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Teen suicides surge in valley of saints

At about 8:30 in the morning, Abrar’s (name changed) mother goes to wake his 19- year old son for college, she knocks on his door for a couple of minutes but there is no response. She gets worried that Abrar may be ill as usually he wakes up at around 7:00 am.

Worried, she calls out to her husband to wake their son up. Abrar’s father, Rafiq Dar (name changed) goes near the door of his son’s room and calls out to his son “ Abrar, wake up , you’ll be late for college, are you sick?” , but there is no answer from inside.

Rafiq calls his son’s cell, he could hear the phone ringing from outside the door but Abrar isn’t picking up. The couple gets worried and finally Rafiq decides to break the door open.

What they saw next, shattered all the dreams and hopes of this middle-class family. Abrar was lying on his bed, motionless, he was foaming at mouth and his skin was pale. Next to the bed, there lay a half-empty bottle of poison and numerous empty strips of sleeping pills.

Abrar’s mother cries out in agony and horror, she couldn’t come to terms with the terrible truth that her son was dead, that he had committed suicide. She tears her hair out, scratches her face. Rafiq tries to hold her but he himself is dumb-founded. His eyes had become still and his gaze fixed on his son’s lifeless corpse.

Even though shattered by this horrific scene, Rafiq regains his composure momentarily and out of some faint sense of hope to save his only son, he picks up Abrar’s motionless body, loads him in to the back of his car and drives to a nearby hospital, where he is declared dead on arrival.

Later, an autopsy revealed that Abrar had died at around 3:30 am in the morning due to an overdose of sleeping pills and common household rat-poison.

Checking the call records from Abrar’s cell, the cops revealed that the only call he had made that fateful night was to his girlfriend and apparently they had a fight as was revealed from the call recordings from Abrar’s smartphone.

Nobody could ever suspect that a fun-loving boy like Abrar could ever resort to suicide. “He was so full of life, even in tense situations such as when we about to lose a cricket match, he was the one who would cheer everybody up by telling a joke or playing a prank” recalls his friend and college-mate Waseem with tears in his eyes. “Moreover, he was very religious, I would have never imagined that he of all others would commit suicide, Allah rest his soul” adds Waseem.

More detailed inquiry into Abrar’s suicide revealed that his girlfriend who belonged to a well-off business family was soon going to be engaged to be married and she had asked him to tell his parents about their relationship and ask her folks for her hand in marriage. But Abrar was aware that his father was going through a financial crisis and could not afford to pay for the engagement, so he didn’t dare ask him. Moreover, he knew that his girlfriend belonged to a rich family and her parents would not approve of their union.

Abrar’s story is one of the hundreds of cases of teen suicides that are reported each year especially during the last decade and a half, and then there are the thousands of such cases that go unreported because of the religious structure of our society, where suicide is considered as a taboo/sin rather than a psychiatric disease.

Almost every day we come across newspaper reports, T.V or Radio broadcasts about a young teen boy or girl ending his/her life but hardly ever do we see a report that dwells in-depth about why a normal, seemingly happy teenager commits such an extreme act.

According to Dr.Akash, a leading psychiatrist working at District Hospital Budgam, teenagers living in the valley are more susceptible to psychiatric problems when compared to those living in other areas of the Indian state as the pressures here are manifold. “We are living in a conflict environment and here the pressures are multifaceted, failure in examinations, unsuccessful love affairs, unhappy married and family life, frustration because of unemployment etc., but a special reason of suicide in Kashmir is the uncertain political situation” says the doctor.

“In such uncertain conditions, a healthy psychological and mental growth is not possible and people resort to an extreme act like suicide to get away from this scenario” he adds.

“ The Kashmiri people face many such problems which give rise to the trend of suicide in the society, especially among the teens who have a very low level of tolerance to cope with these difficult situations” Akash believes.

“Suicidal tendency is a disease and it should be treated as such, but in Kashmir it is a very complex phenomenon, a seemingly happy youth maybe a total wreck from the inside, our social structure is such that it inhibits us from expressing our feelings to our elders, this has disastrous results on the psyche of a person, especially youth and ultimately leads to suicides” observes Dr.Akash.

According to him, the move from joint to nuclear families is another major reason for youth suicides in the valley. “We have become disconnected, today the parents don’t have enough time for their children, they buy them expensive electronic gadgets and motor-vehicles, but don’t spend enough time with them or listen to their problems and concerns” the psychologist believes.

“In a joint-family , we had elders who would counsel children and act as role-models for them but that trend has declined drastically and teens in a small family feel alone as there is nobody who would listen to their problems or cater to their spiritual needs” he adds.

Another psychologist, Dr.Mohsin Wani believes the two main causes of suicides among the youth in Kashmir are failure in exams and a troubled/failed love affair. “ Teens these days are so lost in themselves, they have become disconnected because of all the communication gadgets such as smartphones, laptops, fast internet services, etc  available at their fingertips” says Dr.Mohsin.

Mohsin blames the growth of social-networking sites and instant messaging services like WhatsApp and others for the rise in mental disorders among the youth. “The idea here is clear, the youth compete for popularity on social networking sites ,  teen boys and girls become intimate friends without even knowing each other personally, all this is too much to comprehend for an average teenager and even if a tiny fraction of their social existence fall out of place, it leads to depression.” he believes.

According to some psychologists, blind race for materialism, ever-increasing unemployment etc. also give rise to incidents of suicide, particularly among the youth. According to a sociologist, he found in a survey that among those who committed suicide, most were between 17 and 26 years of age and sadly enough, as many as 62 percent of them were women and girls. The blind race for material comforts, unnecessary and superfluous expenditure, promoted by a materialistic culture, have so much worried parents that they find it difficult to get their daughters married. Many of the young boys and girls have crossed their marriageable age while their parents find great difficulty in getting them married and this puts a mental burden not only on parents but on their children also, particularly girls.

On the employment front, in the Valley alone more than three lakh well-educated youth are facing unemployment. As many as 5000 engineers, same number of doctors and other professional experts too are facing unemployment. A much higher number of persons are facing under-employment, i.e., employed but their salaries are not commensurate to their qualifications and experience etc.

According to a survey, the incidents of suicides were almost negligible before the advent of the armed conflict in late 80,s and early 90,s but over the years because of lingering violence, Kashmiris have become the victims of post-traumatic stress disorders. This is evident from the number of patients registered in the state’s only mental healthcare facility where about one and half lakh patients are registered as of December 2013 compared to a meagre 1200 in the late 80,s.

Majority of doctors believe the number of such mental patients to be much higher, but isn’t on the records as a majority of people do not go the hospitals for treatment for varied reasons.

The survey also indicates that 77.4 percent of people attempting suicide were women. Of these 11 percent opted to end their lives during pregnancy. The ratio of suicide in rural and urban areas, as per the survey is 85 and 15 respectively. The proportion of illiterate and literate victims has been 40 and 60 respectively. A total of 76.92 percent people committing suicide were within the age group of 16 to 25 years.

This, the survey attributes to the fear of death among youth as a result of continued disturbances. The remaining percentage is said to be of the age group of 26 to 40. Interestingly no person above 40 has committed suicide during the troubled decade. As per the survey 59.68 percent people resorting to suicides were unmarried. About 84 percent of people opting to end their lives chose consuming poison for the purpose thinking that this was the easiest way to embrace death.

According to prominent cleric, Moulvi Abdul Ganie, lack of a proper Islamic education and over-exposure to mainstream indian and western culture propagated via mass media is the single most influential reason for the rise in youth suicides.

“Parents nowadays lay stress on the school education of their children, whereas they fail to teach them even the basic tenets of Islam, had this not been the case they would have made them aware that committing suicide is un-islamic and the one who commits suicide has to suffer in the hereafter, even Namaz-e-Janaza becomes Baatil (void) for the deceased in this case” says Ganie.

“Our children are exposed to vulgarity and un-islamic culture via the mass media on a regular basis and this destroys their sense of right and wrong and leads to spiritual deterioration and mental disorders” he believes.

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