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?