Dying to die

Tharparkar has emerged as the district with the highest number of reported suicide cases

Dying to die


ccording to the United Nation Development Programme‘s multidimensional poverty index, 87 percent of Tharparkar’s residents are living below the poverty line. Immense poverty has made life difficult for this desert community, giving rise to several socio-economic challenges, some more manageable than others.

Ever-surging inflation and climate change are adding to the daily burdens of Thari communities, pushing people to the edge and driving them to take drastic steps.

Between 2016-2020 Tharparkar emerged as the district with the highest number of reported suicides. The Sindh Mental Health Authority (SMHA), an arm of the provincial government, recorded 767 suicides in the province, of which 79 were reported in Tharparkar. There were as many as 115 suicides in 2021, many by persons belonging to the Hindu community.

Poverty and lack of resources have been identified as major reasons for suicide in the region. Forced marriages, drug abuse, depression and sexual exploitation are some other factors contributing to the rising death-by-suicide and attempted-suicide cases.

According to research, “Exposure to suicide can compel susceptible others to do the same — a phenomenon known as suicide contagion.” Research suggests that at least 5 percent of suicides by young people are influenced by this, a cause of such concern that in the past, some countries (such as Norway) forbade media from reporting on suicide altogether.

In Thar, however, not only do local papers carry uncensored photos of suicides, images are published in NGO reports and circulate freely on Facebook and WhatsApp, contributing to its normalisation. According to the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics, “93 percent of Tharis now have access to mobile internet.”

“In Tharparkar, more people die every year by suicide than in conflicts or quarrels due to poverty,” says Bharat Rathore, a teacher and artist.

So far, in 2023, 66 suicide cases have been reported in the region. Most of these are linked to social upheaval. The longstanding tradition of exchange marriages has also been identified as a reason in some cases.

The statistics provide only a sliver of insight into suicides in Pakistan — especially in Tharparkar, one of the country’s least-developed districts.

“The surge in suicide attempts in Tharparkar may not be attributed to a single cause. Factors such as hunger, poverty, domestic conflicts, mental health issues, despair and honour killings,” says Dr Raja Shad. A comprehensive investigation into the rising suicide cases has not yet been conducted. “The government must prioritise the well-being of citizens and ensure that they live with freedom and prosperity. If this is not the case, a significant portion of the population may find themselves in a vulnerable state that can lead them to attempt suicide. It is crucial for the government to address this matter and provide assistance to the people of Tharparkar for their overall welfare.” says Dr Shad.

In some parts of Tharparkar, there exists a belief in sorcery and its supposed ability to solve people’s problems. When facing certain challenges, some individuals turn to sorcerers or black magicians in the hopes of finding a solution. These charlatan sorcerers often manipulate and create conflicts within families. This practice has devastating consequences as it contributes to the rise of psychological disorders.

With the caveat that the numbers are likely grossly underestimated, nearly 20,000 suicides took place in Pakistan in 2019, according to the WHO. For every suicide, there are between 10 and 20 attempts and a hundred who experience suicidal thoughts but don’t act on them. These numbers are indicative of a major gap in the provision of mental health support in the country.

Statistics provide only a sliver of insight into suicide in Pakistan — especially in Tharparkar, among the country’s least-developed districts.

“Poverty may not be the sole reason behind suicide. Other domestic and societal issues can also contribute to this tragic outcome,” says Bharumal Amrani, a local environmentalist and writer. Armani says, “It is not uncommon to hear of these cases in affluent communities either. This indicates that there are multiple factors at play.” According to the local environmentalist, in the past, people lived in close-knit joint families.

For this reason, people could closely observe the emotional state and well-being of others. If someone appeared to be unhappy or distressed, immediate efforts would be made to understand the reason and resolve the issue. This fostered a sense of peace and prosperity in the family unit.

“Now, most people face their problems on their own and do not share their struggles with others. There is often a lack of observation and communication within families, resulting in individuals feeling ignored and overwhelmed by various challenges. Social isolation is another factor contributing to this unprecedented rise in suicide cases,” he says.

The writer is a teacher and activist based in Tharparkar

Dying to die