Shahid and Saba were two cousins who fell in love and wanted to marry one another. However, the families of both cousins staunchly resisted any such move, resulting in the two running away from home and attempting to commit suicide by taking poison pills. Saba succeeded in her attempt, however, Shahid wasn't so lucky. He survived to see a case being registered against him under Section 325 of the Pakistan Penal Code for attempting to kill himself.
According to the World Health Organisation, there were a reported 15,696 suicide cases in Pakistan in 2002. Although certain experts consider the claim to be exaggerated, there is no denying that suicides are becoming more common. A study titled ‘The Karachi suicide study’, published in the British Journal of Psychiatry in 2008, was based on a survey of 680 people in a village in the Khyber Agency's Bara Tehsil in Pakistan's north. The said study found that 39 per cent of women and 21 per cent of men had contemplated suicide at one point or the other. Various other studies in Pakistan estimate that 34 per cent of the adult population suffers from common mental disorders such as depression and anxiety. This coupled with the fact that depression is implicated in more than 90 per cent of all recorded suicides indicates that individuals with suicidal tendencies must be dealt with love and care. And more importantly, it shouldn't be the case that the very law of the land legislated to protect the lives of the citizens, is a constituent in promoting its extinguishment.
Unfortunately that is exactly what Section 325 of the Pakistan Penal Code seems to be doing. This section adjudges attempted suicide as a criminal offence punishable with one year of imprisonment and/or a fine. In essence, an individual who becomes so disillusioned and disheartened with life that he would prefer to kill himself rather than continue living in his miserable state is doomed for further victimisation in case he fails in extinguishing his life. Under the garb of investigations, police officials harass individuals who have attempted to commit suicide. The officers often try to blackmail the suicidal individual and his/her family in order to gain some financial benefits in exchange for not registering the FIR. Few families would risk allowing the police to register a case against a family member for attempted suicide considering the various social and religious taboos in existence as well as the punishments contained in the law. Hence, greasing the palms of corrupt officials becomes more of a necessity than a choice in such cases.
As a result of the operation of this law and the resulting harassment that would accompany its enforcement, another unfortunate consequence is that attempted suicides go largely unreported in the country. This in fact gives rise to a lack of reliable and complete information regarding suicides and attempted suicides with the relevant officials which in turn impedes our ability to adequately diagnose the disease so that we may start the treatment.
As such, for all practical purposes, it seems imperative that this law be reviewed if not outright repealed. And although clearly everyone is more caught up with the current discourse on the fake degrees, the media must play its role in pressurising the government in taking this matter seriously. Any individual who suffers from suicidal tendencies clearly is in need of help, not punitive action. If anything, the unfortunate message that it seems to be sending is that if you want to take your life, you better make sure you do it right, otherwise harassment and jail-time await you.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 12th, 2010.
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