Some Hindus believe that self-immolation can bring about a connection to God. Others say these acts are not to be considered a religious rite. Regardless of those feelings the West is having to understand Eastern religions as the two merge into one.
There is no word as to the motivation that caused Priya Masters to kill herself and her two children Milan, 1 and her Mahi, 3, last week but it could have to do with her Hindu religion.
This month’s deaths were quite similar to a case last August in Chicago. When Nimisha Tawari became distraught over her marriage she set fire to herself and two children Vardaan, 4, and Ananya, 18 months in a bedroom.
“Fire is sacred for us. We are taught to respect fire,” which elevates the distress associated with fire-induced deaths, said Suman Lingappa, a volunteer at the Hindu Temple of Florida in Tampa.
Three other burning incidents followed the Tawari case in Chicago. Subhash Chandler set fire to a home where her daughter, son-in-law and young son lived. They mother did so because of anger over the fact that her son in law was of a lower caste and had not sought her consent for the marriage.
Kaushik Patel set fire to himself and two young sons in the shower of his home in late November. He and the older of the two boys survived but his four year old perished in the blaze.
Some say that self immolation comes from the Indian culture where women have been set ablaze in dowry disputes. At one time the practice of “sati”, requiring a woman to self immolate at her husbands funeral pyre was commonplace. Sati is now banned in India.
While it is banned the practice of sati still happens. Within the Hindu faith is the belief that life will renew, the soul will live on and that reincarnation happens until the soul has become pure and is able to escape the karmic scope of being reborn to learn what needs to be learnt. The sati shows a devote faith and family members are proud of the women whose lives are lost to this rite.
The Hindu religion believes in nonviolence. The gun culture of the West is far removed from the mostly peaceful members of this religious belief.
“In many parts of India, people would not kill an insect, even inside their home,” Dilip Shah, one of the founders of the Lakeland temple said. “They’ll pick it up and put it outside.”
So why would a people with such a peaceful nature use fire as a means to killing themselves?
Shah says that in the Hindu culture fire is considered a purifying element and that it is easy to set fire to oneself with gasoline and kerosene readily available.
The Hindu family is generally very close knit. Many of the culture put their family, friends and spiritual communities above everything. Seeking help for a mental health concern is considered a weakness and therefore many will not look outside of their ring of community for help.