The thin-bodied youth always poured through his books with absorbed attention. The young man who had seen but a few of the comforts of life. The studious student who always topped his class, but also faced humiliation when he was walked out of the room on the first day of every month because he could not pay his tuition fees on time. He had to face the shame and agony every day until he could scrape together, dime by dime, that month’s fee. Only a few days had passed in the new year, 2021, when, starting from Khuzdar, the photos of this young man surfaced on social media and WhatsApp groups, captioned with words of pain and condolence and crying face emojis. In the frosty last week of January, the young Irfan Baranzi ended his life when he could not afford the registration fee for his annual exams.
In the second deacde of Ramadan in April, the old and frail-bodied Ghulam Rasool Baranzai visited his son’s grave in the middle of the night. He read Fatiha and stood there, staring at the pile of mud atop Irfan’s body. The last few weeks had been very hard, but the grief-stricken old man could no longer withstand his son’s absence. So, he decided to join him – he returned home that night and hanged himself to death.
Irfan and Ghulam Rasoom Baranzi are only two names on the vast list of people in Balochistan who have ended their lives due to various psychological issues, unemployment and extreme poverty.
There is no official department in the Balochistan government to watch and monitor the alarming trend of suicide cases. Hundreds of thousands of people in various remote areas of Balochistan have no access to reliable cellular networks and the internet. So, the suicide cases in these areas never make it to social media, let alone the mainstream media. Families also hide cases of suicide to ‘escape’ public ignominy.
According to the data collected by The Balochistan Post, suicide cases have seen an alarming spike in Balochistan this year, and the information so meticulously collected can barely amount to the tip of the iceberg – the real problem runs much deep.
Our research shows that at least 42 cases of suicide were reported in Balochistan this year, and the victims also include seven women. District Kech had the highest suicide death toll, but cases were also reported from other areas of Balochistan, like Gwadar, Quetta, Kalat, Dalbandin, Usta Muhammad, Khuzdar, Mashkay, Panjgoor and Dera Bugti.
Unfortunately, the human rights groups, political parties and the Government of Balochistan have been mostly silent on the rising cases of suicide. The public also views such cases in a negative light – instead of highlighting these cases and addressing their underlying causes, suicide cases are buried and never talked about. The Balochistan Post faced enormous difficulty in gathering data on the suicide cases in Balochistan; upon contacting, most families of the victims did not want to talk, while the few that talked did not even concede that their loved ones committed suicide and attributed their deaths to natural causes and accidents.
Balochistan and suicides
As said in the previous lines, suicide cases are viewed in a negative light in Balochistan and are considered a source of public humiliation. And because most of the victims’ families did not want to talk to us, we contacted Asadullah Baloch, a journalist focusing on the social and political affairs of Makran.
“Families can go to any lengths to conceal cases of suicide in their midst because they think it is the source of shame”, he said. “And if the victim is a woman, the case is completely buried and never talked about because of the outdated notion of ‘honour’ that still pervades thousands of families in Balochistan. The families think that even if a shred of information is leaked about the female suicide victim, the public would pose questions on their ‘honour’”
He added: “The rising suicide cases in Balochistan are a comparatively new phenomenon – extreme poverty and unemployment were ubiquitous in Balochistan in the past decade, but you can count on your fingertips the number of suicide cases reported during that time. Suicide cases have seen a sudden and rapid rise in the past three years, and an alarming number of cases were reported in 2022 alone. “
“Our society is being suffocated – people are afraid to talk about enforced disappearances, rampant kill-and-dumps, rising religious bigotry and countless other social evils. All these elements have bruised us as a society, and the news we receive from all over Balochistan on a daily basis, does not have a shred of positive information in it, as most of it is about abductions, explosions, murders et cetera. And because we watch all this happening within our immediate vicinity and throughout Balochistan, it is only natural that it would take a serious toll on our mental health”, Asadullah Baloch said.
Suicide Cases and Balochistan Government
Suicide cases are seeing a phenomenal rise in Balochistan, but the government is not taking any proactive measures to address the problem – no awareness campaigns, no workshops, nothing. On the surface, government officials seem oblivious and unconcerned about the rising trend of suicides.
Pressured by anachronistic societal views, the general public, the youth specifically, does not seek professional help out of the fear of being called “weak.” There is no active suicide prevention helpline in Balochistan where a psychiatrist could counsel people having suicidal thoughts.
If Balochistan and its youth are to be saved, we must take practical measures to address the underlying issues. We have to change our perception of mental health issues and suicidal thoughts – we must acknowledge their existence and openly address them. Political parties and social organizations should run awareness campaigns and organize gatherings on mental health problems and the alarmingly rising trend of suicides. The government must address issues like unemployment, rising tuition fees and extreme poverty that force the Baloch youth into ending their lives. The authorities should establish mental health centres in every district where people would seek counselling from professionals. A suicide hotline should be set up where people would anonymously seek help in countering their suicidal tendencies. Above all, the most important thing we as a society can do is to encourage open conversations about mental health and suicidal tendencies.