Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Fencing off suicide

Is it possible to suicide-proof a bridge?

City councillors are faced with this dilemma after two people jumped off a footbridge in downtown Manama in a space of just three months. They are concerned because this footbridge is in the very heart of Manama’s business district, and close to the upcoming Bahrain Financial Harbour, and right over the King Faisal Highway that takes you to the Seef district, Muharraq, and the Diplomatic Area.

So it is quite understandable that they wouldn’t want such a high profile area to acquire this level of notoriety. It wouldn’t make sound business sense to work next to or even purchase property next to a popular ‘suicide point.’ Hence, the suggestion going around is that some sort of fence be erected around the bridge, or if possible, even spikes are put around the railings to prevent anyone from jumping off the bridge.

On the face of it, the suggestions couldn’t have come at a better time, and the two suicides have shed light on safety issues and the need to make buildings and bridges as much suicide-proof as possible.

However, I’m bothered by a few of these suggestions. I find it ridiculous to assume that just by erecting a fence around THIS bridge, we’re going to prevent people from jumping to their deaths. If suicides can be prevented merely by incorporating thoughtful architectural touches like fences or spikes, then, we’d be looking at a decidedly stress-free world.

But we know that reality presents a completely different picture. Those who want to kill themselves will find a way to do so no matter what hurdles are placed in their way. If this bridge is fenced, then, they might find another bridge or the nearest tall building, or walk in front of a car or even hang themselves in their room. They’ll kill themselves anyway, and won’t be bothered with niceties like, will my death spoil the image of the neighbourhood?

Obviously, 41 year old Indian painter Ashokan Vamoora and 47 year old Indian salesman didn’t think about the market value of downtown Manama when they plunged to their deaths. We don’t know what was the underlying problem that forced them to take their own lives. We can only make assumptions, and arrive at conclusions that will only scratch the surface of this problem.

They are not the first Asian workers to kill themselves, and probably, wont be the last. Soon they’ll be part of a statistic that aid workers will use to justify some theory or the other.

Point is, fences or spikes are not going to stop this trail of death because they can never do so. The problems are much deeper, and solutions, if at all, require something much more substantial than these cosmetic treatments to structures. Perhaps, better working and living conditions could be a start, maybe putting an end to the exploitative free-visa system, maybe enforcing minimum wage to everyone across the board irrespective of nationality, maybe debt counseling would help, maybe… well, there are so many ‘maybes’ that can be considered and even contemplated, but it’d be a start, I think.

Actually, debt counseling would be a good place to start because most of these workers have accumulated huge debts just to land themselves here in Bahrain and the Gulf, and it takes them a lifetime just to pay back their debts because the salaries are miniscule, to say the least.

And most importantly, ‘hope’ must be restored in their lives because that’s what they sorely lack and that’s what makes them regard life with such pessimism. It may not solve all their problems, but it’d be a start, I think.

In fact, hope will be the best place to start… and a much more effective suicide-deterrent than any fence or spike.

1 comment:

Minnie said...

Please do continue to post....whatever be the issue, you do use your words so eloquently and evocatively..its your gift....you must give expression to it:-)...Manju