Thursday, March 25, 2010

Suicide or Homicide? - A short story.

If you wish to kill yourself by hanging, would you stand on the floor and press your neck against the rope? Would you?

March 24, 1931: “He was found partially hanging with his feet touching the ground in his party office-cum-residence." reported The Hindu, in the article describing death of Karam Singh. This particular piece of text caught my attention. It is called "near hanging," i.e., feet touching the ground while hanging. What followed was a common sense investigation, few questions, and rational imagination of the event.

Who Karam Singh: Karam Singh was the legend of peasant uprising in Punjab in the latter years of nineteenth century. He was the founding father of Kisan Mukti Sabha, which went on to become the stage for men of the land who took up arms against colonialism, who rejected Gandhian strategy of pleading for rights to survive. Peasant uprising of 1889 was crushed by the British army, which ironically employed Indians soldiers. With two of his comrades dead and 7 years spent in jail, Karam Singh broke and lost the vigor for armed struggle. Once fierce in his youth, he had become frail, lost the flames in his heart, and had publicly renounced the use of violence to obtain freedom. He lived a life of simplicity in a small hamlet named Nabadgoan till his last day. On March 23, 1931, he was found dead, his small body hanging from the ceiling, his bare feet touching the mud floor. "He committed suicide," police said. "He was ill and unable to bear the pain of illness," they added with poker face.

The Execution: Near-hanging is not a good way to do suicide as it is often nonfatal. This is because even if you press your neck hard on the rope and try to hang, you will fall unconscious before death occurs and your body will automatically find support on ground (law of gravity). So, if you want to die, then you have to jump off a height with rope tied tight around your neck. A chair or bed are good options in home setting. Considering the height of chair/bed to be around 2 feet and elasticity of the rope, the body has to suspend in air some 1-1/2 feet above the ground. This will be the perfect setting of suicide by hanging. But Singh was found with his feet touching the ground.

Incidents of near hanging is usually found among the young population with average age of people attempting near hanging being 31. Many cases involve no intention of suicide but only "breath play" mostly involving teens and young adults. People try to strangulate themselves (breath play) for short duration to experience the hallucinatory effect as the oxygen flow to the brain stops. Of course, there are accidental deaths. Karam Singh at 78 does not fit the bill for this method of self murder, at least not statistically.

The minimum height recommended for judicial hanging (sentenced by law) is the length of the body. This ensures that enough pressure is applied by the rope on the neck, enough to cause almost immediate death. In a crude way, this pressure can be calculated as - body weight x gravity + momentum gained on falling. However, a height of a feet or two does a good job even though the death is not as painless as in the previous case. Freshmen in the business of suicide (and acrophobics) do try hanging themselves at ground level or at small heights. Since the body does not hang, the force applied by the rope on the neck is quite small. This situation is more like choking rather than hanging. Death, if it occurs, is quite painful and prolonged. Given the encounters Singh might have had with life and death, he must have known the difference between hanging and choking. Why would he choose a painful death?

Is it possible that he died and then not sustaining his weight, the rope loosened and his body was lowered to the ground? If the rope is loose, will it sustain his weight at the first place when he jumps off the height? Or possibly a holy ghost loosened the rope after he was dead.


The Note: Statistically speaking, around 35% of people who commit suicide, leave a note behind. Karam babu was a leader, man of the masses, a thoughtful person. He was an ideologist who would not stop himself from expressing his feelings. Given his personality, one would expect him to codify his final words, to the townsmen, to the comrades, before attempting suicide. Yet no note was found.

The Media: The media was quick enough to plug holes of suspicion by announcing it as "suicide" and the reason as "age-related ailments." And they came to the conclusion even before autopsy could be conducted. This is rather a rare behavior of news vendors, they are very curious to know the inside story, always on hunt for conspiracy. And here it was, a bland story of a suicide by a frail old man.

Skim through various brands of news and they all have the same standard version of the story. It describe the event in 2 lines (Karam Singh committed suicide by hanging, police thinks it is suicide) and then quickly shifts the focus to his life history (his involvement with peasant uprising, death of comrades, his imprisonment, release from jail). Then finally as an ending note, they described his renunciation of violent means for freedom.

The Season: Karam Singh supposedly had abdicated armed struggle after being released from prison. Still he was the founding leader and general secretory of Kisan Mukti Sabha, the same flag that waves atop Kanhalal's camp, the most wanted freedom fighter or terrorist, as the British would call him. Kanhalal had taken Karam Singh's place, he was the poster boy of armed struggle now. The same ideology rested in the hearts of both men. Though having rejected violence as means of revolution, it would be foolhardy to consider that Singh had no links with Kanhalal. After all both belonged to the same party, had same ideology, only the zeal of youth had faded in the former.

With increasing activities of KMS, the colonial rulers launched the Operation Black Buck. It was meant to flush out and clean the jungles off the so-called terrorist faction of KMS. With the Operation Black Buck on and army masquerading in the green land to hunt down the red rebels, it would make sense that the British officials had something to glean from Singh. Some information about the rebels, their whereabouts, their strategies, what else, I don't know. Anyway, these are just wild, wild, guesses. In short, Operation Black Buck might have had something to do with Karam Singh and his "timely" death just when the genocide of rebels is on.

The End: All the above facts (actually fiction) turned the needle of suspicion (or guess) in some particular direction, which certainly is not the plain and simple self annihilation. But the history was not to reveal the truth because as of 1931, British ruled the land and the ruler writes the history. Whatever it be, it was a cold matter. Decay of a body which cannot support the weight of its owner's ideologies does not gather heat. By the second day of death, Karam Singh, who once made headlines, was pushed to some obscure corner of inner page of newspapers. Autopsy report could never make it to print. There were other important issues to report. By now, Gandhi's “Quit India Movement” had taken the nation by storm. Emotions were burning high in all directions. Desire to be free was taking shape and form. Independence was imminent, tomorrow if not today. A faint smile had spread itself across million faces, hovering above the scars of loss, pains of struggle. In this chaos, who would remember the death of old ideologue, who could barely lift a handgun in his last days, but yet dreamed of that elusive freedom for the masses. Let him die, let him lie in peace. Who cares whether it was suicide or homicide.

Disclaimer: Everything written above is figment of my imagination and has nothing to do with any dead or living person. Similarity, if any, with any dead or living person, past or present event, would be just by random chance.
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1 comment:

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