A spate of recent suicides among students and the ongoing worry about this mind-numbing phenomenon is a cause of national concern. Over 100,000 Indians commit suicide every year, and the number has only risen over the past two decades, say experts. Worse, over 71% of suicides are by people below the age of 44. While suicides are attributed to acute mental agony, the trauma on those who are left behind is not less. Savita Narayan profiles a Pune-based NGO called Connecting… which helps people cope with the effect of suicide on the survivors
“We had forgotten to smile. The joy had gone out of our lives,” says Arnavaz Damania, a survivor affected by the suicide of a relative. The impact of the event made her realise the need for counselling not just for a survivor but also the larger circle of family and friends. “We felt lost and were just going from day to day, automatically doing our chores. I’ve always been a positive person and so I began to look for ways to improve the situation. I had to help even if it was the one family," says Ms. Damania.
She surfed the Internet, seeking people or institutions to approach. AFSP, the American Federation of Suicide Prevention, put her in touch with Dr Aruna Jha in Chicago who runs the Asian-American Suicide Prevention Initiative. Dr Jha conducted a seminar in Pune on awareness creation which led to the forming of a group.
India, China and Japan account for 30% of worldwide suicides according to the World Health Organisation—and the numbers are increasing yearly. Indian society has changed dramatically over the past decade. Increased pressure for good performance at students' exams, maintaining peak results at the workplace, loosening of family ties and lack of good interpersonal relationships are some reasons.
In 2005, Ms Damania set up Connecting... at Pune, with trained volunteers to offer counselling, suicide prevention and facilitation programmes to create awareness of coping strategies and healthy outlets for intense emotions such as anger and frustration. The entity also interacts with survivors and counsels families of suicide victims to manage the trauma.
A suicide attempt is the reaction of a person unable to cope with unbearable psychological pain. Before reaching this juncture, the person usually explores ways to make the pain more bearable but does not find a solution on his own. He lacks both inner resources to cope as well as a perspective on how to approach the problematic issue. Often, he undergoes long periods of suffering in isolation before giving indirect indications to near and dear that he's reached the end of his tether. Connecting... is a neutral point of contact for the suicidal; the help lines offer empathy that is usually unavailable to him. The initial contact is from the suicidal caller or a sympathetic well-wisher. Treatment is possible only when the initiative comes from him. Connecting... offers trained and skilful counselling, ensuring that the person, at the first instance, is calmed and that the immediate crisis of peak vulnerability is deflected. In subsequent contact sessions, through empathy and positive reinforcement, the caller realises on his own accord that life is worth living and that workable solutions to his problems can be found.
Support for survivors is also essential to prevent the recurrence of an attempt. Survivors usually harbour feelings of guilt. The stigma of societal judgement makes them opt for empathetic counselling on a one-on-one basis. Group sessions are useful for victims' families encouraging the sharing of experiences, of healing together to start the grieving process. The discussion is led by the facilitator.
Workshops are conducted for the police and hospital workers to modify their approach and improve interactions with victims, the affected families and survivors. Connecting... is actively engaged in sensitising the general public towards stress and interpersonal relationships. These programmes take place in schools, housing societies, corporate offices—any group of people who want healthier interactions in their daily lives. The sessions are very impactful and tailor-made, taking the form of role-playing and demonstrations. Music and Art therapy is also offered.
Connecting... has the immediate need to expand its existing helpline facility from 6 hours to 24 hours with more phone lines, trained counsellors and media exposure; setting up a media watchdog to monitor and ensure empathetic and factual reporting of suicides; the setting up of emergency cells in hospitals which sensitively handle incoming cases, the subsequent legal aspects and documentation.
Connecting... helps the suicidal and their families in and around Pune. There are still hundreds of others in India who need their reassuring touch.
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The ‘good’ news is that the banking market will be opened up for a few more private players. But how many of these new entrants actually pass muster?
The Budget talks about re-opening the window for letting more private banks in play. Most market participants and commentators have welcomed the move. I have some reservations on this. Of the many hopefuls who the market thinks should be interested, how many are fit to run a bank ethically and professionally without a conflict of interest? Very few names will actually pass muster. Reading the market commentaries, I shudder when I see some names being put forward. Especially in the context of the fact that the Reserve Bank of India never lets any bank go bust, but encourages bank delinquencies by arranging for subsequent adoption and marriage.
If market gossip is to be believed, a couple of industrial houses already own substantial stakes in a couple of small private banks. While the shareholding is not fully transparent yet, management control is apparently with the hidden owners. The informed gossip is that this Budget has re-opened the window of giving more licenses—specially to enable these houses to legitimise their holdings.
India is a large country. Every bank does not have to be pan-India in nature. The regional banks can thrive. It may be a good idea for the government to actually permit takeover of such regional banks by foreign banks, with the proviso that they have to remain listed entities. This would enable infusion of capital and technology into these banks and also increase domestic shareholder wealth. Let the government permit one or two banks in each region to be acquired by foreign banks like HSBC or Standard Chartered. They can increase their coverage and the regional banks can benefit with better management and technology.
The PSU banks are surely headed for disaster. It is a matter of time. Consolidation or mergers between two bad apples will not produce one good apple. Also, I have always maintained the view that creating a large balance sheet merely by merger, will not lead to credit expansion. A better idea would be to offer PSU banks to be taken over by larger private banks or foreign banks. That can enhance the quality of the banking sector and also stem the rot of poor quality lending from domestic banks. Of course, the government will not permit this, since it would mean an end to the business of loan melas and loan-waiver melas.
The political agenda of the government is systematically destroying the fabric of banking. Look at the latest attempt by the government to define the lending rate. It is ludicrous and whilst every PSU banker talks against it in private, none have the gumption to even write a ‘letter to the editor’.
Coming back to the Budget, the move to permit more private licenses is being seen by a few as a resumption of economic liberalisation. I hope they are right. To me, it seems more a case of political expediency to accommodate a few. In the process, a few bad banks will get created and will have to be bailed out in the future. The other favourable spin-off is that more private banks will bring in lots more FDI (if foreign investment is liberally permitted) and FII investments, which is always good for the markets.
More than eight years after 9/11, an amorphous state of mind has manifested itself in the actual state as a kind of Fear Inc. A number of factors have clearly gone into the creation of Fear Inc. and now insure that fear is the drug constantly shot into the American body politic.