Mumbai: Kumbharwada, a
hamlet of potters in Mumbai's Dharavi slums, suffered from a very
high rate of suicides some three decades ago. Men, women, young
boys and girls or even senior citizens would just walk to the
nearby railway tracks and end their lives seemingly at the
"The reasons were flimsy - a domestic quarrel, neighbourhood brawl
over water, eve teasing or poking fun at others. The alleged
victim would just saunter down to the railway tracks and lie down
for the next train to run him/her over," Sion Hospital Acting Dean
Suleman Merchant told IANS.
The alarmed locals finally came together and did something - they
constructed a wall four or five feet tall - blocking access to the
Central Railway's harbour railway line.
"Nearly 25 years since the wall was erected, there has not been a
single such suicide. A small community initiative helped save many
precious human lives," Merchant told IANS.
He, along with prominent medicos, NGOs, psychiatrists, social
organisations and individuals, last week kicked off Mumbai's
"first mass social initiative" to curb rising suicides in this
western metropolis, dubbed India's financial and entertainment
capital, at a workshop to train some 300 community leaders in the
Renowned psychiatrist Harish Shetty pointed out that by alertness
on the part of individuals, family members, friends, relatives,
neighbours, and referring to social workers, society at large can
help contain suicides in a big way.
"According to the National Crime Records Bureau, in 2009 Mumbai
recorded a whopping 1,900 suicides and the rest of India notched
130,000 such cases," Shetty said.
Merchant said that while official figures are alarming, the real
figures could be a shocker as many instances are suppressed due to
legal and social problems.
Recalling a young nurse's suicide last month in Mumbai, he said
she had faced some problems at work the previous evening and was
"The next morning, she desperately went around the hostel, asking
her colleagues for a blade. In the rush hour, nobody paid
attention. When she did not get a blade, she hanged herself in her
room. If only somebody had taken a few minutes to enquire why she
needed a blade..." lamented Merchant.
Allauddin Shaikh, the personal secretary to social activist Anna
Hazare, said that in his college days, a youth once blurted out
his suicidal intentions as he felt lonely and unwanted.
"I simply started dropping him a postcard daily - with some good
message, some light anecdotes, etc, for nearly a year till he
controlled his suicidal urges. He later admitted that my simple
postcards helped him as he felt 'wanted and liked'," Shaikh told
Terming stress as one of the biggest causes of suicide, especially
in Mumbai, Merchant and Shetty emphasised the need to look out for
small 'red flags' which hint at suicidal tendencies and attempt to
"Youngsters keep falling in and out of love often, leaving scars
at each break-up. Parents, friends and peers must support them or
it can lead to disastrous results," cautioned Kandivli physician
Family doctors are usually the first contact with all such cases
before they are referred to specialists.
Khalsa College Principal Ajit Singh, who was present at the
workshop, announced that the programme was "an eye-opener and a
need of the hour" and promised to organise awareness camps for
students in all educational institutions run by them.
Hazare has suggested that the movement should be spread all over
Maharashtra and reach out to the poorest in the remotest corners
of the state to prevent suicides.
Social activist Bhavesh Patel expressed the need to "make this
movement a national movement by taking it out to the people" and
called for more programmes to save the future of the country's
Merchant said that besides looking out for the tell-tale signs and
sudden 'winding up' taken up by the intending victims, small
things like just speaking, hugging, giving company or remaining
beside a person feeling very low and dejected can help.
The gathering urged the media to refrain from reporting or
telecasting gory details of deaths, murders or suicides as they
tend to get 'copied' by people as the permanent solution to a
Merchant said that with the success of the workshop, a
mega-workshop would be held in February for sub-leaders and the
critical grassroots activists who would directly interact with the
people to create awareness and help prevent suicides.
The experts suggested use of professional guidance through a free
national and city helpline set up by Mumbai's Vandrewala
(Quaid Najmi can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)