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A tale of three 'suicides': Politicians, media needs to handle deaths with sensitivity

  Updated: Feb 19, 2016 19:10 IST

#AIADMK   #Civil servants   #DK Ravi   #DMK   #HowThisWorks   #suicide   #Tamil Nadu  

When 34-year-old DK Ravi, an additional commissioner of Commercial Tax (Enforcement) in Bengaluru was found hanging on 16 March, 2015 at his residence, the alleged suicide sparked off a political furore. It was the sand and real estate mafia which killed him, shrieked politicians in the opposition parties in Karnataka. The Chief Minister must resign, they demanded.

Barely a few days after the young life was snuffed out, rumours began to circulate of a love affair, at times one-sided and at times jilted, of DK Ravi with a batchmate, another IAS officer. Finally the case was handed over to the CBI on 23 March, as a raucous opposition and an even more strident media hollered for justice.

On the western coast, in 2010, a 26-year-old IAS officer Raja Murugan was found hanging from a tree outside his residence in Daman. He too was of the same 2009 batch as was DK Ravi. At the time, the Chief of Police of Daman had told reporters – “Primarily, it seems family problems may be the reason for the suicide,” stated RP Mina.

DK Ravi. File photo. PTI

DK Ravi. File photo. PTI

Almost a year after DK Ravi’s death, yet another young officer of the 2009 batch allegedly took his own life. N Harish, 32 years old, was found dead in his quarters at Egmore, Chennai on 18 February. Sources within the police department say that liquor bottles were strewn around, indicating that he was likely inebriated before his death.

Chief Ministerial hopeful and the scion of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) MK Stalin announced on his Facebook page that the ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) government was to be blamed for a string of what he called “mysterious deaths” of officials in the state. “When all his other batchmates had been promoted to the rank of SP, this 2009 batch officer Harish alone did not receive a promotion,” stated Stalin. “Other IPS officers themselves are wondering why Harish alone was not promoted.”

The Aftermath

While N Harish’s alleged suicide did not see the kind of national media and political frenzy as in DK Ravi’s case, accusations are inherent in the political rhetoric. Harish’s batchmates and colleagues though cast some light on what went on in his life for a number of years. “Harish had a lot of problems even during his NPA (National Police Academy) days,” said a police officer who took him under his wing in Tamil Nadu. “He was depressed, bordering on insubordination. Imagine a subordinate who doesn’t speak to you, doesn’t listen to orders and is absent most of the time,” said the officer. Even then, say his colleagues, he was not hassled by his seniors. One report was sent up the hierarchy about Harish’s erratic ways and chronic absenteeism. No action was taken on that either.

“Harish failed exams even at the NPA and recently failed his regional language paper, due to which he was not promoted,” said another friend of Harish’s. A departmental inquiry launched into a complaint of alleged misbehavior with a woman constable has been pending for a couple of years now.

As the news broke, media reports, based on anonymous WhatsApp forwards began to point the finger of accusation at a former Director General of Police, K Ramanujam, as being responsible for harassing the young officer and denying him a promotion. On 19 February, Ramanujam issued a response via WhatsApp questioning the allegations. “It is sad that Harish was not able to get promotion, but it was because he did not pass the test in Tamil language,” stated Ramanujam. “One has to clear the test for getting senior scale in this cadre. I had nothing against him personally. I retired more than a year back and I do not know whether he cleared the examination or not afterwards.” This response was subsequently not reported by the media which had reported the allegations in the anonymous WhatsApp forwards.

The tragic twist in this tale perhaps is that the initial postmortem reports now appear to show that Harish likely choked to death on food particles while in a drunken state.

“The media did not realize or maybe did not bother that unsubstantiated allegations like this will not just sully reputations of individuals but also cause legal issues for them,” said a senior journalist in Tamil Nadu who did not wish to be named. “It is the job of journalists to verify before making any information public. That was not done at all in this case,” he said.

Neither was this done in another “suicide or murder” case that hogged the headlines in September 2015. This case was that of young policewoman Vishnupriya who allegedly ended her life while in the midst of investigations of a high profile murder case. The CB-CID which is probing the suicide-murder theory confirms that the young officer in fact committed suicide. The reason, they say, is likely to be a combination of events – work pressure, stress and possibly a love affair gone wrong. In any case, it does not appear to be the state’s conspiracy that it was originally made out to be by political parties and the media alike, and the unwarranted baying for blood of Vishnupriya’s senior officers.

DK Ravi’s case was probably even more tragic. His batchmate, who was alleged to have rejected his displays of affection towards her, continues to be spoken of poorly. This, despite the facts of the case being that Ravi committed suicide due to his inability to repay loans taken for a real estate project that he was personally dabbling in. Even the tragic love theory has now been proven wrong.

“It is really very sad for the lady IAS officer,” said a senior journalist in Bangalore. “She is a fantastic worker and has a great track record. But now she is spoken of derogatorily by politicians and other bureaucrats. It is very unfair,” he said.

Politicians and the media would do well to focus on the lack of support for civil servants suffering from mental health issues. Tamil Nadu has been amongst the top three ranks in the list of states with highest suicide rates for the past four years. Chennai has topped the suicide charts for the past four years, amongst all metros in the country.

State governments must be prodded into implementing projects to address the issues of stress and mental health amongst civil servants and the police force. A pilot project conducted by the Tamil Nadu police in Madurai district in 2013 to provide counselling and techniques to cope with stress in policemen and their families showed that “56% of the police personnel, below the rank of sub-inspector, who participated in the five weeks training, suffered emotional disturbances. 46 per cent of them had disorders like insomania, hypertension or diabetes. 53 per cent of them experienced high level of stress,” according to the report. This report though recommended for implementation across the state, gathers dust in the seat of power, Fort St George.

In the heat and dust of elections round the corner, politicians too might be considerate in checking facts thoroughly before pronouncing statements and judgments at will. As for the media, truth must be the ultimate goal. Burying it under a cacophony of sensationalism is not an option.

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