from different parts of the state abound about domestic persecution that can be related only with pain. Torture of children by parents together, children deserting parents on the street, places of worship or old age homes and steep rise in the rate of divorces, all are signs of the fact that the strands of bonds connecting a society are weakening. The feature is of each family living in its own isolated shell and fighting its agonies solo, finally to cease existing. The tenderness and charm of filial bonds get reduced to monthly bills paid to old age homes or hostels. It is getting high time we made an introspection on whether we are turning hollow inside to such an extent as to severely enfeeble social health each passing day.
Many are the reasons to which such disintegration, loneliness and suicides are attributed – ranging from alcoholism to expatriate life. Each of them has its own elements of truth too. At the same time, the question that deserves the most serious thought is how effective the support lent by the society is. In the light of the tragic suicides of Neyyattinkara, a picture portrayed by several media is of a family that does not mingle much with locals where even close neighbours are not clear about what happens within it. If even in a rural setting families live without knowing each other, that is by no means a good indication. It looks a paradox that in a state with residents' associations existing all over, and with socio-cultural and political organizations being active at grassroots level, there is an increase of people and families who get isolated. All point to the several factors on which the entire Malayalis should make introspection. It would do well if the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare undertakes a study of this. We need to explore, by using clubs and residents' associations, what plans can be made to strengthen our social health.