On Poverty-led Suicides
By Dr Abid Suleri
Akram, a former watchman and father of five, who immolated himself in front of the prime minister’s residence in Multan last week, was not a religious extremist. He was not a member of any banned jihadi group. He was not asking for charity. After losing his mud house in a “policy led” man-made flood, all he wanted was a job. He had an application for the executive district officer of Rajanpur and wanted it endorsed. It’s a pity he was not allowed to see anyone. However, after hearing the news of his suicide the prime minister announced half a million rupees as compensation for his family.
Poverty related suicides are on the rise. In fact, among Muslim countries, Pakistan has the highest rate of suicides. According to a recent study at Aga Khan University 6,000-8,000 people commit suicides in Pakistan every year. Most of these suicides are poverty, food insecurity and inflation related.
According to another report, suicides in August 2010 alone were more than the total number of suicides in the first seven months of the year. On top of that, Pakistan is marred by poverty led domestic rows and murders. Human life was never as insecure and cheap as it is today. Poverty has led to abnormal behaviour. People are willing to sell their kidneys, kill their loved ones and even themselves. The Sustainable Development Policy Institute and World Food Program’s recent research shows that food insecure districts in Pakistan are most hit by violence and militancy. Unfortunately, the most food insecure and militancy hit districts have been most affected by the floods.
Poverty and hunger are not the only causes of militancy but they do lead to violence which then reduces the resilience of societies against external shocks like floods and internal shocks like socio-political instability which gives rise to more poverty — a vicious cycle.
This cycle provides optimum conditions for extremist groups to find recruits. Terrorist groups not only take care of the well-being of their dependents but also promise them a place in heaven.
In my opinion there are at least four types of militants in Pakistan; Religious extremists, those disgruntled with state policies (most nationalist groups in Balochistan), those involved in the battle of haves and have-nots and street gangsters. The last three groups can easily be turned into peaceful citizens by ensuring economic justice and food security. We immediately think of GHQ when someone talks of an unconstitutional means to change government. But our ruling class must be concerned about the means that the poor people of this country may adopt in order to bring a change in the system.
There are four kinds of securities; global, regional, national and individual. All four are interconnected and mutually reinforcing. For decades, our rulers have been focusing on national and regional security at the expense of individual security. It is time to bring a paradigm shift. Poverty is not threatening the existence of individuals, it is threatening the whole society and system where the powerful and the elite would be the major losers.
(Published in The Express Tribune, September 28th, 2010.)