Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Jacintha Saldanha Should Not Be Treated As A Martyr

Jacintha Saldanha, a 46 year old Indian-origin nurse working in the UK, committed suicide on 7 December 2012. Saldanha fell for a prank call by a couple of Australian DJs who pretended to be the British Queen and called the hospital where Saldanha worked and where Kate Middleton had been admitted for morning sickness. Saldahna who answered the call, passed it on to the duty nurse, who too swallowed the accent hook, line and sinker, and passed on a lot of personal information pertaining to the princess. The DJs had a ball, until 3 days later, Saldanha committed suicide. You can read full details of this incident on Wikipedia and other websites. You can hear a recording of the prank call from this You Tube upload.

In the wake of Saldanha’s suicide, there were widespread demands, especially in India, for punishing the two Australian DJs. I don’t want to be an apologist for those two. What they did, with the benefit of hindsight, was reprehensible. It is also possible that they broke Australian privacy laws when they recorded a private conversation without the consent of one party. In India there was widespread sympathy and support for Saldanha who was seen as a victim and a martyr. I also got the feeling that many Indian news reports seem to suggest that Saldanha was driven to suicide by this incident, though according to this report, she had attempted suicide twice before.

The Catholic Church takes the stand that committing suicide is a grave sin and traditionally refuses to accord a standard funeral with religious rites. However, in Saldahna’s case, an exception seems to have been made.

I waited until now to write this post so that emotions would have calmed down and this is what I have to say.

Committing suicide is wrong, whatever be the circumstances or provocation. There was a time not so long ago when committing suicide was an offence under the Indian Penal Code. One who fumbled in a suicide attempt had to face criminal charges on top of everything else. These days, it is no longer a crime to attempt suicide, and rightly so. A person who attempts suicide and fails deserves support. However, that still does not make it the right thing to do. Was the prank played on Jacintha Saldanha so destructive that she had to commit suicide? I don’t think so. Let’s not forget the fact that Saldanha made a mistake by transferring the call. It was negligence, no doubt about it and if the hospital had taken disciplinary action against Saldanha, such action would have been justified. A receptionist isn’t meant to transfer calls just like that. True, Saldanha was not a trained receptionist, but these are basic things.

I don’t know if the hospital was planning to penalise Saldanha or if she was being bullied by her colleagues on account of her faux pas. We won’t know if Saldanha lacked family support at a time of crisis. We do know that Saldanha found day-to-day living unbearable and made a third attempt to kill herself. This time she succeeded.

India’s suicide rate is higher than the world average and Bangalore, which is not far from Saldahna’s native Mangalore, is considered to be the suicide capital of India. In many societies, it is morally acceptable to commit suicide in certain circumstances, such as when there is loss of honour etc. However, rather than make a martyr of Jacintha Saldahna, a message needs to be sent out that even in circumstances such as those Saldanha found herself in, committing suicide is not the right thing to do.