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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Ultimate Disconnect

My niece passed her tenth grade exams a few months ago. A couple of weeks before her exams, we got the shocking news that one of her friends, a girl whom we knew since childhood, jumped off a 6-story building on the artery leading to my house, and ended her life.

Sneha Sree, this unfortunate 15-year old, was externally bubbly, fun loving, well liked, and academically near the top of her class. She went to the same school that my son goes for years. We love the school for the individual attention and love that the teachers bestow on the kids. The hurt and grief of the teachers at what happened was as deep as that of the parents.

She apparently planned this closure for months, confiding in only one friend, who was also supposed to end his life along with her. On the eventful day, the two teenagers rode an auto at dusk to an under-construction building, comfortably climbed up to the terrace without being stopped by any watchman, and she took the leap first. The boy thankfully backed out at the last moment.

The reason for Sneha Sree's end is not falling in or out of love, monetary or other family difficulties, lack of well-wishers, lack of recognition, illness, failure, etc. It seems to be something deeper.

For the 10-19 year old segment, South India has been described as the suicide capital of the world. Kerala is the state with the highest suicide rate in India and Pondichery tops the list of union territories. The other south Indian states, Tamilnadu, AP, Karnaka are not far behind. (AP now ranks second in India.) All states are above Indian average, and significantly above the world average. The rate of suicide among young women is about three times as it is in young men, in south India. Worldwide, the reverse is true; many more men commit suicide than women. 

Interestingly, south India also happens to be ahead of much of India in terms of literacy, knowledge industries, law and order, international exposure, gender equality, availability of quality education and healthcare. None of this "development" has a positive impact on suicide rates; my worry is if the correlation is actually negative.

To me, the origin of suicides among youth from otherwise fortunate families seems to be a growing disconnect with people around them - with the family, with the community, with the society at large. A dissatisfaction, disinterest, boredom, a sense of pointlessness of the whole thing. The primary focus of upwardly mobile families, more often than not, seems to lie away from the children. Indirectly, most things we do are for our children, but my concern is about directly. Grown-ups and teenage children spend much less time together today than when I grew up - families are smaller, shared interests are fewer, distractions are many, and egos are so much more developed (on both sides). One sees a substantially wider disconnect between groups of youngsters and groups of 35-pluses in functions and gatherings today than we saw 20-30 years ago. There is much more loneliness today for teenagers (albeit under the anesthesia of cell phones, head phones, Internet , TV). Most teens that I know cannot relate to 75% of even the most youth-oriented newspaper - the politics, the strikes, the apparent priorities of elders just seem so unreal. The world is much more complex for a teenager to wade through today than it was a generation ago.

It will be a truism but a banality to say that the youth is our future, so I will instead say that, demographic dividend is India's primary passport to achieving great success. Nothing can be achieved if we, as families and as communities, do not learn to make our youngsters feel connected with us.

1 comment:

  1. i completely agree.i have heard Many of my teenaged patients talking about suicides when a problem surfaces.It seems to be an easy way out of a problem.