RECENTLY, the Sindh police released its province-wide data on the number of suicides that took place in the past five years. According to their findings, nearly 1,287 people — including 586 women — took their own life, with the vast majority between the ages of 21 and 40. The highest numbers of suicides were recorded in Mirpurkhas, with a total of 646 cases; nearly half of them were women. This was followed by Hyderabad, which recorded a total of 299 suicides, including 116 women. The apparent reasons behind the suicides varied: some were caught in the cycle of poverty and unemployment; others were trapped in unhappy marriages or suffered domestic abuse; and then there were those addicted to drugs. Many would have suffered from mental health issues, but it is difficult to know the nature or details of it. In Pakistan, the issue continues to be heavily stigmatised. As a result, many suffer silently and are reluctant to speak about their ailments to those around them out of fear of judgement or cruelty. This has created a climate where people repress, deflect or deny their psychological struggles. For the vast majority of citizens, mental health treatment remains pricey, inaccessible and out of the question.
Even with all these other issues facing the mental health debate, what is most shocking is that a high number of these suicides were committed by members of the Hindu minority, according to police, which form only a fraction of the total population. Whether suicide is to be attributed to a history of severe mental health issues that are neglected, or as a means of escaping oppressive structures — patriarchy, poverty or religious and caste-based discrimination — high rates of suicide reflect a failure of society as a whole. Before we tell other countries how to treat their marginalised communities, we should perhaps take a hard look at what it means to be a minority in Pakistan.
Published in Dawn, February 18th, 2020