India has one of the highest rates of suicides among people between the age of 15 and 29 years. Many of these are young adults in college and university who belong to marginalised communities. Between 2007 and 2017, 20 Dalit students committed suicide in India’s most premier institutes like IIT, IIM, AIIMS, and the University of Hyderabad. Now India’s most politically vibrant campus Jawaharlal Nehru University is also on the list with the recent suicide of a Dalit M.Phil student who hanged himself on March 13. His death leaves us dumbfounded as we seek explanations and reasons as to why he chose to end his life. Many have written about it, blaming the institution for this; many, including several student activists, found it a cowardly act. They proudly refer to Ambedkar, Birsa, Phule, Periyar, Marx and who fought the fight. Such activists perceive life in binaries: cowardly and brave; bourgeois and proletariat class; exploiter and exploited; upper and lower caste. Either you become a Gandhi or a Bhagat Singh. A middle path does not appear to be an option.
I have crossed over, and there is no coming back from that. I have crossed oceans and national borders, going from Ecuador to the UK and back. But I have also navigated through cultures and subcultures, guided by the idea that human wellbeing (what my formal training taught me to call “mental health”) cannot be separated from social context. Months ago, I returned to London after doing one year of fieldwork in my hometown of Guayaquil, in the coastal region of Ecuador. There, I spent most of my time-sharing the daily lives of psychology students, both undergraduate and graduate. I also witnessed how they diagnose and intervene locally, dealing with pervasive experiences of violence, particularly in urban neighborhoods labeled as “marginal”, “vulnerable” and “dangerous”.