By Syed Shahdawil
Ghizer is the third most populous district of Gilgit Baltistan with a large geography bordering with Chitral KPK. Major local areas of the district are Ishkoman, Punyal, Gupis, and Yasin. Many beautiful valleys, meadows and lakes are situated in Ghizer, making it one of the most beautiful tourist destinations of Gilgit-Baltistan, and Pakistan. It is also known as the “land of martyrs”, a title that recognizing the military valor of the people of Ghizer.
This week, I got a chance to visit Ghakuch, Ghizer, as part of my work. It is always exciting and pleasing to work with people of Ghizer. Whenever I am in Ghizer, I observe an amazing energy and engagement, as they participate wholeheartedly in small and big event with zeal and zest.
But this time I felt a different vibe. I experienced and felt negative vibes, including frustration, dissatisfaction and a lot of talks about people taking their own lives every now and then. There’s a fear and an uncertainty that stands out, as people talk about lack of opportunities, yearn for support and guidance. Several young people have died by suicide in Ghizer during the last couple of weeks, adding to the shocks the region has been experiencing, as cases of suicides mount with each passing day.
The stories of the people who died by suicide are stories of ordinary people, just like us, full of ambitions, full of ideas, craving for opportunities, searching for peace and comfort. There’s the mother wanted to bring up her children by educating them, then there’s a wife who wanted some peace, there’s also son who wanted to create some change in the community, and a daughter who wanted the option to shape her life based on her own choices. All of them ended dead. Some found near river banks. Others found elsewhere.
It is hard not get affected by these harrowing stories. Shocked we are. But, what are we doing about it? What can we do about it?
Let’s admit. These stories are not new. Such stories are repeatedly almost every year. People express shock, pass a judgment and then get on with their lives. But the self-destruction continues, sometimes clouded are murders staged and reported as suicides.
Every now and then some ‘woke’ bureaucrat writes a proposal, arranges a ‘meeting’, releases some press statements, and then all is forgotten, until the noises grow, as the families of the deceased mourn helplessly.
Let us be clear. Ghizer is not the only district affected. Almost all district report cases of suicide every now and then, despite of their being a powerful taboo, for religious and cultural reasons. Many districts tend to under-report such cases, so the actual statistics are clear.
Having said that, one may ask what should be done?
The first thing we need to do is to acknowledge that our ‘strategies’ and ‘policies’ have failed miserably, because the cases of dying by suicide are on the rise, not going down. After accepting our failure, we need to start engaging actual experts who have the contextual knowledge, scientific understanding and the drive to work on changing the mindset of the society. The approach needs to shift from self-destruction to self-idealization, so that the youth are not impressed by the glittery, hollow, world around them. They should be able to own their weaknesses and strengths and look to life with hope. This cannot be achieved by organizing a few seminars. This has to be a more robust, consistent, academic and educational effort, starting at schools. The broader society also needs to prioritize mental health and organize on war-footings to build social support systems to address hopelessness, by being there to listen, hear, hug and comfort.
There’s also a colossal shortage of mental health experts in GB, due to which even namesake support is not available to vast majority of the population. This needs efforts at the policy level, to ensure that experts are made available at schools and colleges in the short run to offer counselling and guidance to students and youth.
Youth also need to be engaged in positive activities, which are not limited to field sports. The youth department needs to get creative. Youth clubs and organizations, of which there’s no dearth in GB, also need to move beyond cricket and football, and focus on providing peer-to-peer support and counseling .
GB government needs to declare a mental health emergency in the region and take concrete steps to build equipped and informed institutions, instead of indulging in token ‘briefings’ and ‘seminars’. These knee-jerk evet-management practices are not going to address the issue.
Let’s all join hands to engage every individual in a positive and life-loving approach. But let’s also not burden the youth with toxic positivity. Let’s listen and pay attention to those who want to be heard, instead of proselytizing and sharing sermons, because they haven’t worked and may not work.
Let’s focus on training youth in developing and learning life-skills so that they have the acumen and the grit to face life head-on, instead of looking for escapes.