Irrational Beliefs Writ Large in Society

by July 11, 2018 0 comments

The Burari episode is a grim reminder that despite advancement in all spheres of life today, a large section of our society is still into irrational beliefs that often lead to undesirable results.

The Burari mass suicide is among the goriest incidents that one can recall in recent times. Eleven members of a family — from very old to very young — all decided to snuff lives out of themselves for reasons that shall remain in the realm of speculations. However, this episode has raised serious concerns about the state of orthodoxy, superstitions and blind faith that continues to grip some sections of the Indian society. That literacy and modernisation have continued to elude rationality is something that will bewilder sociologists and scientists alike. However, mindless compliance to an irrational belief can lead to such extreme step of self-destruction is something that social psychologists have dealt with extensively while analysing the cult behaviour of mass suicides of 912 people of a Guyanese community, popularly known as Jonestown, in 1978.

Investigations in the Burari incident so far have pointed to an irrational belief. Purported writings in the diary of the alleged mastermind Lalit Bhatia indicate that he had been preparing for this ‘ritual to kill’ since many months. Though the Delhi Police has not yet concluded the investigations into the case, following the facts in the public domain, it appears to be a case of self-propelled crime inflicted by design. What’s most bewildering is the fact that the family was reasonably well educated and did not have any apparent reasons for distress, at least not so agonising so as to opt for a mass suicide.

Often, empirical evidence in the case of such gory incidents point  to religious dogma or fanatic beliefs. One such recent case was reported from Bangladesh that made an entry into Wikipedia under the category of mass suicide. “In 2007, in Mymensingh, Bangladesh, a family of nine — all members of a novel ‘Adam’s cult’ committed mass suicide by hurling themselves onto a train. Although the Daily Mail initially reported that they were victimised for converting to Christianity, diaries recovered from the victims’ home, ‘Adam House’, related they wanted a pure life as lived by Adam and Eve, freeing themselves from bondage to any religion and refused contact with any outsiders. After leaving Islam, they did not partake in Christian ceremonies and they even used to worship Kali sometimes, practically out of boundaries of any particular religion,” notes this entry in Wikipedia.

There have been other such instances as well. In 1997, over three days in March, 39 followers of an American UFO religious millenarian cult called Heaven’s Gate died in a mass suicide in Rancho Santa Fe, California. These people believed, according to the teachings of their group, that through their suicides, they were “exiting their human vessels” so that their souls could go on a journey aboard a spaceship they believed to be following comet Hale-Bopp. Some male members of the group underwent voluntary castration in preparation for the genderless life that they believed awaited them after the suicide. Heaven’s Gate members believed the planet Earth was about to be “recycled” (wiped clean, renewed, refurbished, and rejuvenated), and the only chance to survive was to leave it immediately. About 74 members of another cult called Order of the Solar Temple committed suicides between 1994 and 1997 in Canada and Switzerland.

While sociologists in all ages have attempted to decode reasons for suicide, it was Emile Durkheim who first gave a theory to this phenomenon and every other postulate was either a critique or build upon it. The French sociologist termed suicide as an instance of social deviance or a transgression of socially established norms. He theorised four different types of suicides: Egoistic, altruistic, anomic and fatalistic and plotted it against social regulation and social integration. Egoistic suicide is a result of low level of social integration. When an individual is not integrated well into a social group, it can lead to a feeling that he/she has not made a difference in anyone’s lives.

On the other hand, too much social integration can lead to altruistic suicide — when a group dominates the life of an individual to a degree where he/she feels meaningless to society. When social regulation is inadequate, it can lead to anomic suicide. And when there is too much social regulation, it leads to fatalistic suicide — when one follows the same routine day after day, it leads him/her to believe that there is nothing good to look forward to.

On which category the Burari suicides will fall is something that sociologists will continue to struggle to figure out. However, one thing is certain that the incident has jolted the society and brought to fore a sad social fact: There are many amidst us who continue to struggle with inexplicable anxiety and psychological distress. It also raises a question mark over how the spread of education may not have necessarily led to enlightenment and attainment of reason. One only hopes this is an aberration and a rarest of rare case.

Writer: Navneet Anand

Courtesy: The Pioneer

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