By Zafar Ahmad
Chitral constitutes a single cultural unit due to its shared geography and history. Afflicted with poverty and living in isolation the people of the valley developed an indigenous cultural worldview which is different from the rest of the cultures. For centuries, traditional structures and institutions kept individuals in harmony with the rest of the society. However, this harmony has started to wane with exposure to modernization, modernity, globalization and with contact with other cultures.
For the last two decades, substantial changes have been witnessed in Chitral. The centuries-long isolation of the region has ended. Modern facilities of life have become accessible. Life standards of people have improved. Due to investment in social sector the literacy rate, especially women education, has substantially increased. However, the relative progress in various sectors has come at a cost. The structure of traditional institutions has altered. The rupture in the social fabric has slackened the bond between individuals and society. The increased wave of suicides especially among girls manifests this breakdown of the traditional social contract.
A research conducted by this author indicates that youth being exposed to modernity are thwarted by the traditional worldview. In a very short span of time modern technology such as television, mobiles, facebook, twitter etc. have entered in the local culture. All these have facilitated communication with the outer world. The youths have attained modern aspirations which in many cases come in clash with centuries old traditions. In other words, modernity has emerged in hybrid form instead of pure which is having paradoxical relation with traditions.
The mind of the youth is empowered but not finding space to celebrate freedom. The youth feel as if their dreams are robbed by traditions. The situation is more complex for women as socio-cultural taboos further restrict their choices. Under frustration, some of the vulnerable youth protest by ending their own lives.
New cultural ethos have emerged which prize success over everything else. The society in Chitral has become competition-obsessed. Academic and material success is idolized. Academic success is glorified while failure is stigmatized. Parents educate their children and consider it as the ladder for social mobility. In other words, parents attempt to instill their own dreams into their children. The situation is as Bertrand Russel describes “life is a contest; a competition, in which respect is accorded to the victor.” The result is breathing ground for the youth has shrunk. Ultimately, some of the youths take their own lives. On an occasion two girls jumped into the river when they failed in matric exam.
The research by this author further reveals that domestic problems contribute towards considerable maladies of women. Dispute with in family, with-in-laws, beaten by husband or father compel women in many instances to end their own lives. Cultural norms portray appropriate behaviors for women. Failure to conform is condemned. For women having new aspirations the situation is an annoyance. Neither the culture is sufficient to curb youths’ aspirations nor the youths are empowered enough to celebrate their freedom. Result is high rate of youth suicide across the district.
The deceased youth gain the sympathies of family members and communities. In most cases the youths are portrayed as the oppressed. Those alleged to have triggered the death may be condemned. Condemning the deceased for his or her own destruction is rare. In many cases boys use suicide as weapons for getting favors. The dialogue “I will kill myself” is a frequently spoken dialogue perhaps unique to Chitralis. Parents fear it while teenagers may idolize suicides.
To sum up, suicides in Chitral depicts a crisis situation of the local culture. According to report published in daily Dawn with reference to Human Rights’ Commission of Chitral on the average 30 women commit suicides in Chitral. However, this number would be an underrepresentation as on weekly basis news of youth suicides are reported in the local media. According to a local activist, seven sucicide attempts were made in a tiny village in Upper Chitral during the last few years. This depicts a crisis situation. The most gruesome situation, however, is the culture of negligence and denial. So far there has been no serious effort to curb this lethal phenomenon. The only stress is on thorough research. However, passive researches could hardly be the remedy. The only viable solution would be to develop a team of experts who could thoroughly analyze the crisis of the local culture. Rigorous counseling to both the teenagers at school level and with parents could be helpful in curbing the wave of madness which is engulfing young lives.
The writer is Lecturer in Sociology, KP Higher Education Department, and MPhil researcher at Peshawar University