Culture and suicide in rural India

It is no longer starvation and poverty that is an acute problem for many population groups in India and China, but rather suicide. Epidemiological Statistics of the world show that males have higher suicide rates while females have higher suicide attempt rates (WHO data). Men are more likely to commit suicide than women.

Female rights adovcate













In recent years, rural china and india has shown an exception. In rural china and india, females have five times higher completed suicides then men, and often use more violent methods such as pesticides and burning. One of the explanations has been that in rural areas, even mild suicide attempts can become lethal due to lack of medical resources in close range. Though this is very plausible, I have found another, more cultural reason for this.

In many cultures there are spiritual explanations for diseases and so goes for mental health. In India, there are three phenomenons.

bhut bhada; this means that the person is possessed by an evil demon that leads to insanity. It comes for no reason at all and is a result of higher powers.

karani; witchcraft preformed by another human, a spell cased to create mental ill health. It is almost always a family member (often considered to be a fude between the wives of two brothers) or other close family member.

pida; is a diagnosis of the mental ill health and can be a combination of bhut bhada and karani. Is a state that can manifest itself in many ways.

Here is the difference when men and women are thought to be subjected to either one of the “curses”

Men: Taken to a temple eg. Health Temple of Maharashtra region. Educed in a trance. A female is brought in to trance with him to take over some of the demons and share his pain. The wife’s family and the mans family get together and create a stronger bond to support the man. It creates a strong bond within the families. He gains control of his “demons”

Women: Family is shamed by her “curse”. The husband’s family does not want the shame so they do not participate in her rituals and healing, they cut off contact with her. The woman is left to care for her self, in her trance she is left to deal with her demons, no man is brought in to share her burden. She is left upon the mercy of those who volunteer.

This is taken from the book “Care in a multi cultural society” by Ingrid Hanssen 1998.

This brings me to the discussion. There seems to be a big inequality in the way mental ill health is seen in men and women. For men, they are given someone to share their burden. Their demons unite the family and his family as well as his wife’s family stand by his side while in the case of the female, her family is left in shame and she, left on her own.

There are several complex multicausal factors for suicide, but as I view it, this might be a contributing part, the way society views the female mental ill health.

Many cultures have this system, I have used India as an example because the statistics are so obvious. So perhaps, the statistics are telling us about something other than socioeceonomical factors , distances to hospitals and methods.  They might just be telling us where the preventive measures need to be made, and perhaps it is not in locking up pesticides and creating hospitals in rural areas, but perhaps we need more temples saying that there is no shame to be a woman with a “demon” on her mind.

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