The latest instance of a bizarre suicide by Karthik has once again drawn attention to the excessively high suicide rate in the four southern states.
Statistics for 2006, the latest available, show that 38.6 per cent of all suicides in India were committed in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala. Against an all India figure of 10.5 suicides per 1 lakh population, Kerala recorded 26.8 — the highest among states — Karnataka 21.7, Tamil Nadu 18 and Andhra 16.4. The British medical journal The Lancet noted three years ago that the suicide rate in South India — the country’s IT hub and economic powerhouse — was the highest in the world.
Individual southern cities have a still grimmer record. The total number of suicides in Chennai — arguably India’s suicide capital — was 2427 in 2006, followed by Bangalore at 2008. (Delhi, with a much larger population, recorded barely half of Chennai’s, 1296.) In urban areas, against an average figure of 12 suicides per 1 lakh population in India, Chennai stands at 37.8, with Bangalore just a step behind at 35.3.
Some instances, specially from Kerala, strain credulity. MP Prasad of Kochi, who consumed potassium cyanide, actually began writing down how it felt, before the chemical had its effect and stopped him midway. “Cyanide is acrid. It burns the tongue badly,” he recorded. An eight-year-old again from Kochi, killed himself a few months ago because his parents did not allow him to play cricket!
No convincing explanation for the high rate has as yet been put forward, barring the suggestion that suicides are probably more faithfully recorded in the South than elsewhere in the country. Psychologists suggest the usual reasons, noting that the 15-25 age group is the most vulnerable.
“The causes could be illness, social causes, family problems, failure in examination, use of drugs and alcohol, poverty, love affairs, work pressure and pressure to succeed,” said Dr G Gururaj, professor and head, Department of Epidemiology, National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences (Nimhans), Bangalore.
Parents are often not even conscious that their children are emotionally on another plant. “Most parents are physically there and even make it a point to talk to their children. The problem is they don’t listen,” says Anthony Swami, a counselor at Sneha, a Chennai-based suicide counselling centre.