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DAWN - Features; April 09, 2008

April 09, 2008

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Bear Witness With Me Dear Motherland

By Anwar Mansuri and Munawer Azeem


LAST FRIDAY an ice-cream vendor, Umar Deen, committed suicide by shooting himself at Aabpara chowk, Islamabad’s busiest and oldest landmark. Next day’s newspapers reported routinely that financial problems had driven him to the desperate act.

And that was the end of the sad story for the society. But should it be?

Umar, 28, left behind a pretty long suicide note titled Watan Ki Mitti Gawah Rehna (Bear Witness With Me Dear Motherland). Dawn is publishing excerpts from this testimony of a self-respecting youngman against a callous world.

Written at leisure and with emotion, but not bitterness, the note has two parts — one addressed to his family and the other to the society.

A matriculate, Umar apparently planned to take his life in front of the Parliament House as mentioned on the opening page of his suicide note book which he begins with seeking forgiveness from his mother for his act.

After a few Urdu couplets, reflecting the hard life he had lived, and decided to end, he writes an imaginary verdict which reads: “The court of Islamic Republic of Pakistan finds accused Umar Deen, alias Mazhar Iqbal (Umar Udas), guilty of not paying the money he owed to usurers and for living in worst of conditions and, rejecting all his mercy appeals, sentences him to death”.

As if he wanted it to be the last such sentence, Umar ended the verdict with the words: “The court is adjourned”.

Then he says goodbye to his friends, each by his name, and leaves his cellphone’s SIM for ‘brother Rameez’ with instructions to get it registered “otherwise it will be blocked”.

Then follow two appeals addressed to his family and to the prime minister of the country.

In the first one he consoles his family, telling them “I’m not the first young man to die. Thousands suffer oppression every day and thousands meet tragic deaths. Don’t grieve for me and don’t delay (sister) Sumaira’s marriage. Zameer and uncle Rehmat will take care of things in my place. I’ve spoken to Khaleel Mughal. He will give you good furniture (for dowry) at cheap rate.

“No one but the system in this country is responsible for my death. Here the poor are mere playthings in the hands of the rich and goodness and human feelings are disregarded and devalued.

“I’ve no complaints against anyone and seek forgiveness from all. “Important: No daswaan, beeswaan, chaleeswaan (the traditional 10th, 20th and 40th day of mourning) for me. Just recite Quran and pray to Allah for me. Khuda Hafiz.”

Umar wrote about himself and his decision to take his life thus: “My name is Umar Deen. I changed it to Umar Udas in view of what I have gone through in life. I’m 28 and unmarried.

“Experts say people commit suicide to get recognition, or to prove themselves right or to gain eternity. I don’t know where my decision fits in.

“What I know is that I passed high school in 1998 and instead of looking for a job, started working as a labour. In winter I worked as a labourer with masons and in summer I sold cone ice- cream and thus could run the house (the family expenses).

“Life was comfortable until prices started rising and load- shedding (power shutdown) getting worse. Without electricity my cone ice-cream machine could not earn me enough. Millions of my countrymen suffer this (electricity) problem. What I can say for myself is that in the past two years it ruined my business. I was dying a little every moment, struggling to arrange Rs7,000 rent of our house plus utility bills and other expenses.

“In such adverse circumstances one either takes to crime, or takes loan or commits suicide. I took a Rs80,000 loan from my previous landlady. I could pay the monthly interest of Rs10,000 for a few months only and lost all means to pay her the interest as electricity shutdown grew longer and longer. Her demands for the money I owed her grew louder and sinister all this time. My family didn’t know that I had taken loan from her. She has set April 1 as the deadline for the return of her entire amount. I have assured her that I’ll meet the deadline. But by that time the news of my suicide will reach her and she would calm down. I’m left with no other choice as she has threatened to send me to jail. That would bring dishonour to my family — a living death for us all. Why should not I end the whole game instead?

“If I had any hope of getting the money, I would have certainly returned the money I owe her. But it is not possible.

“The only way left for me is to commit suicide in front of the Parliament House.”

Here Umar addresses a moving appeal to the newly elected Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani. “Please find a solution quickly to price hike, load-shedding and usurers to save the youth of this country from dying.

“Our forefathers gave great sacrifices to win this country. And it will need more sacrifices to run it.

“I know my suicide will not bring any revolution in the country but it must not go waste. I appeal to Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani to give special attention to the poor of the country who have no home of their own because the rich are ever distributing death to the poor and the helpless”.