In modernizing India, suicide is on the rise among young

Wed Dec 10, 2014 4:02pm EST
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By Andrew MacAskill and Tanya Ashreena

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Pinki Chauhan, a straight-A physics and maths student, arrived at her university campus in India shortly after breakfast, poured petrol over her wispy frame and lit a match.The 19-year-old ran screaming across the college grounds in Gurgaon, near the capital New Delhi, before falling to her knees in flames outside the principal's office. She died a few days later.

Her brother, Arun, said the incident a couple of months ago came after Pinki had been upset after receiving zero marks in an exam, and had been arguing with teachers for her paper to be re-marked.

But Pinki's problems ran much deeper. Highly ambitious, she was anxious she wouldn't fulfill her dreams. At the same time she'd been under pressure from some family members to follow a more traditional route - to marry and settle down.

"She didn't know what else to do," Arun said. "She put a lot of pressure on herself."

Pinki's story is emblematic of problems confronting India's young, in a society impatient for progress and yet underprepared for the challenges that inevitably accompany modernity.

Cultural issues, discrimination, parental pressure and competition for highly paid jobs are combining to create a suicide epidemic among young Indians. Compounding the problem is a system that barely recognizes mental health issues.

India has the world's highest suicide rate among 15 to 29 year olds, ahead of next-placed North Korea, according to a September report by the World Health Organization. For the first time, suicide is the leading cause of death among young Indian women, overtaking deaths during childbirth, the WHO says.In most parts of the world suicides tend to occur among the most disadvantaged groups, but in India they are happening among better educated young adults living in the most prosperous regions. In south India, where literacy rates and incomes are highest in the country, suicide rates are 10 times higher than in northern states, according to a study published in The Lancet medical journal in 2012.   "Aspirations are at a much higher level and society around them is not always keeping pace, so the disappointment is much greater," said Vikram Patel, a professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, who carried out the research.