Redolent of Tunisia: Young father self-immolates in front of Parliament

Published: October 24, 2011

Before his attempted immolation, Khan says he was fed up with poverty.

ISLAMABAD: An unemployed father of two died in hospital after setting himself alight in a suicide bid outside Parliament House on Monday, officials said.

Raja Khan, a resident of Naushehro Feroz in Sindh, poured kerosene over his body before self-immolating. Khan, reportedly in his twenties, left behind a letter saying that he was exhausted by poverty, a police officer said.

Sources said that Khan arrived at D-Chowk, which is near the Parliament House, at around 1:30pm. After he set himself on fire, the police on duty outside the Parliament House tried to rescue him and took him to the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (Pims). However, he succumbed there six hours later.

“He was looking very determined. The way he came here and quickly set himself on fire gave us no chance to rescue him,” said one of the police officials who intervened.

Khan’s letter, written in Sindhi, expressed depression over his plight. “I am responsible for my death. I am taking this step because I am fed up with my financial condition,” said a police officer, quoting from the letter.

“If I die I should be buried in Islamabad. I have two children. The government should take care of them,” he continued. Another police official added that Khan also left a bag of clothes and his ID card.

Talking to The Express Tribune, Pims Deputy Director Dr Farrukh Kamal said that Khan was brought to the unit with 90% of his body burnt.

“We tried a lot to acquire his personal details but he was unable to communicate clearly. However, the only thing he said was, ‘I did this because I was sick and tired of my life’,” said Dr Kamal.

Another Pims doctor revealed that saving Khan’s life was virtually impossible as only his feet were unaffected.

Secretary General Human Right Commissions of Pakistan I. A. Rehman expressed serious concern over the increase in self-immolation and suicide cases due to unemployment and poverty. “Every year these kinds of cases increase because people are disappointed, they have nothing and finally they use this option,” he said.

Harris Khalique, a poet and analyst, said that the poor within countries such as Pakistan are squeezed to the hilt by transnational monopoly markets.

The tragic incident is redolent of Mohamed Bouazizi’s self-immolation on December 17, 2010, in Tunisia. Bouazizi was also a young father, also unemployed, and also frustrated with a total absence of opportunity and the crippling cycle of poverty from which he saw no escape.

In Tunisia, Bouazizi’s death sparked mass demonstrations which eventually transformed into a popular movement, ousting the government on January 14 this year. Following Tunisia, the region witnessed the ‘Arab Spring’, leading to revolutionary political change in Egypt and Libya, with several other countries experiencing unrest.

There has been a wave of self-immolations around the world in the past year since Bouazizi. In southwest China, nine Tibetans have set fire to themselves over recent months in protest at what they say is Beijing’s repression of their religion and culture.

Perhaps the most famous act of self-immolation for a political cause occurred when Thich Quang Duc protested against the persecution of Buddhists under the rule of the Catholic Ngo Dinh Diem in South Vietnam in 1963.

(Additional input from AFP)

Published in The Express Tribune, October 25th, 2011.


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