Dr Suhail, 28, has made two attempts on his life so far. Last May, the Srinagar-based dental surgeon consumed insecticide after a fight with his girlfriend and found himself fighting for his life in a hospital. Twenty days after his release, Suhail was again admitted to Srinagar's Shri Maharaja Hari Singh Hospital (SMHSH) after consuming organophosphorous, another pesticide. At the hospital, he told doctors he was despondent and had lost all interest in life because "there was very little to look forward to". In the same city, a 19-year-old college girl, witness to two shootouts near her home in a short time, started getting nightmares and losing interest in studies and play.
After a minor altercation with her sister, she consumed pesticide.
[ About 60 per cent of those committing suicide were unmarried; 84 per cent chose poison as the 'easy way out'. ]
The decade-long insurgency in Kashmir is taking a grievous mental toll on its people. A large number of young boys and girls are taking their lives or ending up in psychiatry wards after attempting suicide. Consider this. A report by SMHSH's department of medicine says that more than 80 per cent of the 364 acute poisoning cases admitted between April 1996 and April 2000 were suicides. That's not all. SMHSH recorded 382 cases of suicides and attempted suicides (including 199 women) between April 2001 up to March this year, up from 167 such cases in 1998. In 2000-01, a record 567 such cases were reported at the hospital, of which 377 cases were women. At the Sher-i-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences (SKIMS), the other big hospital in the city, over 200 persons were admitted with pesticide poisoning in the past year. Says Dr Ghulam Nabi Yatoo, a doctor at SKIMS: "At least 3-5 suicide or attempted suicide cases are reported at the accident and emergency departments of the hospital every week."
Studies show that Kashmir's suicide rate has soared ever since separatists began an anti-India rebellion in the region in 1989. The conflict has already claimed some 34,000 lives. Yatoo says there is growing depression among the young in this climate of fear and violence: a study indicates that the residents most under pressure—who are taking their lives or attempting to—are young, literate, urban unmarried women. Check out this survey conducted by Dr G.M. Malik, professor of medicine at smhs Hospital, on a random sample of 164 attempted suicide cases: 114 of them were women and only 50 were men. The rural urban ratio was 90:10. Another survey conducted by noted sociologist Bashir Ahmad Dabla revealed that nearly 60 per cent of the people who were taking their lives were unmarried. About 84 per cent of victims chose poison as the "easy way out". Dabla's thesis: fear, stress, tension and uncertainty in the Valley were the main reasons behind the rise in suicides. A total of 76.92 per cent of those committing suicide were in the 16-25 age group. Dr G.Q. Khan, professor at SMHSH, in his report, holds the prevailing turmoil and the resultant social, mental and physical stress responsible for the suicides.
[ Bleak prospects, increased tensions see suicide rates climb in the Valley ]
Dr Hamidullah Shah, department head at Srinagar's Psychiatric Diseases Hospital, says failure in examinations is a leading cause for suicides among teenagers who reckon there's no future for them. Ditto with young girls coming out of aborted love affairs in a state where mobility has been severely affected. The number of newly married men taking their lives because of impotency is also on the rise. Dr Sadaqat Rehman, clinical psychologist at the hospital, attributes the rising suicide rate to low tolerance levels of a tense people. "People overreact to situations quickly and lose control over themselves. In such a hyper environment, parents also expect too much from their children and pressure them," he says. The stress and trauma which the Kashmiris have been going through can be gauged from the out-patient queues here: some 200-300 patients turn up daily these days, up from 10-20 patients in the '80s.
As can be expected, the situation has affected soldiers stationed in Kashmir too. One estimate says more than 400 armed forces personnel have committed suicide in the state since militancy began in 1989. Interestingly, the reasons for suicides are almost similar to that for civilians: fear of death, mental stress, tension, homesickness. A large number of paramilitary personnel are also being referred to Srinagar's Psychiatric Diseases Hospital now, with various psychiatric diseases. Clearly, only an end to militancy can drive away the blues in India's lost paradise.
Published in OutlookIndia