Thar suicides – 14 Jul 2022

Uniquely local factor is the demographic breakup of the region, which has the highest Hindu population in the country

Tharparkar may have the highest suicide rate in Pakistan, according to a recent report in a foreign news outlet. This is not entirely surprising, as the district is one of the poorest in the country and has been suffering from food shortages, drought and other adverse weather impacts for several years, while development efforts in the coal-rich region have failed to create high-paying jobs for locals. There is also the national-level problem of a mental health crisis which, for cultural and resource reasons, is not properly addressed in many population groups, and in places like Tharparkar, is almost impossible to address due to lack of facilities and medical professionals.

A uniquely local factor is the demographic breakup of the region, which has the highest Hindu population in the country. A disproportionate number of the suicides were among Hindu residents, who make up about 43% of the district’s population but accounted for 63% of suicides in 2020. Although not part of the formal data, there is circumstantial evidence to suggest that most of the victims were lower-caste Hindus, who have fewer education, employment and even relationship opportunities. Among all victims, 70% were under 30 and about half were teenagers. These worrying numbers have been attributed in part to social upheaval as the modern age sets in, and “suicide contagion”, where new technology allows people with suicidal tendencies to learn more about incidents of suicide due to the internet and news reports.

The report also admits that underreporting may well be an issue because of the religious and cultural taboos around suicide. But it also points to possible overreporting, as domestic violence incidents and other criminal acts may be covered up as suicides. This is also a situation that could be avoided if only the right services were available for abuse victims, and through better policing in general. Unfortunately, it is unlikely that even one of these areas will receive the attention needed, and we will continue to lose people who could have been saved.

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