Govt indifferent to rising suicide trend in drought-hit Thar

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Imran Ayub

KARACHI: Amid poverty, malnutrition and a growing health crisis, Tharparkar has witnessed a new but quite frightening and disturbing trend over the past few months in its towns where the number of suicides has increased to an alarming level in 2018, sending ripples in the ranks of community development experts and activists who found more social and domestic reasons than poverty for the increasing phenomenon in the desert region.

Data compiled by the Sindh police suggests that the number of suicides in the Mirpurkhas range, in which Tharparkar district also falls, has gone up this year, even much higher than Karachi which has no match with the poverty stricken part of the province in terms of population, culture, civic issues and the crime rate.

“The number of suicides in Tharparkar reached to 43 by mid-November,” said a police official citing the record of the suicides in Sindh districts. “It’s quite high considering the past trend. One should remember that it’s only the number which was registered by the police. There are number of families or relatives of the deceased who do not come to police or report the incident.”

On an average, he said, there were four cases of suicide reported to the police during around 11 months of the year from the thinly populated region. In some case, young mothers ended their lives and of their children, he added.

Experts back data but see different reasons

Activists and people involved with community development for decades in the desert region also recognise that the number of suicides had increased in Tharparkar district. But, some of them have a different take on its reasons.

“It’s quite strange I believe,” write and activist Jami Chandio said, while agreeing that the number of suicides had increased in view of reports he had received from towns in Tharparkar. “But, I think poverty is not an issue. One cannot say anything with authority and this phenomenon needs to be investigated but apparently there are a few reasons which can help understand the current socio-economic issues in Thar.”

He said fast changing lifestyles and addition of new habits in routines of Tharis had been making their lives more difficult.

Mr Chandio, who is also associated with the Centre for Peace and Civil Society think tank, believed that the government’s concentration had increased in Thar areas over the past few years due to frequent media coverage and political pressure but a “holistic planning” needed to meet challenges in the region ranging.

Dr Sonu Khangrani, a community development expert and the recipient of a presidential award who had history of social and welfare campaigning in the desert region, saw some key reasons behind the trend.

“There is a couple of quite unfortunate but true factors that have emerged over the past few years in Thar towns and I believe that has played a key role in giving a push to the suicide trend,” he said. “We [previously] have seen that the people of Thar despite facing poverty and tough life did not adopt some bad habits [use of tobacco or drugs]. But over the years, addiction has quite spread in Thar towns with growing psychological problems. These two factors along with poverty have resulted in the situation.”

He regretted that the government, despite involving in so many projects and business organisations that had increased their influence and concentration in the districts for financial gains, had so far ignored the situation.

The worst thing was that they did not even realise the gravity of the situation, Dr Khangrani said.

Published in Dawn, December 17th, 2018

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