The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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One minute he blames the government for his misery. The next he sinks into his own loneliness, blaming his fate. That is what you do if you are a young man in contemporary Bihar. That is also what Ramchandra Kumar, an employee of the public health engineering department of the Bihar government, did on August 27 before announcing that he would end his life in front of his department’s head office in Patna. The reason: he had been sacked by the state government in April this year despite, he argues, a Patna high court order directing the state government to maintain a status quo on the issue.

Kumar had been an employee of the Seikhpura unit of the PHED since 1985 but his appointment subsequently ran into legal trouble. “I cannot face my children when I am on the street without a job and no money to feed them”, he says. A pressure tactic' But Kumar says that there is no glory in joining a cycle of self-immolation bids.

Weeks after three successive self-immolation attempts sparked off a political row in Bihar, Kumar’s does not remain the lone voice of despair. There are innumerable others who find death casting a long shadow over their lives. Matters came to a head with the first case of self-immolation on the afternoon of August 13, when Kamal Sharma torched himself in front of the Patna high court’s VIP gate. He died three days later at the Patna Medical College and Hospital. He was followed by Chandan Bhattacharya, a 22 year old college drop-out who also succumbed to a similar hysteria at the Patna high court gate on August 15. He had also doused himself in petrol. He died after having fought an excruciating battle with life for over a week. On the night of August 20, Pawan Gope, a 30-year old man from Masaurhi, swallowed poison while wandering around the chief minister’s house on 1, Anne Marg.

Sylvia Plath had seen suicide as the “height of desperate egoism” where the victim wants to annihilate the world by annihilating himself. Is this what the desperate Bihar youth are trying to do'

“Self-immolation is one of the recent reactions of the frustrated young Bihari men and women...Given the state’s socio-economic climate, the young are falling prey to borderline personality disorders. You can take a long time to understand tortuous unreadable minds behind bland expressionless faces”, said Qumrul Muzaffar, an MD in psychiatry and a senior doctor at the Chand Memorial Hospital in Pataliputra colony. Muzaffar’s clinic has dealt with men and women with a high morbidity level. Many young men and women suffer from prolonged depressions when they are rejected by engineering colleges or other institutions that give professional courses. For example, take the case of Pratim Gupta, a graduate from an engineering college in Patna. He has been unemployed for last 9 years. His irrational behaviour struck his parents. When he was finally taken to a counselling centre in Bangalore, doctors said he was a victim of borderline personality disorder. One of the notes written by Gupta to his friend, and later given to the doctors, reveal his state of mind: “God who am I' I am sitting at a station waiting room. The fan is whirring overhead. There are faces, pale and pale yellow, all around. My head aches and I feel lost. I am sitting here without any identity.”

Most of the ordinary people of Bihar do not ask for much. But incidents like dismissal from jobs, harassment in the law court, or non-implementation of court orders are bound to have their effect. These are problems that should have been addressed by the government. Unfortunately, as opposition leader, Sushil Modi, points out, the Rabri Devi government is too preoccupied with its own personal interests.

“In Bihar, the young men always had the bravado of a bull to fight odds, and suicides have never been a part of social behaviour, not even during the heady days of the mid-Eighties when elsewhere in the country young men were killing themselves in protest against the implementation of the Mandal commission recommendations”, says J.B.P. Sinha, an eminent analyst of social psychology. It is happening now because of a general sense of despair among the people of Bihar. Faced with insurmountable odds, people like Sharma and Bhattacharya often find their world destroyed overnight. Bhattacharya was driven over the precipice by the state government’s failure to pay his father his salary for the past nine years. His efforts to make the government move hit a stone wall when the government ignored the high court order asking it to pay back the salary. Similarly, Sharma found it impossible to fight the Rabri Devi government and left behind an established business to embrace death. The world had lost its meaning to them.

The precipitating factor behind these cases of self-immolation is clearly the dismal performance of the Bihar government. Although individual mindsets mattered, the desperation was built up by the failure of the government to provide the basic necessities of life. Neither was there any effort on the part of the elected representatives to nail down the underlying reasons behind the desperation.

Take a look at the government’s track record. There are over 35,000 employees in its departments who have not been getting their salaries. The period of nonpayment ranges from three months to nine years. Those who have their own business are constantly bothered by the breakdown of law and order in the state. There are at least six abductions taking place every day. Corruption in the police has made law-enforcers a threat to civic life. Even lodging a first information report requires the complainant to bribe the munshi in a police station. A scribe was awestruck to find that he was being asked to pay Rs 25 for filing an FIR for the loss of his identity card. “You may be a reporter, how does that help me in feeding my children unless you pay me for my jal pani'” he was curtly told.

Industry is shrinking at an alarming rate in Bihar. Industrialists and traders are shifting out of the state, thereby further reducing employment opportunities. Against the total number of 1,737 registered small scale industries, 78,334 small trading units only 10 per cent are working, while the rest have closed down. No new investment is coming in from outside because of Bihar’s poor image, says the latest report of the Bihar Industries’ Association.

The basic principle of good governance is not destruction of human lives, but care for human life and happiness. In Bihar, the rationale seems to be different. Top bureaucrats in the state, for example, refuse to show up in the high court despite summons on legitimate public interest litigations. The administration’s insensitivity to the public reached new heights when it washed its hands off the Bhattacharya case and announced that it owed nothing to the father of the deceased since he was not a government employee. “We don’t want to be blackmailed by a handful of wayward young men”, said a senior officer at the state secretariat.

No wonder then that the government’s inaction turns into an obsession here for the ordinary citizens who find their lives ruined because the authorities will not listen to their problems. The result is a deep dark frustration that pushes them to take drastic steps to self-destruction.

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