Individual involvement in social movement activity—once Molotov Cocktails, but lately petition-signing with the occasional occupation—has had us wringing our hands for a few decades now. Grievances, opportunities, networks, availability, cute protestors … ah yes, and the issues themselves—all serve as key motivators.
But something caught my eye the other day. Something like a quarter of a million farmers are estimated to have committed suicide in India over the last year, or so the papers say. Sorry for the moribund turn, but it got me thinking about what sort of status we should accord these acts.
A woman who was arrested by the police for attempting suicide was charged by the courts for the crime of attempted suicide (yes, still on the books in India). In an act of resistance against what she saw as an unjust law (and doubtless, an unjust verdict) she refused to eat. So she’s being fed through a tube—for the past decade. Ten years of protest.
So where does this fit? Are these hardcore cases of the weapons of the weak, as James Scott so famously dubbed the efforts of the marginalized to undermine those in power? Well, suicide is a touch more costly than pilfering. And what would Olson say? Presumably what answers there are lie in anthropological work on more collectivist cultures. But since most of the social movement work has come out of Western experiences over the past five decades, I’m just guessing.