Asian women suicides on rail-tracks


by Sunny
28th September, 2007 at 12:29 am    

Two years ago Navjeet Sidhu jumped in front of a train in Southall with her kids. Six months later her mother did the same. But these two were not isolated incidents.

Rail suicides are soaring because of a dramatic rise in Asian women killing themselves on just one stretch of track, a train company’s internal report has revealed. An incredible one third of the total for England and Wales now happen on the line going through Southall, West London, which has a large Asian community.

Last night a women’s rights group controversially claimed that the suicides were linked to the “prevalence of domestic violence in Asian families”. Figures from a route manager at First Great Western trains show that 80 of the 240 rail suicides nationally last year were on the lines into Paddington, West London.

British Asian women are three times more likely than the national average to commit suicide. But do the so-called ‘community leaders’, who keep lobbying the government for their piece of the cake, do anything? Never.


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  1. bikhair aka taqiyyah — on 28th September, 2007 at 1:31 am  

    I dont know much about suicides but I do know that women arent very likely to take their lives in that way. Women pill up, and men shoot themselves in the head. Very strange.

  2. Philip Hunt — on 28th September, 2007 at 2:07 am  

    I think a start could be made by not calling people “community leaders” unless they have been democratically elected. So for example an MP is rightly a community leader in their own constituency. But someone whose only qualification is theat they have a big mouth — forget it.

  3. Yosef — on 28th September, 2007 at 2:52 am  

    I read the article and didn’t actually read anything other than the line that runs through West London has disproportionally more suicides than any other. But that line is hundreds of miles long. It should be easy to compile straight up statistics by names of victims. I can remember a couple of suicides by railway in the last month or so, one of which was a white mother jumping in front of an east coast line train on the exact spot that her daughter commited suicide on.

  4. Boyo — on 28th September, 2007 at 7:53 am  

    Bikhair – it’s just a supposition but it might be borne of the same motivation that causes many women in South Asian countries to self-immolate. I read (saw? heard?) somewhere that they took this course as much to demonstrate their anger at their domestic situation (the violence, lack of freedom, and so on) and to demonstrate in a strange kind of way that they were not afraid of the pain – they were not weak. European women on the whole not subject to the same pressures may not feel the need to take the same symbolic step.

    Sunny – I suppose it is a scandal that “community leaders” are silent on the issue, but should it be a surprise? At the risk of inviting further hoots of contempt, isn’t it a bit like expecting 19th Century British “community leaders” to query domestic violence and feminine disempowerment? There may have been a few, but not many. This is not to say that the Asian community is a century behind – one cannot compare complex cultures in chronological terms – but there appear to be similarities in the prevailing conservatism.

    More to the point, for me the true scandal is the relative silence of feminists and leftists. Yes, there are a few that speak out, like Southall Black Sisters, but there is hardly the vast swathe of common support, outrage and action that one associates with the rise of Western feminism in the 70s and 80s. I would put this down to racism excusing itself in the name of cultural sensitivity. And of course class – feminism was mainly the pursuit of the better off, who cared little for their working class sisters. Indeed sometimes I think it should be decoupled from our understanding of the left altogether: it was more about the bourgeoisie re-invigorating itself. Not that you’ll be thanked for saying so of course, because its other step was… to occupy the left itself.

  5. Sofia — on 28th September, 2007 at 10:11 am  

    The suicides at Southall station would make you think that fgw would have put some more barriers up to that particular platform which is not used. Of course not, because that would take too much initiative. Mental illness in the Asian community has been highlighted before, and is not just about abuse, but about migration and isolation. I work and have lived in Southall and the issues are there for all to see, not hidden away..all you have to do is talk to a young woman for more than 5 minutes and you’ll hear the issues. Of course our community “leaders” should be doing something, but that would mean them airing their dirty laundry in public…tch tch..mustn’t do that. There are lots of great groups out there, but they can only do so much without wider participation from the community..having said that, its bad enough admitting you have a problem yourself without having to talk to other people about it. I think kids in community settings should have social responsibility, and male/female interaction workshops…so that they grow up knowing what relationships should encompass…i know that sounds far fetched..who knows..

  6. Galloise Blonde — on 28th September, 2007 at 10:43 am  

    I disagree with Boyo. Feminism has slipped of the radar and doesn’t get the coverage it did, and commentators on the right in particular are guilty of writing a lot of articles about how feminism has betrayed minority women, primarily because the feminists are not proposing crackdowns on immigration, the ‘liberation’ of other countries or promoting the rhetoric of the ‘clash of civilisations’. But this doesn’t mean that feminists/women’s rights activists are not doing anything at all. Katha Pollitt is very good on this: she interviewed two of my friends, Rafia Zakaria and Houzan Mahmoud, within as many weeks in her ‘Nation’ column.

    Anyway, to get back to the UK –SBS is always getting the namechecks but there many groups out there who are also working but not getting the same recognition: NAWP, KWRO, MECWR and IKWRO for example, refugee women’s organisations, women’s shelters. And these groups do connect with other larger women’s groups like Women’s Aid in combatting domestic violence etc. Here’s a few examples: IKWRO will be leading the Reclaim the Night march this year (which you’ll recognise as one of the major feminist events); many of the organisations and individuals who have had the accolade of the Emma Humphreys prize are dealing with minority issues (this year the prize went to anti-FGM campaigner Comfort Momoh). And I’m not sure, when you look at the work of the Poppy Project, and Eaves Housing’s other projects, you can say that women who involve themselves in the issues of prostitution and human trafficking are solely interested in the glass ceiling and the pay gap. Please don’t excuse lack of visibility with lack of concern.

    I feel like I have read an article about Indian women committing suicide by train in Italy too? Is there some cultural dimension in play here? Some attribute the self-immolations of Kurdish and Iranian women to the legacy of Zoroastrianism in the area.

  7. Jai — on 28th September, 2007 at 11:32 am  

    This is not to say that the Asian community is a century behind – one cannot compare complex cultures in chronological terms – but there appear to be similarities in the prevailing conservatism.

    I’ve mentioned this before on PP myself. There are some very “Victorian” attitudes prevalent in many quarters of the Asian population — particularly amongst the older generations — which cause a hell of a lot of problems.

    All very Merchant-Ivory, and not in a good way either.

  8. Kismet Hardy — on 28th September, 2007 at 11:35 am  

    I wish my girlfriend were here to tell you this because she’s more knowledgable and eloquent but I’ll try my best

    As someone who has worked for years with Asian women suffering domestic violence, she’s now got a job in Refuge which doesn’t predominantly cater for Asian women and the difference is depressing

    Abused women of other races share exactly the same insecurities, crushed esteems and fear of going it alone but blimey can they manage without the whole community pouring scorn

    It’s bad enough that mental health issues are all but ignored in the community and depression is seen as attention-seeking it’s frightening to think that in this day and age everyone’s convinced a woman has been possessed by dark spirits if she’s depressed

    The pressure to carry on and pretend everything is fine is nigh on impossible for a person suffering from depression (think PMT times comedown times constant) so suicide seems like the only option

    It seems abused Asian women are so isolated, they haven’t got the fantasies of revenge and escape women from other communities can harbour to get through the day

  9. Roger — on 28th September, 2007 at 12:55 pm  

    Apart from the individual domestic reasons which underlie these suicides, there have been other “suicide epidemics” in the past. Beachy head is a comparable contemporary equivalent. A Alvarez discusses them in his book “The Savage God”. It might actually have a deterrent effect if it was made more difficult to gain access to the tracks at Slough Station and other places.

  10. Sam Ambreen — on 28th September, 2007 at 1:13 pm  

    Couldn’t have said it better myself. However, it’s not just about depression, it’s more to do with the fact that asian women have an ‘honour’ to uphold. To kill herself is to make up for the ‘shame’ she was made to feel accountable for, for dragging the family name down.

    In Turkey there is growing concern for what have been dubbed ‘the virgin suicides’ where family members can make life unbearable for girls who go against their family values by for example, falling in love with the wrong man. Immense pressure is put on them to make up for the dishonour and most are told if they don’t do it themselves, others will be more than willing.

    It’s just sick really.

  11. justforfun — on 28th September, 2007 at 1:14 pm  

    Gallois Blond – Some attribute the self-immolations of Kurdish and Iranian women to the legacy of Zoroastrianism in the area. This would be a very odd inversion going on, as no Zoroastrian would ever commit his/her body to immolation and it has been thus for thousands of years. A short explanation – Death is the tempory victory of Sin/lie/devil whatever over the forces of Good – so the body is full of sin – Zoroastrians don’t defile the natural elements of EARTH Water and Fire with Sin therefore the best solution is to do good and let the vultures eat your body (or wild wolves and dogs) who are immune to Sin.

    Whenever Kurds and Zoroastrianism are mentioned in the same article be a little careful as there are many adgendas going on. Some Turks want to portray Kurds in Turkey figting for a homeland as ‘apostate zoroastrian communists’ and so try and de-humanise them as much as possible. Others in Iraq want to de-humanise all non-muslims with whatever comes to hand – hence Yazdis , Zoroastrians, Assyrians etc all get it in the neck as being a malign influence.

    If these girls are burning themselves – its an easy get out to blame some pre-Islamic influence. “Fire = Zoroastrians” therefore its a throwback to Zoroastianism. I suggest the reason for the use of fire lies elsewhere, unless these women are trying, in some miss-informed way, to desperately make their last act some sort of reaching out and back to the benign peace of their ancestors and so fortify themselves as they commit suicide and cross to the unknown. Perhaps it is a way for them to get the strength to act? This the only way I can think of for this use of Fire to be linked to Zoroastrianism.

    Justforfun

  12. sonia — on 28th September, 2007 at 1:36 pm  

    what would the community leaders do anyway? besides its their keeping up of community traditions that are causing all the trouble for the women in the first place. the only way they could do something would be to do themselves out of a job.

    the fact that women would rather not exist than fly in the face of established familial patterns is pretty damning. the message these women have received is that life is less important than customs and reputation.

  13. Galloise Blonde — on 28th September, 2007 at 1:41 pm  

    Interesting JFF. I’m citing this:

    What’s the motive—and why fire? Doctors, rights advocates, and young women I spoke to described a collision of local tradition with modern technology and the fallout from the Iraq war. Death by immolation has a long history among ethnic Kurds. When someone is angry here, a popular interjection is “I’m going to burn myself!” Locals I talked to attributed the fire obsession to various local cultural sources. The Zoroastrian religion uses fire as a prominent symbol. The Kurdish new year, called “Nawroz,” commemorates the day a folk hero named Kawa killed a tyrant named Zohak and then set a fire on a mountaintop to tell his followers; Kurds celebrate the day by burning tires and with other pyrotechnic displays. “Burning, traditionally, has been the way to die among the Kurdish people,” says Yones, the health minister.

    which comes from Newsweek recently.

  14. justforfun — on 28th September, 2007 at 1:44 pm  

    Sorry to go off abit on the Fire angle. But for Kurds and Iranians, it could of course be actual murder by family members and not suicide, and the motive to use fire could be a deterrant because
    1- it is a horrible long death = deterant to others.
    2 – by using fire a warning to others not to question the existing status quo with ideas that are linked to egalitrian zoroastrianism.

    Death by ‘Fire’ would make a good point. Perhaps a way to explan this thought. If one wants to repress Christian thought , what better way than crucify them and hold it up as an example of what happens to those who stray. However crucifiction is obviously murder. but to burn someone to death has the advantage of being difficult to prove and easily covered up and has the appropriate relogious angle thrown in for free.

    This is very common in form of murder in India. Women murdered while cooking, and there self immolation has a historic dimension which further masks the murderers tracks

    I have no evidence to give or anything , but I thought it worth mentioning Gallois Blond as you work in this area alot and perhaps its just something to ponder.

    Justforfun

  15. justforfun — on 28th September, 2007 at 1:45 pm  

    Galloise Blond – just seen your post on Newsweek. I’ll read it.

    Justforfun

  16. Galloise Blonde — on 28th September, 2007 at 1:50 pm  
  17. justforfun — on 28th September, 2007 at 2:18 pm  

    Depressing reading.

    Seems a nexus of Fire in Kurdish culture and honour killing make killing and suicide by fire the first choice.

    Justforfun

  18. sonia — on 28th September, 2007 at 2:29 pm  

    maybe the fire thing for indian women has something to do with suttee?

    a painful way to go

  19. Sofia — on 28th September, 2007 at 2:49 pm  

    going back to topic, if it’s going to take a concerted effort from communities then we need to nip things like this in the bud: http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,,2179377,00.html

  20. nodn — on 28th September, 2007 at 4:53 pm  

    Sunny- any idea when CIF will be covering this?

  21. Rumbold — on 29th September, 2007 at 8:53 pm  

    Galloise Blonde:

    “Anyway, to get back to the UK –SBS is always getting the namechecks but there many groups out there who are also working but not getting the same recognition: NAWP, KWRO, MECWR and IKWRO for example, refugee women’s organisations, women’s shelters. And these groups do connect with other larger women’s groups like Women’s Aid in combatting domestic violence etc.”

    Good point. Thanks for raising it. How do you think that such groups can raise their profiles?

  22. Clairwil — on 30th September, 2007 at 11:28 pm  

    How many of these community leaders are women?

    The only people who will speak up for women are women unless it suits some political agenda.

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