Back in 2018, the entire nation was shocked in the wake of mass suicides at the Burari house in New Delhi where all the 11 members of the family committed suicide. Similar cases of mass suicides or suicide in huge numbers has been recurring throughout history. It could be due to various reasons ranging from religious or cult sentiments to mass protest and resentment. Our reaction to such cases range from awe and surprise to sorrow to even adulation or mockery, depending upon the circumstances. Here’s a list of mass suicide incidents that shook the conscience of humanity.
1. MASS SUICIDES DURING NAZI HOLOCAUST, PRIOR TO 1945
During the holocaust, multiple instances of mass suicides occurred in and around Germany. Apart from the atrocities of war, the likely reasons attributed to this mass destruction is the value placed on honor by societal norms. This is echoed in the multiple cases of suicide including that of Adolf Hitler – which was considered a more dignified end than defeat. A few instances of such mass suicides include that in Demmin April, 1945 (over 1000 people), Berlin (1945, over 7000 people) etc.
2. PEOPLE’S TEMPLE MASS SUICIDES, US, 1978.
The People’s Temple Agricultural Project, popular as Jonestown, was a cult founded by Jim Jones, a charismatic churchman, who on his paranoid descent down the lane of his declining mental health dreamt of a socialist utopia. The mass suicide of which a third were minors and many were coerced to participate was termed as a revolutionary act and took nearly 900 lives in November 1978. The suicide followed Congressman Ryan’s investigation into the atrocities charged upon Jones.
3. FARMER SUICIDES, 1990 ONWARDS
India’s Agrarian Crisis began from the 1990s following a series of economic and agricultural reforms. Crop failure, climate change and poor support systems for Indian farmers caused indebtedness and exacerbated poverty among Indian farmers. Huge number of farmers are committing suicides in mass numbers out of desperation and as a sign of protest. Unfortunately this crisis is still not properly addressed and the suicide rates continue to rise.
4. ORDER OF THE SOLAR TEMPLE SUICIDES, SWITZERLAND, 1994
Started by Joseph Di Mambro and Luc Jouret in 1984 in Geneva, the solar temple cult is notorious for its gory murders and mass suicides. During 1994 and 1995, mass suicide episodes were reported in various areas of France, Switzerland and Canada. The dead members were dressed in ritualistic robes with a plastic bag wrapped around their head. Most of them were drugged and shot dead.
5. HEAVEN’S GATE MASS SUICIDE, CALIFORNIA,1997
Heaven’s gate, a San Diego based American UFO religious millenerian cult, founded by Marshall Applewhite and Bonnie Nettles in 1974. A mass suicide case was reported in 1997 with a death count of 39 people. The suicide was planned based on the cult belief that a UFO would arrive on that particular day which would help the cult members to graduate from human experience to the next level. Extreme group identity and conformity could be the reasons for this behavior.
6. BLUEWHALE GAME, 2017
A social networking challenge that originated around 2016, posed a global threat by inciting suicide among youth across the globe. The game, with 50 levels, involved progressively scaled up challenges ranging from watching a horror film alone to cutting a whale image on one’s wrist. The 50th challenge required the player to commit suicide. Multiple cases of suicide was reported in line with this challenge.
This list is obviously not exhaustive. But an interesting thing to note is the patterns evolving in all these cases of mass suicides. In almost all cases, the suicide was motivated by a desire to declare a position. It was either intended to show pride in one’s honor or as a rebellious act. Unlike individual suicides, which are often a call for help in disguise, mass suicides hold a more aggressive image and hence is often so interwoven with homicidal tendencies as well. One can see how group dynamics function into facilitating such acts. While a multidisciplinary approach has to run in the forefront to tackle these issues, it is imperative to note how the mental health of the individual members facilitate and exacerbate such mass destructive behaviors. Hence a sensible, sensitive, well informed strategy is required for preventing cases like these.