Arunachal tribals troubled by too many suicides
Itanagar: The colourful Idu-Mishmis community, concentrated in the Dibang Valley and Lower Dibang Valley in Arunachal Pradesh, is highly suicide-prone and has possibly the highest suicide rate in the country.
With a population of over 13,000 as per the 2011 census, the Idu-Mishmis people have reported 226 suicides in less than four decades. They are a tribal community distinctly identified by their unique hairstyle, typical costumes and artistic patterns embedded on their clothes.
Tarun Mene, a research scholar, who has been just awarded a PhD by the Rajiv Gandhi University here, in his doctoral thesis `Suicide among the Idu Mishmi Tribe of Arunachal Pradesh`, revealed that women surpassed the men in committing suicides.
From 1971 to 2010, the years under review, 115 women ended their lives while the number for its opposite sex is 103. According to a recent report, seven cases of suicide were registered during the year 2011, while a case has been registered at Anini, headquarters of Dibang Valley, in January, this year.
"The total number of suicides may be more considering the fact that there are areas in the two valleys they inhabit have no police station where they can report suicides," Mene pointed out.
The total male:female suicide ratio stood at 47:53 against the national ratio of 64:36 and the state ratio of 70:30. The overall male:female ratio for youth in the 10-29 age groups stood at 41:59 and are the prime group contributed (about 59.1 per cent to the total suicides). The analysis of annual incidents of suicide for the decade 2001-2010 shows a mixed trend with the annual average rate of 6.2 suicides per year.
As per the record, the spring season remained most favourable. Irrespective of genders, the frequency of suicides among the unmarried Idus is 49.6 per cent, followed by married persons at 40.8 per cent and 9.6 per cent for the widowed.
Mene said in most cases, the suicides had roots in love affairs between young males and females. "While young people want to choose their life partners, the closely-knit community has numerous barriers erected by generations," he pointed out.
Mene said suicide is a serious issue in the community and social customs, norms, religious beliefs, practices, values and socio-political aspects have greatly influenced and determined the suicidal tendencies among them.
"The State Women`s Commission in a study found that the limited scope for marital relation because of the small size of the community was a major reason for frustration in the younger generation of the community," Gumri Ringu, chairperson of the Commission, said.
"For the Idu women, when it comes to marriage, they have to face various traditional problems, the most important being forcible marriage. We will take up the issue with the state government for creating awareness in the community," Ringu said.
In the Idu-Mishmi society, a woman, once widowed, can be married by her deceased husband`s younger or elder brother without any question of consent.
A man may marry his step-mother (other than his mother`s sister) after the death of his father. And in case the step-mother refuses to remarry, she or her parent or guardian has to pay back the bride price, Mene pointed out.
As regards the solution of the social problem, Rajya Sabha member from Arunachal Pradesh Mukut Mithi, who represents the community, said, "Two things were immediately required: First, a serious intervention by the government and social groups is needed and second, there was the need for further documentation and research." Mithi, however, expressed doubt over the number of suicide cases as reported.
Laeta Umbrey, a legislator from the community, pointed out that the reasons for suicide among Idu Mishims might be genetic in nature. "It is a human psychology. This is a very interesting subject for anthropological studies and research," he said.
There is a clear need to rethink about the existing marital norms of the Idu Mishmis followed by the spread of education and creation of awareness, Mene signed off.