Rising Suicide Rates In Kashmir
By Ibrahim Wani
22 June, 2011
Suicide cases are on the rise in Kashmir with even teenagers as young as 14, attempting suicide. This issue is emerging as a major problem in the society
When the two friends met after a long time, they talked about what had made them to leave Kashmir. Both had gone through ordeals in their lives, which were actually not their doings. Both had a profound sense of loss. Shabir had left Kashmir in 2007, and Zuhaib in 2008.
One had gone to Bangalore and the other to Delhi. When they met a week back in Kashmir on the banks of Dal, their thought went to two people, who were no longer in this world. Shabir’s thoughts went to his brother-Mursal, and Zuhaib’s went to his girlfriend, Amina. Both had committed suicide.
I still see him in my dreams,” says Shabir. Mursal was just 16-years-old when he killed himself. “I sometimes still question myself why this happened? Why did I slap him that day?” says Shabir, with tears in his eyes. Mursal had not been a good student and was not interested in studies. He preferred to spend most of his time at his father’s pharmaceutical shop. This worried his parents.
“I wanted to become an engineer, and my brother wanted to become a salesman,” says Shabir, who is in the final year of his engineering course. On the day Mursal committed suicide, everything had seemed normal to the family. The family had to attend a get-together at a close relative’s house, who had returned from Hajj. Shabir went to meet Mursal at the shop, and told him to study for an approaching exam. He had said that he would not.
“He told me that he did not want to study. And would not appear in the exam,” says shabir. Earlier Mursal had failed in the exam, and he found little sense in continuing. “But I insisted since I thought that it would be important for his future,” says Shabir.
Tempers had built up and in the heat of the moment Shabir slapped him. Mursal ran away from the shop. Mursal did not return till late in the evening. Someone had seen him at a relative’s place, and the family heaved a sigh of relief. But it was just the beginning of worst times for the family.
At around 10 pm, a relative came rushing to their house, and said that Mursal had hanged himself. The mother collapsed and remained unconscious throughout the night. Shabir rushed to the relative’s house.
“How can I forget that day? The scene often replays in mind and gives me pain,” says Shabir. He also cannot forget the expression of his father. “It was the first time that I had seen him cry,” he says. Mursal lay in front of them, with his eyes closed. The cloth he had used as a rope around his neck had been loosened and he was on a mattress as if sleeping.
Later police came and took his body. When the police started questioning they came to know that the Mursal had eaten dinner and then gone to a room. He had bolted the door from inside. When someone had knocked on the door and got no response, they were worried. A little later, his cousin broke the door, and everyone went into an instant shock.
The police wanted a post mortem, but the family was pleading against it. A relative says that they had to bribe the police to get his body. With Mursal’s death a lot changed for the family. “At that time we were renovating our house. The work was stopped and has still not been resumed. We think of starting it this year, but my mother is against it,” he says.
The mother often blames Shabir when she is not able to control her emotions. Shabir too developed a feeling of guilt which still haunts him. “I missed my AIEEE exam as I could no longer concentrate on anything. Everything made me remember him and curse myself,” he says. That was why he decided to leave the place and go to Bangalore. Shabir’s slap had only been the trigger.
People close to the family say that Mursal would often be chastised for not taking his studies seriously. “Once he was kept in a dark room for 2 days,” says a relative adding that Mursal would often be subjected to corporal punishment by his father. Mursal would often run away from home and go to the house of the relatives where he finally committed suicide.
Amina, on the contrary, had been brought up in a very understanding environment. She went to one of the best schools in the valley, had all the facilities, everything she desired.
Amina met Zuhaib first at tuition class during class 11th. The two started helping each other with studies and soon developed a good friendship. They fell in love. “It was the best time of our lives. We would meet in the morning before school, after the school, and in the evening at the tutors’,” he says.
Both of them were very good at their studies, and would secure above 80 percent in exams. Zuhaib gifted her a mobile phone so that they could talk without their parents knowing it.
“We would talk a lot on our mobile phones. We almost planned our lives. She would go to the engineering college, and I would do an MBA. After that we would get married,” says Zuhaib, who is the only son of his parents. “Since both of us were of a similar economic background, we did not forsee any problems,” he says.
But none of these reasons were responsible for Amina taking the extreme step. “She was very mild, and she would not even get angry at me,” he says. Zuhaib is still at a loss to understand what happened. We met on the morning of that day and everything was okay.
After the school, Zuhaib waited for her at the spot outside her school where they would meet every day. But she did not come. Zuhaib kept calling her phone, but it was switched off. He was worried, but he left after waiting for around an hour. He thought that she would turn up at the tutors’ in the evening. But she did not. Zuhaib never saw her again. The next day he learnt that she had committed suicide.
“I was shocked. I fell down. A friend, who was accompanying me, lifted me and took me to a nearby shop. After that I went to the graveyard with my friend where she had been buried,” says Zuhaib recalling everything in detail. The friend who accompanied him was Shabir.
The next few days, went into inquiries. “I did not understand what had happened and why?” he says. The family, he came to know, had stated that she fell accidentally from the second story.
But some common friends, who were also Amina’s classmates, told a different story. “They said that the mobile had been recovered from her during an inspection, and her teachers had reprimanded her,” he says. “But one teacher had called her family.”
Everyone had a different tale to narrate. While some classmates said that the teacher had switched on the phone, looked into the gallery and found some personal photos and videos. “The male teacher had then shown it to all the other teachers and also told the same to the family,” says Zuhaib.
When she had reached home, an angry family was waiting for her. She was thrashed, rebuked and cursed. In the evening when she was alone in the room, she hung herself by a rope.
“Living in Kashmir became unbearable without her,” says Zuhaib. He went to Delhi after passing higher secondary, and is studying management in a university there, after completing his graduation. “I had promised that I would do an MBA. That is what I am doing,” he says.
More than 60 percent of those who commit suicides in Kashmir are women. And it is not just teenagers. “Half widows, widows of conflict and those who face domestic violence are in the high risk group of suicide committers here in Kashmir,” says Shams-un-Nisa, who is pursuing her PhD research on the topic, ‘Suicides in Kashmir’ in Kashmir University.
Of the cases she has identified in her research, around 2/3rd are women. Most are in the age group between 15-35 years of age. “In a number of cases the reason was related to conflict. They were suffering from depression due to death of a close family member who had been killed or disappeared, and the women had been left with no source of livelihood,” she says.
“In many other cases the result was domestic violence, dowry demands or in some cases personal reasons,” she adds.
Qaiser was the most jolly and flamboyant in the friend circle, his friends say. Hailing from a respectable family, he read in one of the major missionary schools.
“But he had only one limitation. For him marks were everything,” say his friends. They add that his family put a lot of pressure on him to excel in studies. “He had even consumed harpic (bactericide- toilet cleaner) once when he did not score according to the expectations,” say the friends.
Qaiser would work very hard for the examinations. “He appeared in the class test but his performance was not satisfactory. He was very worried,” say the friends, “but, we didn’t know that he will kill himself,” says one of his friends, Amir.
Qaiser committed suicide just a few days before his 15th birthday. “He (Qaiser) was a boy with huge potential. But, the importance he gave to marks consumed him. He used to say that his parents would often rebuke him for not coming good on the family name and all the facilities being provided to him.”
A lot of students complain of huge pressure from the family to score good marks. This pressure only increases at the time of competitive exams. “My parents reprimand me even when I lose half a mark in the unit tests,” says a 7th standard student. “All my friends including me go to private tuitions in addition the school,” he says, “but I am never allowed to go out for playing. I am not even allowed to watch television.”
The pressure is often witnessed by the teachers also. “Whenever there are parent teacher meetings, some parents start thrashing their wards in front of ourselves. If we try to stop them, they start complaining that the teachers are not giving attention to their students,” says a teacher at a reputed private school of the valley.“The stress levels among students are too high.”
For some the pressure is too much to bear and they take the extreme step. With the declaration of every major result, there are two to three suicide cases.
Sadaket Rehman, a clinical psychologist at Government Psychiatric Hospital Srinagar says that during the examination period stress levels in students are very high. “It is common to come across news headlines about student suicides especially during the exam period.”
“Several reasons are attributed for such negative actions; strong parental pressure – whether about obtaining marks or making career choices; sometimes it is the pressure of performance in other fields,” says Sadaket Rehman.
“Pressure is not delightful for anyone and in fact very few people have the capability to bear it. Parental pressure and academic pressure, by expecting too much from the students by putting them under constant pressure often leads to attempted suicides,” she says.
The parental pressure is cited by most of the school going students for the high stress levels. But parents have a different take on it. “In our times, we studied in government schools. It was a struggle even to get access to books. But parents today spent a large part of their earning on their children’s education. If they do not come up to the mark, it becomes our duty to not let them go astray. We have to keep a check on them,” says Gulzar Ahmad who has a daughter studying in 6th standard. He adds that the competition in today’s world is too high and students cannot be complacent.
“What do we ask them to do? To study for their own future. They can enjoy life after they have made their careers,” he says. His daughter is not allowed to watch television.
Everyone is stressed these days, but the response to the stress often depends on the coping mechanisms,” says Dr Wakar – a psychiatrist. “The first support a stressed person usually gets is from family,” says Zahoor Akram, a social worker. “But in case of these students the source of stress is the parents itself. Parents today are not supportive, and there is a big void in the support mechanisms.
Students, particularly teenagers, already burdened with many expectations, cannot even talk to their parents, because of the generation and understanding gap.”
But the suicides are not limited to youngsters or students only. Rafiq Shiekh, 30, from Anantnag is undergoing treatment in the hospital. He had attempted suicide by consuming pesticides. He was saved as his family took him to a hospital in time. He says that he tried to commit suicide because of economic reasons.He is the only brother of four sisters, and much is expected of him. His family is in shock, but he is recovering.
Rashid Ahmad, too attempted suicide, but failed. He tried to cut his veins, but again the timely intervention of his family saved him. He was unemployed.
“For every case of suicide there are around eight cases of attempted suicide,” says Dr Wakar. He says that rising incidence of suicides is a major issue in the society that needs immediate attention. Dr Wakar has worked as a medical officer in the police drug de-addiction centre in Srinagar. He says that the suicidal tendency among drug addicts is very high.
“While I was working in the PCR (drug de-addiction centre) I came across five cases, where the addicts who had come for treatment could not cope up with the stress, and committed suicide,” he says. He says that the tendency to inflict self harm is very high among substance abusers which go for volatile addiction particularly correctional fluids. The addiction to this is very high in Kashmir, particularly among teenage boys.“The high drug addiction in Kashmir has a direct bearing on the increasing suicide rates,” he says.
Experts say that the protracted conflict in the valley stands as a major factor. According to them, there is a high level of depression in the society due to the conflict.
The conflict in Kashmir has not had an affect on the local populace only. Among the non-local security forces posted in the area, the rate of suicides is very high too. “There is a sense of melancholy and chronic depression in the people. Some are able to cope with it, and for some it is too much to bear. For the latter, suicide emerges as a way out,” say the experts, adding, “an impulsive event just acts as the trigger to the suicide”.
Most of the cases of suicide are not reported,” says Nisa. While doing her research she has come across around 1000 officially reported cases, but according to her the real figure is much higher.
“If we compare Kashmir to western societies the rate is less, but among Muslim societies the suicides in Kashmir are very high -the highest, she says. The reasons are turmoil, modernization, unemployment, business failures etc,” she says. Suicide is haram-prohibited in Islam.
“Anyone who commits suicide commits a very grave sin, and the Nimaz-e-Jinazah (funeral prayers) is not to be offered for the person,” says Moulvi Adbul Rahsid, an imam at a mosque in Qamarwari. He says that one of the reasons for rise in suicide cases is that people are increasingly moving away from religion, and have no knowledge of religious teachings.
Law also recognizes suicide as a transgression. DIG Central Kashmir, AG Mir, says that under law, a case is investigated under section 174, whenever a suicide is reported. “Normal procedure is followed, a post mortem is undertaken, and if we find that it is a case of suicide, the case is closed,” he says.
“If some abetment or involvement of someone is found then a case against him or her is registered under section 306, 309,”says Mir. According to Doctors at SKIMS, the hospital receives three to four cases of attempted suicide every day making it around 900 cases yearly in just one hospital. “Most of the cases we receive are females,” says Dr Bashir Dar. “Mostly they do not tell us the reasons for attempting suicide.” Dr Shamim, who also works at SKIMS, says that the top most method resorted to is poisoning, followed by hanging and then self injury.
“In most of such cases from rural areas there is use of pesticides, while as from urban areas the major method is overdose of tablets or use of rat poison,” he says. He adds that there is a big need for toxicology centres at district levels, to deal with the growing number of suicide cases. “Most of the cases reach us late, but if they would be treated earlier at district level more lives could be saved,” he says.
(names have been changed on request).
Ibrahim Wani is a journalist working in Kashmir for the past two years. He is about to finish my Post Graduate Programme in Mass communication and Journalism from Kashmir University.
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