Sinlung /
02 March 2012

In Arunachal, A Tiny Community With A Huge Suicide Rate

FPBy Samudra Gupta Kashyap

Guwahati, Mar 2 : The Idu-Mishmis are more than just another colourful tribe of Arunachal Pradesh. Apart from their typical hairstyle and costumes and artistic patterns embedded, which distinguish them from other tribal groups of the state, they also have the highest suicide rate in India, according to Tarun Mene, a young scholar from the community.

“Our community hardly has about 12,000 people. But, believe it or not, over 200 persons have committed suicide in less than four decades,” says Mene, 30, who has won a PhD from Rajiv Gandhi University in Arunachal Pradesh.

Mene’s doctoral thesis, “Suicide among the Idu Mishmi Tribe of Arunachal Pradesh”, has opened up the possibility of further studies on this social aspect. Of the 218 suicides that he has gathered from official as well as unofficial sources, most involved young people in the age-group 10-29, with girls and women outnumbering boys and men 53:47. The Idu-Mishmis live in two districts, Dibang Valley and Lower Dibang Valley, the former sharing a boundary with China.

Mene said that in most cases, the suicides had roots in love affairs. “While young people want to choose their life partners, the closely-knit community has numerous barriers brought forward by generations,” Mene said.

The increasing suicides have alerted social activists and institutions in the state. “The state Women’s Commission tried to study the issue,” said Jarjum Ete, a former chairperson. “We found that limited scope for marital relationships (because of the small size of the community) was a major reason for frustration among the younger generations.”

Idu women are good weavers but “they have to face various traditional problems, the most important being forced marriage”, Mene said. In Idu-Mishmi society, a woman, once widowed, can be married by her deceased husband’s brother without any question of consent. A man may marry his stepmother (unless she is his mother’s sister) after the death of his father. And if the stepmother refuses to remarry, she or her parent or guardian has to pay back the bridal price.

“It is an interesting research work that has brought to light a complicated situation faced by a small community. I think two things are immediately required. The first is serious intervention by the government and social groups, and the other is further documentation and research,” said Prof S K Chaudhuri of Rajiv Gandhi University, who was Mene’s guide during his research.


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