Exploring the Eclipse of Equality

Suicide as Confrontation: Inside the Telangana statehood movement

In Guest Blogger on April 2, 2010 at 11:35 am

Here is the first in a future series of guest blogs from members of the Confrontations community. The post was written by a student of mine, Tejaswini Madabhushi, who has personal experience with the region in which a recent and arresting New York Times article on student suicide in the cause of Intra-national statehood in India was set. She has graciously agreed to share her thoughts with the Confrontations audience to give us a brief look into the context where such fascinating political behavior is taking place.

This article in New York times points out an important issue in India and specially in Telangana. I agree with Sudhir Kakar’s analysis that youth look at suicide as a process of finding meaning. But there are surely more socio- cultural reasons that could be provided in the analysis behind this trend.

The demand for a separate state for Telangana has been active for past 50 years from all sections primarily for the lack of economic development and political representation in the area. More recently, the onus of the movement has shifted from a broad base to Osmania students—who have been participating in large numbers in the protests to make their voice heard. The major political parties have  repeatedly campaigned on the promise to carve out a new state for Telangana before elections, but have failed to fulfill their promises as regularly once they achieved power. The people of the area have felt let down, to put in mildly, by the democratic process in their attempt to achieve their goals.

I did my Undergraduate studies in Osmania University (the University that many of the student sucides attended) a few years ago. Most of the students who supported the Telangana cause came from rural (as well as lower caste income) backgrounds who moved to Hyderabad city for higher education. The stark differences between their villages and city were shocking to them. Their cause was often ridiculed by students of elite, urban background as one that was mislead by politicians and lacking genuine ground. There is a definite lack of platform for discussion between these opposing views, which is frustrating for both sides. Both of them always complain that their classmates don’t understand the ground reality or bigger picture. Most students who are committing suicides today come from the lower socio-economic background. The system is already perceived to be unfair and they have lost faith in democratic process of debate, discussions and negotiations.

One of my professors from Osmania University has told me that most of the students who have committed suicide in Telengana are from a Science and Technology background and not from the Social Sciences. Accordingly, they look for quick results and have little knowledge as to how the political system can be worked out (due to lack of debate and exposure in their colleges). Yet, they become a part of the movement and share the angst against the injustices in the society. Lacking alternatives, suicide seems a way for them to do their bit and fight for the cause. The society has been emphasizing technical education and discouraging social sciences because of the belief that there is a lack of opportunity with a degree in the social sciences. This attitude ignores the larger role that social science education can play in society.

More ominously, these suicides could be an indication of how the movement can turn ever more violent if their voice is not heard. The Maoist movement in the region has a long history and strong following in Telangana. In the past students of various universities from the Telangana region have joined the Maoist movement and engaged in violent combat against the state. The present Telangana movement is meeting with a lot of distrust against the state and its mechanisms. It would not be shocking to see an upsurge in Maoist recruitment in the near future.

Finally, as the article suggests suicides are being looked up to as a form of noble sacrifice: a mark of devotion and respect. A lot of us have read stories about how families get paid when they stage (sometimes commit) a suicide after the death of few politicians. The number of suicides is commonly recognized as a signifier of how popular the leader was, but there must be a combination of causes beyond the reach of psychiatric cure behind these events. There are cultural and social causes that are yet to be explored. However the overall trend and attitude towards suicides is disturbing. This phenomenon of looking at suicide as a political protest would further undermine the possibilities of non violent political processes of dissent. The cause of the supporters of Telangana are also bound to suffer as they employ such blackmail tactics.

Tejaswini Madabhushi

Master’s Student at the Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution

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