Until recently, one of the factors that drove the suicide rate among Indians in Guyana was the Bollywood effect, the glorifying and norming of suicide in many, many movies from the Indian film industry up until the eighties or thereabouts. That has been almost eliminated over the last two decades or so, but every so often, a movie seeps through the cracks.
Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Padmaavat is one such movie. And The Caribbean Voice was shocked that the February 10th issue of the Guyana Chronicle carried an article that seemed to laud the act of suicide in that movie. The writer states, “…my interpretation of Padmavati’s final act of courage and defiance is that she refused to succumb to rape, she refused to go without a fight, she refused to become a victim. Padmavati made her own choices and committed suicide not to save her honour, but to not live a life without her husband.”
The reality is that women like Padmavati were the ultimate victims in patriarchal, misogynistic societies that forced them to self-immolate in the funeral pyre of their husbands per the concept of sati. Those were the very societies in which husbands had to be worshipped as gods by their wives who were bound to obedience and subjugation by the cultural and social fabric. Often times too, women were forced to self-immolate to supposedly save their honour and the honour of their communities, in times of war. In effect, suicide was not an act of courage or defiance but an act of fatalism where choice was never an option.
Ironically, men did not have to self-immolate in the funeral pyre of their dead wives or to save their honour or the honour of their societies. And whereas the men could have more than one wife and/or remarry after their wives’ death, it was a taboo for widows to remarry, a taboo that significantly still exists today. In fact, the sacred city of Vrindavan, is home to over one million widows who eke out a survival after having been driven out of their homes by their families and ostracized by their communities.
Today, in spite of the practice of sati being illegal, annually thousands (an estimated 8,000 to 10,000)) of young brides and wives are burnt to death in India, so their husbands can marry again and again, each time obtaining a dowry. Ironically, this industry of murder is facilitated by the in laws of the tragic young women, who usually cannot escape by returning to their parents’ homes because they would bring ‘shame’ to and become burdens on their parents. In fact there is a dowry death every hour in India even though dowry is also illegal.
Incidentally, we once again appeal to all media to not use the word ‘commit’ in front of suicide because of its obvious connotations that criminalizes suicide. Instead use ‘died by suicide’ or ‘suicide victim’.