The value of a life

We got a call late at night last Wednesday. It was from our driver, who was distraught, and let Willy know that his neighbour had died, that he may need some time off. Willy told him to take the time that he needed, and hung up, concerned. We were surprised when Subbu arrived the following morning to take Willy to work. He explained it simply by saying that it helped to stay with routine. He was clearly shaken, and on the way to Willy’s office explained that it was his neighbour’s seventeen year old son who had died, and that he had committed suicide because his grades were poor. We were both shocked and saddened to hear this. Almost a week later I am still troubled. How could this happen, how could he think that this was his only choice?

My first instinct was to blame the parents. I’ve never met them, nor do I know anything about them or their family; I made some big assumptions. I do know that there is tremendous pressure in India for a child to improve their standing, to do better than their parents. I have read several articles that allude to parental pressure for success, including one that told not of a suicide, but of a twelve year old girl whose father forced her to beg on the streets when her grades were not to his expectation. I have also observed parental expectation first hand throughout our community. Success is not enough; the children are expected to excel, to surpass their peers too. That being said, I am wrong to solely blame the parents. While they may have had some expectation that their son do well, I am certain that they did not want to see him take his life.

It is widely reported that suicide rates in India, especially among youth and female youth in particular are extremely high. There are numerous media reports of children as young as eleven taking their own lives, often because they feel they have done poorly in school, they have actually failed or received a low grade, or that they worry that their parents cannot afford to send them to the post-secondary schooling that they will need to complete to better themselves. It saddens me to think that so much emphasis can be placed on schooling and marks for these children.

In the recent past, the Indian government has put into place measures that help families send their children to schools, and to help those in the lowest class improve their standing. What they haven’t done is help to teach those who hold positions of power the value of a human life. We frequently see labourers performing their tasks in very unsafe conditions. It happens in the community we live in, for example the man who sprays to protect us from the mosquitoes. We know that he is using a toxic chemical, and close up the house the minute that we hear his fogging machine start up in the distance. He rides by, and is not wearing any sort of protection from the harmful chemicals that he is breathing and coming into contact with. There is no way that he cannot be harmed by the chemicals, yet he has nothing to offer any protection. He may have chosen not to, but in all likelihood he either doesn’t know the risks, or hasn’t ever been given anything to wear. His employers need to ensure that he is protected, that his health has value, and they haven’t.

I am fortunate in that I am not poor, and I live in a country with ample opportunity for both of my children to follow their dreams and be successful, on their own terms. This has been a sobering reminder to me that I need to not only teach the lils to want to do well and succeed in life, but that success must also be defined in terms of their happiness; and that a life has value that cannot be diminished by a failure to achieve a milestone, or a belief that they may not meet anyone’s expectations.

Category: India, life, Parenting | Tags: , , | 2 comments

  • Capital Mom says:

    This makes me sad. I feel for that boy.

  • allison says:

    Ugh, how awful. And yes – whenever I hear that Western children are too indulged and praised and not driven enough, I think of things like this, and I look at my kind, cheerful, inquisitive children and feel okay that I haven’t pushed them hard enough for some.


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