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Analysis of Youth Suicides in Chitral


For the last two decades Chitral district in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan is witnessing an alarming rate of youth suicides. A survey indicates that 300 individuals committed suicides between 2007 and 2011. Likewise, 176 cases of suicides were reported from 2013 to 2019, abnormally high for a region inhibiting a total population of 4.5 lac. The social stigma and poor reporting system mean a sufficient number of cases remain unreported.

82% of the casualties belonged to the age group 15-30 including 58% females. Among the female victims, 55% were married. The majority of the victims (36%) including 77% of the females took their lives by jumping into the Chitral River. 28% of the deceased youths, mainly boys (85%), shot themselves. The rest of the victims either hanged themselves or took poisons.

Suicidologists across the globe agree that in traditional societies socio-cultural factors are more prominent in case of youth suicides. Traditions in such societies retain the status of laws that are harsh on women. Deviation offends honor and honor is more valuable than human lives. For centuries these traditions tied individuals in a collective whole by providing them with socio-cultural integrity what French Sociologist Emile Durkheim calls “integration-regulation”. The bonds between individuals and society, however, turn weak under drastic social change introduced by modernity. As the youths are the agents of this progress, their ambitions are colliding with centuries-old traditions resulting in increased frustrations exposing them to suicide.

The traditional Chitrali culture had flourished and preserved in solitude. For centuries it regulated and provided socio-cultural identity to its people. This, however, turned subsiding when the district was abruptly exposed to globalism, trans-cultural ideas, and modernity.

Chitral has gone through three stages of drastic social changes. First, while becoming part of Pakistan; second after 1985 with the NGOs working on mass mobilization, and, finally, after the 2000s with the opening of Lowari Tunnel and telecommunication-cum-educational revolutions. These induced modern aspirations among the youths which are resisted by outdated traditions.

The induced high dreams of the youths are difficult to realize in a traditional and poor region like Chitral where norms are oppressive and the local market offers too little. The situation is more annoying for women as social taboos further restrict their options. Young women dream which could only be materialized in civilized societies. In Chitral, the ground reality is such where even well-educated women are obliged to serve the family by burning woods and rear domestic animals. Domestic issues (45%), violence, mismatched marriages, mental illnesses, and lack of support network further add to the miseries of women. My research indicates 58% of the victims were women including 55% married women.

The culture earlier was able to regulate and integrate the dormant aspirations of the youths. The youth especially young women previously being unaware of their rights remained in harmony with patriarchal values. The abrupt change has disturbed this. Women no longer find value in patriarchal values. Traditions are collapsing, and modernity remains unstable. Neither traditions are strong enough to regulate and integrate the youths nor can the youths celebrate their freedoms. The old order is disturbed and the new order is yet to appear. This is what Durkheim calls “egoism-anomie” i.e. increased meaninglessness and deregulation increasing vulnerability to suicides.

Another factor which is haunting the minds of the youths is the obsession of competition in academia and the job market. Securing high marks and government jobs are assumed as the guarantee for social mobility and, hence, excessive stress on both. The result is pressure on the minds of the youths and those who didn’t succeed get frustrated. 11% of the youths ended their lives after getting low marks. To quote Bertrand Russel “The trouble arises from the generally received philosophy of life, according to which life is a contest, a competition, in which respect is to be accorded to the victor”.

The frustrations of the youths could be felt by interacting with them and also through their poetries or love songs. Contrary to old ghazals the present-day love songs by the youths are full of despair, dejection, frustrations, urge to die in love, suicide ideations, and moans against the cold-blooded hearts of the beloved. Such poetries could be categorized as the ‘confessional poetries’ or ‘the poetry of suffering’ containing suicide ideations. The youths are denouncing the outdated traditions that tend to suppress their ambitions. The situation is more thwarting for women as being tabooed they even can’t express their frustrations by writing ghazals, increasing the vulnerability to suicides.

The deceased youths get the sympathies of the community and family members in the form of sighs, regrets, and mourning. Those who survive get their demands fulfilled which otherwise are denied. This may be setting up suicide psychology as how to react under anxiety. Youths resort to threatening “I will kill myself.”

To sum up, the traditional culture of Chitral under drastic social change is failing in sufficiently regulating and integrating the emerging ambitions of the youths. The result is crumbling norms and hybrid modernity annoying youths making them prone to end their own lives. The suicides are tips of ice-berg while the invisible part consists of individuals who are living with depression and anxieties.

(Note: This article is based on the author’s research paper).

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