Now, suicides stalk J&K

3 June 2008
The Indian Express
Muzamil Jaleel

Srinagar: The Kashmiri language does not have a word for suicide—but this is a loss the Valley is painfully coming to terms with. After a steep drop in violence, the hidden trauma of life in a conflict zone is leading to an alarming increase in suicides across the Valley. In the past week alone, the J&K Police has reported 10 cases of suicides. Police records show that death by suicides has nearly doubled from 47 in 2006 to 81 in 2007 and the police have registered 154 cases of attempted suicide in 2006 and 187 cases in 2007. Till April this year, the police had registered 50 cases of attempted suicide and 11 cases of self-inflicted deaths. On Monday, 22-year-old Rifat Jan gulped a bottle of poison at her home in Tarigam, Anantnag. She died on her way to hospital. Two days ago, a woman police constable was stopped from jumping off Safakadal bridge on Jhelum in broad daylight. Further down the river, 21-year-old Ira Jan jumped to her death. She was a successful medical representative and the police fished out her body after several days of search. A detailed study, ‘Muslim Suicide—Experience From Kashmir Valley’, conducted by 12 psychiatrists of the Government Psychiatry Hospital, Srinagar, says that “suicide rate is on the rise” while “increase in para suicides and ‘deliberate self harm’ are much more alarming”. “On an average, around 4 people report to the SMHS hospital casualty with suicidal behaviour. Most of the people who end up killing themselves are men between 25 and 34 years. Most of the attempts are made by women—4 times para suicides and 7 times more ‘deliberate self harm’. All types of suicidal behaviour are common in the age group of 25 to 34,” the study reveals. “Kashmir, a predominantly Muslim society, had the lowest suicide rate in the whole of India at 0.5 for every 1 lakh people, which is comparable to Kuwait where the suicide rate of 0.1 is the lowest in the world. But the last few years have seen a spurt in suicides,” it says. The research team of doctors studied 14, 830 case files to say that “Kashmir, being a predominantly Muslim society, had expectedly the lowest rates of suicide in the whole of India” but the situation has changed. “It has changed for the worst. Suicidal behavior has become one of the commonest emergencies in medical casualties of Kashmir”. “The rates are alarming. Then there is a lot of stigma attached to such deaths as well,” said Dr Arshad Hussain of the Government Psychiatry Hospital Srinagar, who was part of the research team. “The biggest problem we face is Delibrate Self Harm behaviour. It is alarming”. The study puts “multiple role assumption because of the loss of the breadwinner in the present conflict, domestic violence and poverty” as the main factors for suicidal behaviour in women while “post traumatic stress disorder” and “substance use disorder” as a major factor among men. According to the study, consumption of organ phosphorous-like compounds is the commonest mode of suicide followed by consumption of other drugs like benzodiazepines and tricyclic antidepressants. The J-K Police records too point to this alarming trend. The frontier Handwara town had been a hotbed of attacks and counterattacks since the start of militancy in 1990. Now suicides have surpassed militancy-related deaths. Between 2006 and 2007, 18 civilians were killed in militancy-related incidents while the number of suicides stood at 24. The highest incidence of suicide has been in the age group of 26-35, followed by the 15-25 group. Police records show that just one suicide occurred in Leh and Kargil districts in Kashmir during the last three years. Anantnag district has reported 29 suicide deaths, followed by 21 in Srinagar. The cases of attempted suicide are highest in Budgam.