By Jug Suraiya
Can loneliness be a sentence of death? In an increasing number of cases in Japan it seems that it can.
The Japanese government has appointed its first ‘suicide minister’ to address the problem of people taking their own lives because of psychological problems such as depression and a sense of isolation caused by the coronavirus pandemic and the social restrictions imposed to combat it.
The UK was the first nation to appoint a loneliness minister in 2018, much before the coronavirus pandemic hit the world.
It is a cruel anomaly that in the age of globalisation and technological innovations that have made intercommunication between individuals easier, more and more people are driven to the most desperate of all measures through a despairing sense of isolation, trapped within their aloneness, cut off from all human contact.
Tragically, it is the young, who have their entire lives ahead of them, who seem to be most susceptible to succumbing to what Dostoevsky called ‘Tomorrow’s zoro’. In 2019 in India, out of a total of 1,39,000-plus reported suicides, young adults accounted for 93,061, up from 89,407 in the previous year.
According to official statistics, there are 28 student suicides every day in India, that means a young life is self-destroyed every 51 minutes and 42 seconds, and the numbers are increasing year by year.
Most student suicides are attributed to the relentless pressure of studying and the fear of failure in exams. Such anxieties are intensified, too often unbearably so, by the emotional and psychic claustrophobia of loneliness, a prison without walls which cuts the prisoner off from the outside world in solitary confinement.
The breakup of the joint family system, the mass migration from small, closely-knit rural communities to the faceless anonymity of huge cities, have spread the malaise of the spirit called loneliness.
Loneliness is the antithesis of the solitude that the hermit chooses in a monastery or a remote mountain, to meditate. The aim of sequestering oneself far from the clamour and distraction of the madding crowd is to connect with the essential inner core which constitutes all of humanity, transcending every distinction of nationality, race, or creed.
The meditative solitude of the hermit is an affirmation of solidarity, of the oneness of humankind.
For obvious reasons we can’t all follow the path of the hermit, the forsaker of worldly devices and desires. But in our own ways, in our everyday lives, we can attempt to memorialise the truth contained in the words of the poet, which by calling to mind the bond of our common mortality breaks through the barrier of loneliness: “No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent.”
It’s our human destiny not to be alone. And it’s our human tragedy that so many of us misremember this in the deadly amnesia of loneliness.
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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