More than 1.35 lakh people commit suicide every year in the country, a high number whichever way the data is parsed. These are only the reported cases in the National Crime Records Bureau’s database. The number of cases that slip past the radar under “accidents” or other causes is, according to experts, in multiples of the official figure. Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra contribute the highest numbers nationally, each having a 12.3 per cent share of the national figure. Tamil Nadu also tops the country in the self-immolation category—2,098 people killed themselves this way in 2013, accounting for almost 21 per cent of all self-immolation deaths in India and highest for a state.
Self-immolation as a method for suicide has acquired a disturbing cultural symbolism in Tamil Nadu, where it is seen through the lenses of honour, shame, purity, valour, sacrifice, and even as the chosen way of political protest. There is no policy-level response yet from the state government, and even rehabilitation of survivors is not given much thought, writes Jayashree Arunachalam in this month’s cover story “Death by fire”.
In Kerala, the annual snake boat race is the year’s showstopper event. It has strong community roots, a storied history and a huge following. Suresh P Thomas chronicles the journey of the Kumarakom Town Boat Club as it prepares for the race in his story “One hundred oarsmen”.
Other narratives include one on India’s casual approach to strategic cyber security (“The war of the keyboards”) and the other on the deplorable state of affairs at Mumbai’s Byculla Zoo (“The oppressed ark”) where animals have died at an alarming rate and crocodiles and deer share enclosures.
In Iraq, the Shia-Sunni conflict has worsened after the entry of the ISIS, and there seems to no peaceful future in sight for the country since the Americans came sniffing for WMDs. Mohamad Bazzi, who has reported extensively from Iraq and the Middle East, writes about Muqtada al-Sadr, the Shia cleric whose war cries are finding resonance in the region.
Don’t miss the photo essay “The mouth of Krishna”, the efforts of Anna Cabrera and Angel Albarrán in “finding the whole universe in any part of the universe”, be it a grain of sand or a dewdrop.
Saurav Kumar, Editor