The increasing number of suicide cases in Tharparkar calls for a thorough investigation and the provision of fundamental rights to the Hindu population in the region.
An elderly Gopal Sharma works in the severe weather conditions of Tharparkar to provide enough bread for his family. The deep anguish on his face reflects years of hardships and tragedies. His disposition stems from the suicide deaths of his children.
According to Mr. Sharma, his eldest son had been missing for months before the authorities told him of his son’s suicide. A few years later, when Gopal’s younger daughter Gita was not permitted to pursue a relationship with a boy she liked and was instead married off to a man she had no interest in out of societal obligation, she chose to commit suicide.
Suicidal ideas have become a scary reality for despondent residents as poverty spreads. According to Thar Institute of Psychiatry data, suicide rates in villages are steadily growing, with around 300 deaths every year—figures that experts believe could be higher. The adolescent years are shown to be disturbingly vulnerable, with 80% of victims aged 15–25 being driven to the extreme due to financial desperation and a lack of support structures. ” In Thar, hunger, debt, and loss of livelihood have destroyed lives. “Suicide has emerged as a result of this despair,” says Dr. Zafar Leghari, who runs a mental health clinic in Chhachhro and sees around 50 new patients each month. Most people cannot afford even basic medical care.
According to data from the Sindh Mental Health Authority, 70% of Tharis who died by suicide in 2022 were under the age of 30. Over half of them were teenagers. Contrary to global trends, more women and girls committed suicide in the district, and while Hindus make up around 43 percent of the population, they accounted for 63 percent of the deaths. Police data differs significantly but shows comparable tendencies. The figures are not broken down by caste, although local stories indicate that “lower-caste” Hindus account for the majority of the deaths.
Unfortunately, such stories can be found in practically every hamlet and town in Tharparkar. The reality is that Tharparkar usually only gets the attention of Pakistan’s major media when it is afflicted by a devastating drought. Suicides have increased dramatically in Tharparkar over the previous three years. According to the regional police office, 129 people committed suicide in the region in 2022, up from 121 in 2021. Tharparkar has the highest suicide rate in Pakistan after Chitral.
Tharparkar, once an isolated region cut off from the rest of the country, became interconnected thanks to a 3,000-kilometre-long network of highways built during Gen. Pervez Musharraf’s reign, effectively connecting Mithi to Diplo, Nagarparkar, and Chhachhro. The development of these roads provided villagers with access to the outside world while also allowing businessmen, mining companies, and the media to enter the region. This progress, however, came at a cost and called into question long-standing local traditions.
Tharparkar has the largest Hindu population in Pakistan, accounting for more than 43% of the district’s population, according to the 2017 census. This has resulted in the creation of specific traditions in the region focusing on Hindu customs and practices.
Inter-caste marriages are strictly outlawed in ancient Hindu civilizations, emphasizes social activist and educator Sonia Shah. It is frequently assured that the man and woman getting married have had no family connection for the last ten generations. This standard adds to the long list of disasters that Tharparkar’s youth are facing. Since 2021, four couples, aged 15 to 30, have committed combined suicide in Tharparkar, according to police reports. Because these couples belonged to the same group, their elders had little possibility of approving their weddings.
Exchange marriages (also known as vatta-sattas) are common in many rural villages across Tharparkar. However, due to the nature of these interconnected interactions, such arrangements frequently result in the emergence of negative dynamics. In many cases, women become victims of domestic abuse as a result of these tangled ties. “If my brother-in-law is physically abusive towards my sister, i.e., his wife,” Shah continues, “it is expected that I should reciprocate that sentiment by beating his sister, i.e., my wife.” In Tharparkar in 2022, 70 females and 59 males reportedly committed suicide. The official cause of death for the majority of the women was simply reported as “domestic affairs,” but locals understand that this term indicates domestic violence.
The region’s utter disintegration of any cultural frameworks, as well as a lack of proper healthcare or educational services, has resulted in a constant onslaught of suicide instances, each motivated by a combination of complicated underlying issues that are extremely difficult to address. For example, a 14-year-old Hindu kid in Nagarparkar burned himself alive in the hope of obtaining mukti [freedom after death] only a few years ago.
Farmers loan money in small quantities because agriculture is the main source of livelihood in the region, enabling farmers to overcome any temporary financial challenges. While banks want their money back in full, local moneylenders want their loans returned in percentage increments. This is upsetting for the debtors. According to the Sindh District Report 2017-18, the literacy rate in Tharparkar district is barely 38%; therefore, most farmers have no idea how to repay their loans or whether or not they should trust their local moneylenders. In such instances, the vast majority of lenders prefer suicide. This happened a few years ago when a young farmer couldn’t repay a debt. The young man decided to commit suicide rather than face the humiliation of confronting people in his community and lenders in this manner.
Many of the underlying issues identified thus far may also be found in distant communities in rural Punjab and in several sections of Baluchistan. However, the suicide rate in these locations is far lower than in Tharparkar. Social workers and intellectuals in Tharparkar claim that the Thar coal mining project and the unexpected entrance of ‘modernity’ that followed are the most compelling reasons for the region’s high suicide rate. As a result, portions of Tharparkar transformed from extremely backward to mechanized centers virtually overnight. According to the French sociologist Emile Durkheim, a sense of anomie occurs when a social system disintegrates and fresh, alien ideals or standards enter a society. In numerous respects, the Thar coal mining enterprise threatened the Thari people’s traditional value system. Because of the quick construction of infrastructure to support coal mining, this formerly peaceful, traditional society was forced to deal with an inflow of foreigners, irreparably undermining the region’s social fabric.
The fact that there is no official suicide data in Pakistan makes it harder to address the rising suicide rate. As a result, determining which areas require the greatest assistance is incredibly challenging. However, if the state desires to reduce the suicide rate in Tharparkar, the government must ensure that some basic necessities are addressed. As a result, our understanding of the frequency of this phenomenon in Tharparkar is considerably hampered since the data collected by local authorities is often untrustworthy, instances are underreported and mismanaged, or the causes of suicide are misattributed. Furthermore, politicians from Tharparkar’s various seats appear unconcerned about tackling this issue.
Though Tharparkar’s hospitality is well-known throughout the South Asian region, the area’s sadness and struggles are comparable.