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Strange Indo-Fijian silences on suicides [The Fiji Times, 5 Sep 2002]


Week after week the horror of suicides continue, mostly by Indo-Fijians.

And two sets of Indo-Fijian organisations, religious and political, who could help considerably, remain strangely silent.

There are calls for the better monitoring and counseling of potential suicides.  But this only targets the problems after the symptoms have surfaced.

How prevent the problem in the first place? There are no easy answers.

But simplistically blaming unemployment and poverty is not correct. There are communities with greater unemployment and poverty, without such high rates of suicide.

Why not look at the mental state of the person who decides that ending his/her life is the only or preferred solution to his/her problems?

The impact of the military coups

It is trite to say that the coups of 1987 and 2000 have had a devastating impact on the mental state of most Indo-Fijians, creating intense feelings of helplessness and hopelessness.

Indo-Fjian political parties, leaders and their supporters were forcibly deprived of their full political rights to be a legitimate part of the government of this country.

What happens to the self-esteem of Indo-Fijians who, faced with violent disenfranchisement, are unable to respond violently themselves, are forced to bottle up their frustrations, and to escape from the problem?

The situation is worsened when Indo-Fijian political parties preach messages of hopelessness, which they promise to alleviate, in return for voter support.

Of course, the Indo-Fijian sense of hopelessness and helplessness is not just a political creation.

Even apolitical Indo-Fijians, especially the poor,  perceive that there is no future for their families in aFijiwhere they face daily violence and systematic discrimination by the Government of the day.

And when they see that virtually all of the qualified and educated Indo-Fijians are migrating overseas while the rest are “stuck” inFiji.

Effects of rural:urban migration: breakdown of rural societies

There is also a massive migration of Indo-Fijians from the rural areas to urban areas.

(Thus the majority of Suva’s Indo-Fijians are not fromSuvaitself.)

Both these sets of migrations are leading to a virtual breakdown of Indo-Fijian social cohesiveness and support systems.

Several decades ago, the poorest of Indo-Fijian communities in urban and rural areas easily co-operated to build model schools and temples.  Such community spirit is now virtually gone.  Every family (and every one) is for himself.

If you are poor, unable to migrate, your educated and well-off relatives have moved away, your agricultural land-leases are not being renewed, you seem to have no means of supporting your family, you have totally lost your self-esteem – what do you fall back on?

Is it surprising that suicides have been on the rise in the last fifteen years?

What are Indo-Fijian organisations doing?

Can the Indo-Fijian political organisations and leaders examine whether their own messages to their voters can help in countering the horrendous rate of Indo-Fijian suicides?

But probably far more influential on Indo-Fijian suicides can be the religious organisations.

Interestingly, religious organisations have been quite vocal on the political coups of 1987 and 2000.   Yet a hundred times more Indo-Fijians continue to die from suicides than have died from the  coups since 1987.

So why are Hindu organisations largely silent on suicides?

Hinduism is a powerful religion which has survived for thousands of years, and will no doubt survive into the future.

Like all religions, Hinduism offers a guide to everyday good living (even if religious fervour can be horribly misused by evil people).

And the teachings of Hinduism do not condone suicides.

But the Ramayana preaches a wrong message

But then, a different message is given by one of the long-revered Ramayana stories about the Hindu deities, Rama and Sita.

In one of the tales Sita is abducted by the evil demon king from Lanka.  Rama eventually rescues Sita.  But he is unable to believe Sita when she says that she had not been molested by Ravan.

To save her honor, Sita decides to commit ritual suicide by burning herself on a pyre.  Rama does not stop her.  But the story ends happily because one of the deities does not allow Sita to be harmed by the flames.

It is a nice tale, but aren’t the hidden messages disturbing?

Even if Sita had been molested by Ravan, surely it would have been without her consent.  Why would Rama “blame the victim”?

And more importantly, why should Sita attempt to commit suicide because her husband was unhappy with a wife who had been molested?  Does a victim have to die to prove her honour?    And could she not, if necessary, continue to have a meaningful life living apart from her husband?

And why did Rama let Sita her sit on the funeral pyre?

For Hindus, Ram and Sita, and the other characters in the Ramayana and Mahabharata, are not just deities, but role models.

Most Hindu pundits will teach that Hinduism is opposed to the taking of one’s own life.

But does not Rama and Sita story also suggest that if suicide was an honourable way out for a Hindu goddess, then so also can it be a solution for an ordinary Hindu?

It also does not help that some strands in Hinduism expect women to play supporting roles to men, without the full independence that men take for granted for themselves.

The poor status of women

It is ironic that Hinduism is the only major religion in the world which has women goddesses, and many of them.

But in Hindu societies and families, women (however educated) are not given the same status as men- in education, household decision-making, inheritance practices, or in personal freedom.

For many young Indo-Fijian wives in rural areas, there is the added disadvantage of being treated by their in-laws as chattel, with few rights (if any).  Their only role in life is to work for their new families and serve their men unquestioningly.

If the marriages are not working out for them, they cannot go home to their parents, because of the social condemnation and sense of shame.

In desperation, many such women choose to take their lives, sometimes taking those of their children as well.

Hinduism does not preach the equality of women

While Hinduism does not explicitly preach for the exploitation of women, neither does it preach their equality with the men, even where the women are as educated as the men.

Do religious organisations and leaders (nearly all men) speak out against the suppression of women in rural areas?

Of course, such teaching is not in the sacred books and would be totally new.  But Hinduism is not fixed in time.

Hinduism as practised two thousand years ago, was different from what was practised a hundred years ago, and different from what is practised today.

Our societies have evolved massively from what used to exist inIndiathree thousand years ago, and the economic roles of women have changed just as dramatically.

Can religious organisations examine how their teachings at weddings, deaths, and the many other religious functions, can counter the negative forces that lead to suicides amongst Indo-Fijians?

The horrible impact of Bollywood


It is unfortunately also that there are now new “religions” affecting the attitudes of Indo-Fijian people.


For more than a decade now, faced with intractable problems, Indo-Fijians have been escaping into the  worlds of the  many Indian Sky TV programmes and videos of Bollywood movies.


Day after day, they absorb tension-filled melodrama where the heroines (and heroes) virtuously threaten to commit suicide, because of some “insult to their honour”.


And our Indo-Fijians continue to commit suicide at astronomical rates, which for particular age groups, and regions inFiji, must be amongst the highest in the world.


Such high rates of suicide indicate that our societies are at braking point.


They indicate that our own major social organisations must mount emergency action on the very mental attitudes that encourage suicidal tendencies in the first place.


Can our political and religious organisations and leaders take heed?

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