In Behind the Beautiful Forevers, why did many of the characters choose to commit suicide?
The suicides that occur in this powerful account of what life is like in a Mumbai slum are shown to be part of the gritty existence of a life consisting of poverty and lack of hope. In Chapter Six, for example, Fatima sets fire to herself, eventually leading to her death, as a result of a petty squabble with her neighbours, the Husseins, who have been renovating their house and as a result have offended Fatima, their neighbour, driving her to attempt to burn herself so she can cause trouble for them by claiming that they set fire to her. The end of the chapter witnesses that women choosing to burn themselves, whilst it not exactly be a common event, is certainly not unheard of, as the people think of another case of self-immolation:
The woman's husband had left her, and she, unlike Fatima, had torched herself thoroughly. The woman's charred face-skin had stuck to the floor, and Rahul claimed that her chest had sort of exploded and that you could see straight through to her heart.
The motives of this other woman are not mentioned, but the final line of how this other, anonymous woman committed suicide and revealed her heart indicates that the decision to commit suicide reveals the motives behind that decision very clearly. For Fatima, it was the attempt to create trouble for her neighbours as a result of a petty dispute. For other characters, it is other motives that hold sway. Above all, however, suicide is shown to be a way of making oneself heard in a world that is determined to ignore and sideline the poorest individuals, robbing them of even the most basic rights to advocacy.