As per the Human Rights Commission of India, suicides have claimed the second-highest number of lives in Jammu & Kashmir after militancy. It is estimated that more than 60,000 lives have been lost since militancy erupted in 1988; the suicide toll through the years runs into thousands. Quoting psychiatrists, several reports have said that the incessant violence in the valley has devastated the psyche of the Kashmiris and stress-related diseases have grown manifold across the social spectrum, driving people, mostly youngsters, increasingly to suicide.
During the past nine months of lockdown in the valley, 107 cases of suicide were reported in Kashmir hospitals. In July alone, 20 persons committed suicide. There is not an iota of doubt that more than two decades of warfare in the valley have left the people depressed, fatigued, traumatised and broken. The rate of suicide has gone up 26-fold, from 0.5 per 100,000 before the insurgency to 13 per 100,000 now, says Dr Arshad Husain, a psychiatrist from the Psychiatric Diseases Hospital. “If we compare Kashmir to western societies the rate is less, but among Muslim societies the suicides in Kashmir are very high. The reasons are turmoil, political instability, unemployment, business failures, hopelessness, depression, lack of confidence, lack of spiritual support, a feeling of loneliness and fragility, and feeling of social stigma due to failure in examinations. The figures point to a psychological catastrophe in the conflict-ridden valley, which has negative impact across the social, economic and political spheres.
There are thousands of people who have lost their loved ones to the barbaric conflict in the valley, while some are still unaware whether their loved ones are alive or not. This loss and helplessness has often driven people to suicide. Women and adolescents have been the main victims of this turmoil. Mental disorders and psychosocial consequences associated with conflicts include sleeplessness, fear, nervousness, anger, aggressiveness, depression and domestic and sexual violence. The latest incident came to the fore on August 1 when a 15-year–old girl from Budgam attempted suicide because of anxiety and hopelessness.
We need to find hope in this hopeless world, or else we are stuck in a sense of powerlessness. Hopeful people are able to face even the most adverse and desperate times. Goals are not enough to achieve success. Hope allows people to overcome obstacles and find light in darkness. Hope brings life and growth and the will to continue. It is hope that sustains us when we are suffocating, that carries us through fear and uncertainty. When times get rough, we may think that life will always be this way. The grief can feel unbearable but the Quran says that with hardship there will be ease (94:5). When people don’t have hope, they either don’t want to live or stay trapped in a meaningless life. Viktor Frankl wrote in Man’s Search for Meaning that in the Auschwitz concentration camp during World War II, the Nazis killed his whole family and he was the only one left, constantly tortured and starved. He survived because he helped others stay hopeful. He promised them that he would tell the world what had happened to them. This purpose kept him alive.
The Quran says, ‘Do not lose hope nor be sad’ (3:139). A true believer is never in despair. He takes everything in his stride, recalling what Allah has advised him: “It may be that you hate something when it is good for you and it may be that you love something when it is bad for you, but Allah knows and you do not know what is good for you and what is not.” Someone has rightly said, Do not blame Allah for not giving you the comfortable life that he never promised you. The world is a testing place, not a resting place. What more assurance we need?
Harming oneself or committing suicide is forbidden in Islam. According to Islam, no one can say, ‘I am free to destroy my life or harm myself’, for he is answerable for each and every action. We should come forward and work towards removing the stigma on mental illness. An empathetic approach towards those afflicted with mental illness, depression or hopelessness will go a long way in creating a compassionate, inclusive and resilient society. Youths who are contemplating suicide frequently give warning signs of their distress to parents, teachers and friends. They should understand these signs and seek help. NGOs and religious organisations should also come forward for suicide prevention and motivate youths to become mentally strong. Cooperation and commitment are needed to prevent suicides. The time is ripe for mental health professionals to adopt a proactive role in suicide prevention.