An Indian TV debate ended in horror on Monday as a man, Durgesh Kumar Singh, stepped out from the crowd of 150 onlookers, set himself ablaze and embraced politician Kamruzzama Fauji, the local leader of the Bahujan Samaj Party. Chowdhary Hriday Ram Verma and Ram Kumar Singh, two other politicians there taking part in the TV program sustained minor burns while trying to save the two men. The show was being recorded for Doordarshan, India’s state-owned national TV channel in a Sultanpur park, about 160 kilometres from Lucknow. Why this occurred is still to be uncovered.
Police said that Singh succumbed to his injuries, sustaining burns to 95 percent of his body and Fauji is in critical condition in a private hospital having sustained burns to 75 percent of his body.
Why Durgesh did this on Indian TV is the most intriguing question. What would make a person commit suicide on national TV? The most obvious reason a man would set himself ablaze, embracing a politician on Indian TV might be political motivation given that this was done during a political debate; however, the evidence is unclear if that is the case so far.
According to Hindustan Times preliminary evidence suggests that Singh, who had a criminal record, had not gone home to Mau for the last year. He had been in a Sultanpur hotel after being in Lucknow Monday.
The IG said the man appeared to be mentally unstable and filed applications against his elder brother and father regularly. In one application, he said he would immolate himself in Lucknow but he disappeared before anyone could trace him. The police have found a mobile phone number that they will be investigating further as part of the evidence.
It appears then that the motivation was likely not political but that the man was unstable mentally and really should have been picked out of the crowd by security before such a horrific event could occur. What type of security these types of events have is unclear but they really should be well-guarded considering the political sensitivities of many onlookers.
A history of self-immolation is detailed in TIME. Apparently there have been legends of self-immolation that date back centuries. The first recorded self-immolation was Sati, one of Shiva, the Hindu god’s wives. According to the story, she married without her father’s permission and then self-immolated after her father insulted her husband. Sati, is also performed in some parts of India. In this practice a widow would throw herself to burn on funeral pyre of her husband. In 1829 self-immolation was outlawed in India. The practice does seem reminiscent of the killing or beating of daughters by father’s who disapprove of their actions.
The most famous moment of self-immolation as political propaganda was when in 1963, a monk Thich Quang Duc set himself ablaze in the middle of a Saigon street. Under the rule of Ngo Dinh Diem, South Vietnam discriminated against Buddhist monks.
It is unfortunate that this practice still occurs in India even though it was banned. Public displays of suicide such as this man embracing a politician after setting himself ablaze on Indian TV are still sadly a part of the culture in India. Why this still occurs in modern-day is unclear but hopefully the practice will soon come to an end.
Commentary by: Nicole Drawc