Kashmir Conflict Takes Suicide Toll
17 September 2004
Srinagar: Pinky, a 17-year-old student, had watched television for many hours that day. Her father, a prominent lawyer, scolded her for 'ignoring her studies'. An hour later, she was found unconscious in her bedroom. She had taken 30 or more sleeping pills. Her life was only saved through emergency treatment at hospital. Bereavement and loss An average of four cases of attempted suicide have been brought to the Sri Maharaja Hari Singh Hospital in Srinagar every day over the past two months. The head of the department of medicine at the Government Medical College in Srinagar, GQ Khan, says that before the separatist campaign in Kashmir began in 1990, suicide cases accounted for only around 1% of admissions. But then figures changed dramatically. Suicide cases accounted for almost 11% of total admissions at the hospital in 2001-2002. A study by Dr Khan showed that 22% of attempted suicides were directly caused by the ongoing armed conflict. Patients suffered bereavements, loss of property or business or alleged torture at the hands of Indian security forces. Pesticides Life was no longer worth living for Abdul Rehman of Pulwama district after he lost his 10-year-old son. The boy was caught in crossfire between Indian troops and militants while on his way to school. Mr Rehman swallowed pesticides to kill himself. But his neighbours rushed him to hospital and his life was narrowly saved. Dr Khan's study revealed that more than 16% of patients were driven to suicide by unemployment, 13% by strained social relations, 11% by psychiatric disorders, 8% by failure in examinations, 7% by failure in love affairs and 4% by drug abuse. But whatever the cause, Dr Khan says the armed conflict has caused 'general irritability among people in Kashmir and reduced their level of tolerance'. Psychiatrist Arshad Hussain says most of the cases brought to hospital are what he calls 'para suicides' where the patient takes the extreme step in a momentary fit of depression but does not want to die. Official figures show that 95% of patients attempting suicide are saved by doctors. However, cases where someone is dead on arrival at hospital are not usually registered. The head of Kashmir University's sociology department, Bashir Ahmed Dabla, says he noted 2,000 cases of suicides in the Kashmir Valley between 1999 and 2000. He based his study on reports in five leading newspapers of the state. Women and youths The 'phenomenal increase' in the number of suicides in Kashmir reflects a disintegration of society, Dr Dabla says. 'There is an accepted principle in sociology that the higher the integration of society, the less the number of suicides,' he says. Initially the armed conflict brought greater integration in Kashmir society, Dr Dabla explains, and in those days, suicides were rare. [Many patients] tell me they would have ended their lives but for the fear of spoiling their life hereafter Arshad Hussain, psychiatrist But now the numbers are increasing. Dr Dabla's study reveals that women and youths are more prone to attempt suicide. While women have suffered emotional trauma due to the conflict, youths have become targets of violence both by the Indian troops and militants. Psychiatrists and sociologists agree that religious faith has been an important influence in checking the incidence of suicides. Dr Dabla discovered that this was especially the case during the month of Ramadan - the Muslim month of fasting. 'During this time there is a greater commitment to religion and greater integration in society,' he says. Dr Hussain, the psychiatrist, says many of his patients who have suicidal tendencies do not attempt it as suicide is strictly prohibited in Islam. 'They tell me they would have ended their lives but for the fear of spoiling their life hereafter,' he says.