A suicide in front of Parliament

Published: October 25, 2011

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

Raja Khan, a father of two from Naushehro Feroz in Sindh, set himself on fire in front of Parliament House in Islamabad on October 25 and died of burns at the hospital, saying in a message he left: “I am responsible for my death. I am taking this step because I am fed up with my financial conditions”. He asked the government to take care of his family.

The message is stark and reflects the plight currently being faced by the majority of the population in the country. Suicides take place in the most prosperous societies too, but this one is more significant because it offers commentary on the state of Pakistan after 64 years of its existence. This is not about the depression of a single individual that has forced him to give up his life. Rather it points to the collective despondency at the ‘abnormal’ state of Pakistan.

Raja Khan’s message is shocking because it is undramatic: he was honest in the pursuit of his duties of looking after his children and was rendered helpless because he could not find employment in an economy that is going through a dangerous contraction, squeezing thousands of people out of their jobs every day. The poor are shaped by certain conditions of life: they have no savings and live from day to day and are a class which suffers when the economy goes downhill.

Suicides are not unknown to Pakistan’s unjust society. The injustice faced by certain groups may not be economic in origin. Suicide is linked to depression or a depressive state of mind. Women are prone to be being depressive in a society like Pakistan because the law doesn’t protect them against maltreatment. The non-Muslims of Pakistan and certain persecuted Muslim minority groups are in the same boat because they too face the same kind of difficulties. But the consequences of an economic disaster are faced by nearly 70 per cent of the population and hence the increasing number of suicides brought on by economic deprivation and poverty.

Although it is a cliché to say this is the worst of times, by all calculations the period we are going through now is among the worst in the country’s history. The state is dysfunctional on many counts. But there are other reasons to consider.

There is terrorism emanating from the past policy of using cross-border violence through non-state actors and fighting ‘deniable’ jihad with international terrorists. This trouble is of long gestation, dictated by a military-dominated establishment while the civilian governments fell like nine pins over the past three decades. Today, as we face the fallout from a worldwide economic crisis, we are made to recognise that the country lacks internal economic strength to survive the global capitalist ‘boom and bust’ cycle. The most outstanding direct cause of the falling apart of the economy is the energy crisis with its origin buried in the state’s lack of consensus about its identity and future direction. Then there is the circular debt handed down by the Musharraf government because it didn’t want to pass on the rising cost of the fuel that produces electricity to the populace just before the anticipated elections. After that there is the sad history of the PPP-led government’s handling of this inheritance.

The energy crunch is one of the primary causes of unemployment of the poor. In the cities, the laid-off manpower is growing by the day, joining the ranks of Raja Khans. In the countryside, subsistence has been destroyed by natural calamities which the governments in the provinces simply could not cope with. The poverty of the rural man driven to the urban centres is more crushing than normal poverty. Add to this the isolationist course adopted by our politicians and the military and you have the prescription of a state collapse. Will it be like Somalia or Tunisia? Or Egypt, or even Libya?

A point to note is that the ‘revolution’ in the Arab state is against dictators; in Pakistan pressure-releasing mechanisms like political parties and elected governments are in place. In fact, if at all there is a revolution in Pakistan, it is possible that it may be commandeered by religious and conservative forces for its own ends and that will not be a good outcome for the state or its people.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 26th, 2011.

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Reader Comments (7)

  • Mohib Khattak
    Oct 25, 2011 - 9:39PM

    Shame on PPP government.

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  • Neutral Pk
    Oct 25, 2011 - 10:22PM

    Succumbing to his demand of providing for his family while he “rests in peace”, will not only be foolish, but it will lead to several other similar cases. Oh i can’t provide for my 2 children what will be a good idea, i know; have 3 more children. BRILLIANT!

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  • K khan
    Oct 26, 2011 - 12:51AM

    very shameful for all those in position and sufficiently rich – but have no heart to help
    poor human being.

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  • Billoo Bhaya
    Oct 26, 2011 - 5:21AM

    This is the most important news of the day, yet very little coverage by the Pakistani media. Only an editorial with no commentary by citizens. Shows how BeyHiss our nation is. You have coverage of the Prez, shooting from Naudero to Riyadh, coverage of a pilot error helicopter landing, of Haqqani’s talking or not, but no coverage of self-immolation of a Sindi calling for his Prez., “Where are you Zardari??” BBC TV had full coverage. A similar incident like this in Tunisia set off the Arab Spring, where regimes have fallen and a dictator executed. In Pakistan this should have set off demonstations for change. But no. Not a single elected representative has made any statement. Its as if like an ostrich they have buried their head in the sand and making the event go away. Shame on all of them.

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  • JJ
    Oct 26, 2011 - 4:39PM

    Raja Khan not aware that this is PAKISTAN not Tunis.

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  • Riz1
    Oct 26, 2011 - 8:56PM

    Obaid Abbasi in his article in Express Tribune (http://tribune.com.pk/story/280815/jobless-father-in-self-immolation-bid-at-parliament/) writes “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.”

    And you write “A point to note is that the ‘revolution’ in the Arab state is against dictators; in Pakistan pressure-releasing mechanisms like political parties and elected governments are in place. In fact, if at all there is a revolution in Pakistan, it is possible that it may be commandeered by religious and conservative forces for its own ends and that will not be a good outcome for the state or its people.”

    “Pressure releasing mechanisms”?? These “mechanisms” are just taking the people out of one calamity and putting them in another so that the people remain confused about the seriousness of the situation. When Mdm Fauzia Wahab was asked about the pathetic state of PIA and Railways by Rana Sanaullah on a local news channel, she replied “well look what you people have done to the Intermediate results of the children.” These are the “mechanisms” that you are talking about?

    And the people of Pakistan continue to live like this because your only fear is that a revolution may be commandeered by religious and conservatives? My dear Editor, everybody needs to rise up against this situation, including the secular, conservatives, leftists, rightists, liberals, modernists, religious, etc. Basically, anybody with the slightest hint of humanity should rise up against this in-sensitivity!

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  • Gul Bahadur
    Oct 27, 2011 - 1:18AM

    Shame on every body in this country.We have elected Zardaris Sharifs and maulana Diesel.Why curse them.Every body knows that they are all thieves,still we vote them in.

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