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Youth suicides in Chitral

By Zafar Ahmad

Chitral constitutes a single cultural unit due to its shared geography and history. Afflicted with poverty and living in isolation the people of the valley developed an indigenous cultural worldview which is different from the rest of the cultures.

For centuries, traditional structures and institutions kept individuals in harmony with the rest of the society. However, this harmony has started to wane with exposure to modernization, modernity, globalization and with contact with other cultures.
For the last two decades, substantial changes have been witnessed in Chitral. The centuries-long isolation of the region has ended. Modern facilities of life have become accessible. Life standards of people have improved.

Due to investment in social sector the literacy rate, especially women education, has substantially increased. However, the relative progress in various sectors has come at a cost. The structure of traditional institutions has altered. The rupture in the social fabric has slackened the bond between individuals and society. The increased wave of suicides especially among girls manifests this breakdown of the traditional social contract.
A research conducted by this author indicates that youth being exposed to modernity are thwarted by the traditional worldview.

In a very short span of time modern technology such as television, mobiles, facebook, twitter etc. have entered in the local culture. All these have facilitated communication with the outer world. The youths have attained modern aspirations which in many cases come in clash with centuries old traditions. In other words, modernity has emerged in hybrid form instead of pure which is having paradoxical relation with traditions.

The mind of the youth is empowered but not finding space to celebrate freedom. The youth feel as if their dreams are robbed by traditions. The situation is more complex for women as socio-cultural taboos further restrict their choices. Under frustration, some of the vulnerable youth protest by ending their own lives.

New cultural ethos have emerged which prize success over everything else. The society in Chitral has become competition-obsessed. Academic and material success is idolized. Academic success is glorified while failure is stigmatized. Parents educate their children and consider it as the ladder for social mobility. In other words, parents attempt to instill their own dreams into their children. The situation is as Bertrand Russel describes “life is a contest; a competition, in which respect is accorded to the victor.” The result is breathing ground for the youth has shrunk. Ultimately, some of the youths take their own lives. On an occasion two girls jumped into the river when they failed in matric exam.
The research by this author further reveals that domestic problems contribute towards considerable maladies of women. Dispute with in family, with-in-laws, beaten by husband or father compel women in many instances to end their own lives. Cultural norms portray appropriate behaviors for women. Failure to conform is condemned. For women having new aspirations the situation is an annoyance.

Neither the culture is sufficient to curb youths’ aspirations nor the youths are empowered enough to celebrate their freedom. Result is high rate of youth suicide across the district.

The deceased youth gain the sympathies of family members and communities. In most cases the youths are portrayed as the oppressed. Those alleged to have triggered the death may be condemned. Condemning the deceased for his or her own destruction is rare. In many cases boys use suicide as weapons for getting favors. The dialogue “I will kill myself” is a frequently spoken dialogue perhaps unique to Chitralis. Parents fear it while teenagers may idolize suicides.

To sum up, suicides in Chitral depicts a crisis situation of the local culture. According to report published in daily Dawn with reference to Human Rights’ Commission of Chitral on the average 30 women commit suicides in Chitral. However, this number would be an underrepresentation as on weekly basis news of youth suicides are reported in the local media. According to a local activist, seven sucicide attempts were made in a tiny village in Upper Chitral during the last few years.

This depicts a crisis situation. The most gruesome situation, however, is the culture of negligence and denial. So far there has been no serious effort to curb this lethal phenomenon. The only stress is on thorough research. However, passive researches could hardly be the remedy. The only viable solution would be to develop a team of experts who could thoroughly analyze the crisis of the local culture. Rigorous counseling to both the teenagers at school level and with parents could be helpful in curbing the wave of madness which is engulfing young lives.


(The writer is Lecturer in Sociology, KP Higher Education Department, and MPhil researcher at Peshawar University).

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  1. Zafar says

    Sabir brother, I guess you have not been blessed to grasp the message correctly. I am not saying facebook and flutter the reasons behind suicide rather these are modern tools which have entered the local culture in a very short sale of time. Culture is a very important variable in suicidal research. Twitter and facebook do not cause suicide directly rather these induce modern aspirations among the youth which come in clash with traditions. The result is increased dissatisfaction and least satisfied individuals are more vulnerable to suicides. It is a theoretical statement which has been verified repeatedly a number of researches.
    You argue that illiteracy and poverty are reasons. Correct yourself Chitral is having highest literacy rate and since the last decade poverty has such substantially decreased. Look at the living standard of people and compare it with other districts. No one kills himself because of absolute poverty. I have studied substantial literature over it and linked it with ground data. You can read my thesis which is having more than 150 references and my research paper having about 70 citations. Newspaper article is a short and all the explanations could not be summarized here. You are giving layman explanations. Academically, things are different. You can study literature over it.

  2. Qesmat baig says

    The subject is serious and need attention from all walks of life of the community.In my view the reason behind is unemployment, lack of recreational activities.Some serious efforts are required to increase the income level so that an ordinary person of the area can easily get the basic needs of life at least.I hope with opening of lawari tunnel the area will come out of isloation.

  3. Sabir says

    The research by the gentleman is based on flimsy evidence. My advice to these kind of researchers they must not tarnish the image of the area by writing such works. This could be a good piece to befool an outsider supervisor in order to get a thesis approved but a misleading stuff is a disservice to the area. For example he claims that his survey revealed reason behind increasing suicide rate is due to twitter and facebooking. Oh come on gentleman, a girl living in Broghil or in the jungles of Madaklasht or Jinjirat, Lon, Gohkir, Ursun, Arandu, etc. had not even hard of what you are talking about.
    And the reason why the suicide rate is going up at an alarming rate is mainly due to domestic problems. And to a greater extent it is because of illiteracy and inferiority complex. A girl who knows usage of twitter will not go for a suicide rather she would take her defectors to task like it happens in cities.
    In most of the cases, the girls in Chitral are not 100 percent under pressure to bow down before their parents’ wish. In most areas, parents do get the consent of their girls. And say no if the girl is not interested to marry someone. So, to cut the long story short, it is illiteracy coupled with poverty or not being able to do well in studies [only here then gentleman is right] which compels the girls to take the extreme step of ending their lives.

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