Suicide as a Form of Protest

Presentation author(s)

Rajvi Thakkar ’21, Mumbai, India

Majors: Religious Studies; International Relations


Why do people choose to commit suicide as a form of protest? This paper explores public perceptions toward suicide protest in contemporary Indian society. In the landscape of Indian culture, both fasting and self-immolation are rife with ritual significance across several different traditions. This paper evaluates the legacy left behind by those who have committed suicide as a form of political protest and possible instances of individuals being mythologized. Finally, the paper takes a look at Potti Sriramulu, who undertook a hunger strike for the creation of the state of Andhra Pradesh in 1952, and the Mandal Commission Protests of 1990, where anti-reservationists self-immolated to protest the government’s decision to grant government jobs based on an individual’s caste rather than merit. These cases will be used to assess whether the speed of the death and the level of suffering endured impact policy outcomes and policy shifts differently. This paper examines (1) the success and failure of suicide protest as a tactic employed by political movements, (2) if it is an effective form of political mobilization in the liminal space between violence and non-violence, and (3) if suicide protest is indicative of alarming levels of political despair within the fabric of the state.


Beth Dougherty

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