Wave of suicides engulfs Indian village: locals blame demons, science blames pesticides

© Amit Dave
A tiny village in central India has seen an unprecedented 80 suicides since the beginning of the year. Locals blame it on demon spirits, but some researchers say pesticides could be behind widespread depression.

The village of Badi in Khargone district has 320 families and each one has lost at least one family member to suicide, the newly elected head of the village, Rajendra Sisodiya, told The Times of India.

Sisodiya took over as head of the village only after his cousin Jeevan, the former head, hanged himself from a tree in front of his house. Sisodiya’s mother and brother also took their own lives.

Badi, which is home to 2,500 residents, has recorded over 350 suicides in the last two decades. But recently, things became much worse —during the first three months of 2016 there were 80 suicides, according to Amit Singh, of the district police office.
The village head says a “demonic presence” is responsible for all the suicides. However, some researchers point to severe cases of depression caused by excessive use of pesticides.

The Times of India interviewed psychiatrist Dr Srikanth Reddy, who said that the suicides are likely caused by depression and schizophrenic episodes, which could be triggered by excessive use of pesticides when farming.

“Depression isn't something people here are easily able to relate to or identify. When they are unable to find any reason, they associate it with locally explainable phenomenon like demonic presence,” Reddy said.

“In a study some years ago in China, where a large number of farmers in a particular area were committing suicide, it was found that insecticides used there contained organophosphate, which is highly toxic and causes depressive mental conditions.”

Villagers have tried to put a stop to suicides by banning alcohol, but that just seemed to encourage locals to visit neighboring villages to get drinks.

Khargone is included on the list of India's 250 most backwards and poor districts, with many superstitions influencing the locals.

Across the globe, a similar problem is plaguing Canada's First Nation community of Attawapiskat in northern Ontario.

The community's spike in suicides, with some 100 attempts since September, forced it to declare a state of emergency in early April. Attawapiskat's Chief Bruce Shisheesh told the BBC that the youngest resident who tried to attempt suicide was just 11 years old.