Indians and murder-suicides

Two murder suicides in two continents, separated by just a few days and eight thousand miles.  And yet they are so vastly different in nature.   Indians, for one,, seem to have a different way of doing things when it comes to murder-suicides.

I seem to be reading about murder-suicides so much more frequently this year.   I leave it to the sociologists to speculate on the causes – recession, depression or plain old family tension; all I know is that they are increasing.

But all murder suicides are not the same.  Take the two examples I am talking about. Yesterday, George Sodini opened fire at a gym in Pennsylvania and killed three women because, you see, he didn’t have a girlfriend. Last week, in India, a senior IAS official, Jagadananda Panda killed himself and most of his family because he was being investigated by the CBI. He even felt the need to write a suicide note saying “I am innocent”.

This, to me, typifies the differences between the murder suicides I read.   The average murder suicide that I read about in the US papers seems to be perpetrated by a disgruntled gunman (and it is always a man) who shoots random people in a public place as a reaction to some perceived insult or injury, like, George Sodini yesterday, or Jiverly Voong a few months back.

The average murder suicide committed by an Indian (or someone of  Indian origin) is committed within closed doors, and is targeted exclusively at family, though it may or may not involve suicide pacts.

It doesn’t even matter when the Indian resides in India, or abroad.  The Wall Street Journal carried a news article some months back about Devan Kalathat, an Indian American in Santa Clara, CA.  Raghavan Devarajan a.k.a. Devan Kalathat killed his two young sons, his visiting in-laws, and tried to kill his wife before committing suicide.  Then there was the horrifying act of Karthik Rajaram, who killed his three sons and his wife before committing suicide.

Moving away from the US,  there was the British Indian doctor who showed the way a few years ago (and no doubt there have been more recent examples too).   You don’t have to search very long to find more instances of this in Indian newspapers either – whether it is this family of four in Chennai, or this 10 month old baby in Bangalore or this family in Mumbai.

To start with, suicide itself is a totally misguided route to take, and surely no problem is no big that it demands one’s life. The only explanation I can think of is that it’s a product of a moment of weakness, utter desperation, an unbalanced mind, or some combination of these.

Just as I cannot understand why someone who decides to commit suicide would then go into a public place and shoot random strangers,  I am equally baffled as to why one would choose to kill off family members.  What goes on in people’s minds when they do this? How do the other family members agree to a joint suicide?

Is it some misguided sense of kindness? Once they decide to commit suicide, does the perpetrator worry about the financial turmoil the family would face at his death and try to “rescue” his family ?

Or is it some kind of honor killing? An attempt to save family members from disgrace? Does it really come down to an unwillingness to face society in changed circumstances ?

It’s true that as a people, we care far more for society’s opinion than many others.

But is there something deeper that lies in this behavior?  Does it mean, for instance, that in times of crisis, do we tend to turn inwards, and seek support from our own family, and believe that ‘everyone is in this together’?  While in the US, say, people would rather blame others/ society as a whole for their failures and therefore try to kill strangers?

Or is it that we are such peace-loving people who are so distressed at creating a scene that even when committing suicide, we do it behind closed doors, hiding our secret shame from others until it is too late?

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11 thoughts on “Indians and murder-suicides

  1. Well, not that I can be sure about this but I guess you were kinda right in your last second para.
    With Indians, maybe its the thought that after they are gone, the family will suffer and the society will start pointing fingers and it’ll become very tough for the remaining family to even survive there and so, maybe they chose to kill the family and take their own life. Am not sure if the family consent is there – how can kids be a part of all this anyway.
    With others, probably the way you said – blame on society, kill others and then oneself.

    In either case, a sad situation. One side the family and inner circle bears it and the other side, its innocents who fall prey to this murder suicide.

    • You are right, but I wonder if they ever consider that the family members might not worry as much about the said pointed fingers 😦 That the family might actually (shockingly) want to live..

  2. Lekhni:

    You say: “The only explanation I can think of is that it’s a product of a moment of weakness, utter desperation, an unbalanced mind, or some combination of these.”

    If you talk with people who survive their suicide attempts, they will confirm this to be the case. Those who calculate and succeed were probably pathologically damaged beyond redemption.

    The Indian/ SE Asian “difference” also lies in an unusual, bordering on sociopathic, focus on losing “izzat”. Which is also a point you make.

  3. It’s simple, really. The Indian patriarchical belief system dictates that a man’s family is worthless without him and therefore, does not have the right to exist. It’s the mentality of Sati and shaved head widows.

    • Do people really think this way? You mean seemingly sane, non-suicidal/ psychologically impaired people also believe this? That’s a scary thought.

  4. Two murder suicides in two continents, separated by just a few days and eight thousand miles. And yet they are so vastly different in nature.

    “yet” ? What else did you expect? You sound as if it is the norm for murders that happen 8000 miles apart to be similar.

  5. What is more horrifying is the relatives that are left behind, like the wife’s parents who realise that their grandchildren and daughter are no more because her husband decided to end it all… And at times, it surprises you to know that people you thought wonderful and rational can commit such acts out of the blue. Jagadananda Panda was a close acquaintance of my mother-in-law and she still talks about what a good man he was and how he contributed to charity through the Bhajan samithi the two of them belonged to. Perhaps this teaches us that no manner of praying is enough unless you also have the courage and faith to face it all.

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