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Trapped by birth, liberated by death

Why are many Asian women in Britain choosing to end their lives on the killer tracks? Vijay Dutt finds out.

world Updated: Sep 30, 2007 03:49 IST
Vijay Dutt
Vijay Dutt
Hindustan Times

Poignant tales of young British Asian women committing suicide have cast a sad reflection on the state of the Asian, in particular, UK's Indian community. This has been highlighted by a dramatic rise in women killing themselves on the railways in Southall, one of Britain's most famous South Asian areas.

The stretch of track that runs through this West London area now accounts for a third of all rail-suicides in England and Wales, according to the latest report by the British train company First Great Western Railways. Out of the 240 people across England and Wales, 80 belonged to this area.

South Asian Southfall

The UK Commission for Racial Equality states that over 55 per cent of Southall's population is of South Asian origin, with Indians dominating. An internal report from the train company said, "a disproportionately high number" of the total fatalities in the area were women of Asian origin, and 80 per cent from Punjab.

Tragic family

One of the most tragic and publicised incidents in recent times was Navjeet Sidhu. Clutching her five-year-old daughter and 23-month old son, she jumped in front of a Heathrow Express train passing the Southall platform, in 2005. She was reportedly heavily depressed and on medication, following problems in the marriage.

Culture trap

Sidhu's case is typical of the dilemma of growing up in a free society but still being guided by Indian traditions. Manjit Dogra who worked in the Department for Education and Skills dealing with schools in Southall, said girls who grew up in such an atmosphere find themselves buttressed between two cultures.

Forced marriage

Ranjit Singh, President of the Sikh Forum International blamed it on the practice of arranged marriages. Hannana Siddiqui, from women's group Southall Black Sisters added, "Psychiatric research shows there are rarely mental disorders, suggesting they are the result of social circumstances." In 2003, John Reid, then Secretary of State for Health, wrote that there was a significantly raised risk of suicide and attempted suicide among young women born in India and East Africa now living in Britain.

Internal community

Reid said potentially suicidal women might be difficult to detect and address as many "are reluctant to disclose distress within their own community .. and may also be hesitant to seek help." Lord Bhikhu Chhotalal Parekh, an authority on the Asian diaspora said it was imperative for Indian community leaders to now form a nucleus group which can persuade "our young women to confide their problems".

First Published: Sep 29, 2007 22:52 IST