Case study:

“The suicide case of M J Sonia, an employee of Nokia, Bangalore.”

September, 27th, 2008

“Save working women (from) humiliation,” Sonia, a 26-year-old software programmer, urged. She then killed herself. MJ Sonia was found hanging from a ceiling fan in her house at Vaishali Circle in Jayanagar 9th block on Friday evening, about 36 hours after she had died, the police said. A six-page suicide note addressed to many including the media and police, said she was taking the extreme step due to harassment at workplace. She was staying here alone. Sonia, a native of Mysore, was working with Nokia India Private Limited, located on the Marathahalli Main Road in the city, for the past two years. Her suicide note had named two managers at work, Tejas and Sachin, alleging them of harassment. C Nagaraj, ACP (Mico Layout sub-division), said a case of suicide was registered and the two men were being interrogated. "We will check and take action accordingly. As of now it is a case of abetment and harassment. We have booked them under Section 306 of the Indian Penal Code," he said. The police were also investigating possible sexual harassment. Sonia’s father, Jagadish Mysore, said she had complained of several instances of harassment by her colleagues. “She did bring this issue to the notice of the HR at Nokia a week ago, and they gave her an oral assurance to tackle this problem," Mysore, who was looking for a groom for his daughter, said. Poonam Kaul, director of Nokia Corporate Communication, refuted that Sonia had complained to the telecom handset manufacturer.

“We did take a look at the suicide note and there are many issues revolving around this. We believe that no such problems existed at the work place. However, we have requested the two managers to co-operate with any kind of investigations," she said. ACP Nagaraj said they were verifying whether Sonia had complained to Nokia and also the reason for no action being taken against the accused. Meanwhile, Dr M J Thomas, consultant psychiatrist at the Sagar Apollo Hospital, said, harassment or sexual harassment has different definitions based on an organisation, culture and law. “In this case, if Sonia was expressing about harassment, the organisation might not feel that it was harassment," he added. Sonia’s body was found after her father and Venkataraman, another Nokia employee and her friend, grew suspicious and informed the police. Venkataraman, a native of Chennai, said he visited Sonia’s house on Friday morning since she could not be reached on her mobile phone since noon the previous day. He found the door locked and alerted her father, a BSNL employee in Mysore, who came to Bangalore. “The police had to break open the door,” he said. The body was found in a partially decomposed state. Venkataraman, who joined Nokia four months ago, alleged the accused used to sideline Sonia at work. He also said she was suffering from depression for the last couple of months, due to harassment at the work place. In her note to parents, she accused the managers of pressurizing her to quit the job. “I have always performed well, yet, they would say that my performance was bad. When I asked them they said that I did not entertain guys in the team. I am unable to bear the torture.” The suicide note also said she wanted the software industry employees, who were suffering to get justice. “I need a rule to be made for hurting people, against managers who torture. Please arrest them… save working women (sic) humiliation…Help working women from exploitation,'' Sonia said in the note addressing the media and police.

II. Intervention:
Our client would be Sonia and the two managers. We would choose different schools of thoughts or the theories to analyze the case. The 26 year old Sonia committed suicide. Now taking the case facts into considerations a psychologist can explain the problems of Sonia and the two managers from different perspectives:

1. The behavioral perspective: The behavioral perspective talks about conditioned responses and learned behavior i.e. all human behavior is learned and there is nothing called I’m inherently born with it.

It would explain the problem as under:

A behaviorist would explain the changes in the behavior of Sonia after joining the job. The effect of her relationship which she had with her managers. A behaviorist would explain her act of suicide as a learned response; she might have seen people getting rid of problems after suicide. She might have heard that suicide erases all the problems or it’s possible that one of her friends might have committed suicide in her known sense under critical circumstances and that is why she also followed the footsteps of her friend. As she mentioned in her letter that it was the only option she had. The behavior of her managers was not friendly with her as per her expectations and the environment of her office was not good for her. As explained in the national daily when they were given 5 days off, her managers didn’t behave properly with her, gave no work to her and told her that she can’t entertain others. Inspite of her work she was never praised. This might have led her to think low of herself.

The environment was not conducive for her development. Her managers behaved in that way because this thing might have given them some sort of rewards like the female employees might have given up under pressure to their wishes. The managers would have got what they wanted from the female employee that is why they behaved in the same way with Sonia and which led to humiliation for Sonia.

2. The Social Perspective: The social psychologists try to understand normal social interactions. The social psychologists would be interested in the relationship between Sonia and her managers and the subordinates. It’s possible that her managers were not good at maintaining terms with a junior female employee. The managers have been blamed for the suicide of Sonia, the social perspective says that the managers in their other jobs would have done the same thing with female employees or quite possibly with male members as well. In some of the articles it had been written that Sonia was an underperformer and she might not have been doing well and thus her managers might have been forcing her. And this would have worsened the condition and forced her to suicide. There must be some problem in Sonia’s work that the managers didn’t like and so they might have criticized her constantly. As for Sonia, it’s possible that she had been working hard but still she never got accolades for it. As per her complains regarding harassment at the work place and her request of saving the women employees from harassment it can be said that she committed suicide and left a note so that people could take her incident as an example and do something for betterment of condition of women in offices. Many cases have been reported like this and Sonia wanted to be an example at least for her organisation. Her HR didn’t take her case into consideration and this shows that Sonia might not be having good relation with her HR and her problem went unheard. The HR suggested a 5 days off from work.

One of the psychologist Mr. Thomas said: “If it is a real case of harassment, the person will not have a support system, and going through a stress experience will force the person to react. Suicide is the most sought reaction to a stress experience, driven by anxiety of both physiological and emotional nature and depression”. Motivation: "Why Not Do It? It Worked Out Fine for Them". This might have been the thought in mind of Sonia when she decided to commit suicide. She might have seen cases and acted like that only.

3. The developmental perspective: The developmental perspective is concerned with characteristic changes in people that occur as they mature, changes in the way they think and feel. Sonia was not able to deal with the changes in workplace. Her suicide case can be seen as partly the result of cognition i.e. she would have wanted to her work according to herself only which might not have been liked by her managers. Sonia has complained of harassment and she was not able to cope up with such indecent happenings. She might have valued herself above others and her behavior might have caused her managers to respond in a bad manner and which might have led to further consequences.

4. The humanistic perspective: it talks about person’s sense of self. Sonia might have thought of herself higher than her bosses and this would have led to conflicts between the two parties. Her managers might have tried to show off their power of position and they might have found a way in harassing a female employee. This might have given them a good feeling about themselves by troubling her. The humanistic perspective would focus on self esteem of Sonia and her managers. They might have had conflicts between them.

5. The Cognitive perspective: Cognition refers to perception of the world around us, learning, memory and thinking and comprehension of our social environment. It also refers to the processing of information which we get from our senses and the difference in perception processes. The cognitive perspective would explain the behavior of the managers in terms of their perception regarding Sonia as week female employee who can be harassed and they would get away. They would have had earlier such experiences. The managers would have found it easier to get away after such acts. Even the HR was not supportive towards Sonia. Sonia might have had this thing in her memory that after committing suicide people get rid of problems. That is why she committed suicide. She planned her suicide and left a note. It’s possible that after joining the job her perception of the workplace changed and she was not able to cope up with the current work pressure.

6. The psychoanalytic perspective: This perspective talks about the expression of unconscious drive that shows up in behavior and thoughts. The key idea is that when these impulses are unacceptable or when they make us anxious we use defense mechanism. It talks about the defense mechanism displacement that when we are too angry at someone who is too powerful then we deflect our power in some other ways and this is what Sonia did by committing suicide. She was not able to show her anger against her managers and so the ultimate end she got for her problem was suicide, by hurting herself. She was angry and frustrated due to her bosses and her work and work – place. One of the handwriting experts after analyzing her handwriting had following conclusions about her: “She's rebellious, does not compromise on her pride and dignity, cannot express herself, physically frustrated, and suspicious about her looks and relationships, sensitive, high stress levels and dejected. At the same time, she is individualistic, creative, artistic, and was one who wants to stand out in the crowd," Her feelings of resentment were seen in the suicide note as well. The psychoanalytic perspective may talk of her hidden desires, she might have wanted to grow faster in her position and wasn’t able to succeed or she herself might have approached her managers and didn’t get the response she wanted and due to humiliation she committed such crime. She had this feeling that she would be able to set a landmark for female employees taking in examples if many who sacrificed their lives.

7. The biological perspective: It talks about the changes in behavior in relation to changes in body-the nervous and the glandular systems. It was given in the case that Sonia was suffering with depression. Depression affects individuals with out discriminating against race, gender, or age, yet among adolescents, the incidents of depression have increased significantly. The same happened with Sonia. With changes of their position in the society, responsibilities for and ambiguities about the future, along with romantic relationships or alienation from such, are substantial causes of anxiety and stress to an individual. For Sonia her work place was troubling her.

Depression leads to low energy, cognitive difficulty, irritability, sad mood, guilt, low self-esteem, social introversion, pessimism and instrumental helplessness, thus a person starts alienating herself from society and commits suicides. According to the American Journal of Psychiatry there is growing evidence of an association between suicidal tendencies and a low level of the neurotransmitter serotonin. A higher rate of suicide attempts has been found in depressed patients whose spinal fluid contains low levels of a breakdown product of neurotransmitter serotonin. In addition, several studies have also found higher numbers of serotonin nerve receptor type in the brains of the suicide victims. Lack of the normal amount of serotonin is a chemical imbalance; it affects the prefrontal cortex of the brain, which seems to be the area most impacted by a serotonin system dysfunction (Larkin and Marilynn 1996). Such evidence of a chemical imbalance in a brain corroborates a statement that suicide attempts are not of a character flaw, but a chemical. Her managers were more aggressive. The cerebral chemical imbalance leads to suicidal tendencies.

Theory of emotions: According to the Richard Lazarus theory he emotions that we feel is due to appraisal or evaluation or information coming from the environmental situations. Sonia was depressed, she got no help and finally the ultimate solution that she saw was to end her life and response came in the way of suicide.

Presented by : Lalita Kumari (ABS) 1st sem MBA

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