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The Express Tribune Editorial 3 June 2020

Suicides in Thar

Suicides among the Hindu Kolhi community of the Tharparkar region of Sindh have registered an alarming rise over the past one year, as 70 to 80 per cent of those who killed themselves in this period belong to this community. PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari has asked the Sindh CM’s special assistant, Veerji Kolhi, to investigate the causes of increasing suicides among a particular caste of a minority community.
The Kolhis are one of the most economically disadvantaged communities in Thar and Sindh. Poverty, unemployment and lack of resources are reportedly the leading causes of the suicides among this community. Two brothers committed suicide in Mirpurkhas district on May 30, only months after their elder brother and mother had reportedly killed themselves. This shows the gravity of the situation irrespective of what led the four unfortunate souls to take their own lives. Veerji, the CM’s special assistant, says it gives a distorted picture of the reality to ascribe only economic causes to the suicides. There might be several reasons — poverty, joblessness, discrimination, domestic violence, mental illness and the inability to marry the person of one’s choice — that push people to prefer death to life.
The desert region has reported the highest number of suicides in Sindh in the past one year, with 18 men and women committing suicide in May alone, and most of them were young women. Of the 18 victims of unfortunate circumstances, 11 were from the minority community and seven from the majority community. The youngest was a 10-year-old girl. Socio-economic conditions of those from the majority community too are not better either. A few days ago, two young men and a young woman committed suicide in other parts of Sindh. One of them was said to be without work due to the coronavirus lockdown. Family members of suicide victims usually conceal the causes for fear of police cases. The situation can be mitigated by expanding job opportunities with locally available resources. This needs political will.


Masses, classes and the pandemic


Yes, it’s true: Prime Minister Imran Khan has defied the global consensus on how to tackle the reigning coronavirus pandemic. The PM has dared to do it differently, despite the sustained pressure on him from his political rivals to swim with the tide and impose a strict countrywide lockdown — like nearly the whole world. This pressure has been vociferously amplified by the media with its science- and maths-guided coverage. A weighty addition to these lockdown campaigners is this affluent social class in our country which has the wherewithal — plush mansions with enough room to maintain social distance, and self-isolate in case of need; luxuries like home theatre and pool table to kill boredom; and stocked-up kitchen cabinets and freezers — to outlast the pandemic, however long it takes.
Buried beneath this clamorous chorus is a shrill voice — of those who live day to day and for whom a day’s lockdown means a day without food. It’s quite comprehensible why they care a damn about any coronavirus lying in ambush outdoors. Hunger forces them out of their dinghy residential quarters that too deny them any space inside to maintain a physically safe distance with other dwellers. The PM has, however, been able to hear their feeble plea. In fact, since the lockdowns started across the country in the wake of the lethal contagion crossing into our borders, the PM has been drawing the attention of all towards the plight of the 25 million labourers at risk of starving in case the various sectors of the economy are not allowed to breathe.
PM Imran’s was one of the few voices in the world, and the sole voice within the country, insisting that a lockdown was not a cure for the coronavirus. The whole world now agrees that the microbe will spread no matter what. Ecuador and Sweden are on the same page today, with the number of infections in excess of 35,000 and a couple of thousand deaths, even though the two countries had adopted divergent strategies to tackle the virus. Ecuador had imposed a strict lockdown, prohibiting all aerial, land and maritime transport into the country, just when there were only 28 cases of the infection there. Sweden, on the other hand, is well-known to have gone for herd immunity from the word go, keeping everything open — even schools for children under-15.
The juice is not worth the squeeze. Global experience shows that lockdowns have failed as a worthwhile remedy for the coronavirus despite a colossal cost to the economy. That’s why PM Imran has decided to ease the countrywide restrictions further, even though the decision coincides with the spike in the infection in all four provinces. The PM has announced the opening of ‘all the sectors’ apart from those where the threat of ‘virus is still present’. These sectors include tourism and the PM wants to see it revived in K-P and G-B as early as possible so as to enable the locals to utlise the season before it ends in a couple of months. He also assured bringing back all Pakistani nationals stranded abroad.
The ease in the lockdown is understood to have not gone down well with the medical fraternity which — having lost at least 17 practitioners to the deadly virus — is rather calling for the otherwise. The PM, while offering his prayers during their ‘jihad’ against the virus, asked them to accept his decision for the sake of the 50 million Pakistanis living below the poverty line.
In what sums up his message, the PM has urged the nation to learn to co-exist with the coronavirus, by following the prescribed SOPs, so long as an anti-virus is not available.


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