Historically suicide has been a rare occurrence in Kashmir’s Muslim society but it turned epidemic-like in the aftermath of armed conflict in the valley. But it may be for the first time someone committed suicide because of extreme poverty in Kashmir. Mudasir Majeed Peer reports a case of concern.
Sitting in a dimly lit room on dry grass rags spread on the floor, Shahmali Begum, 45, in Jagarpora villageofHandwara, has given up. Shrunk in a corner with her four daughters and two sons, pale-faced she mourns the death of her husband Ghulam Mohammad, who committed suicide on July 9, and sings dirges in grief.
Ghulam Mohammed Mir, 48, committed suicide by consuming poison, leaving behind a big and miserable family. He was a labourer living in poverty.
The family members said it was the poverty-ridden condition at home and many loans from a bank and his friends that forced him to end his life.
“Every time he would come and sit alone in the room, lean his head against the wall and cup his face with his hands in distress and say; What will I do? The daily family expenses are so high and I earn a little,” says Shahmali.
“The bank authorities visited us many times asking to return the loan and threatened trouble if he failed.”
“But what could we do? We didn’t have any savings or assets, as land or cattle, which we could sell and pay back the bank. My husband died of tension. He ended his life just because he had no money in hand, nor could he earn that much in such limited time”.
Ghulam Mohammed’s younger brother, Mohammed Maqbool, helped marry off the elder daughter, Afroza Bano last year.
“My brother had no land. He owed nearly four lakh rupees to the bank and many shopkeepers in Handwara, from whom he would bring the stock for his shop (before he closed it due to losses),” says Maqbool.
“A few days ago, at the time, when my brother died, I found a letter in his pocket, which was from the bank. The letter read, you are requested to pay back the loan of 97000/Rs within fifteen days,” Reveals Maqbool.
He also holds the government responsible for his brother’s death. “He was working as a daily-wager in rural development from 1988 to 1996. But later he was discharged from service along with many other people in 1996. Since then he along with other men constantly followed the government for reappointing them on a daily wage basis. But the government did not address their grievances”.
Ghulam Mohammad’s other daughter, Rifat, had to stop her education when she was just in kindergarten. Followed by her two brothers, Arif, 18 and Abbas, 16, both had to leave by 8th class.
Mohammad Maqbool runs a village bakery. He says he earns a meagre amount and has five children and his parents, to feed. “It is impossible for me to feed two families. Though I will try to cut back some of my expenses to provide some assistance to my brother’s family,” says Maqbool pleading the government should look after his brother’s family by providing a job to one of his children.
Shahmali now pins all her hope on her 16-year-old son, Abbas.
“Arif can’t do any work. He is mentally unwell. He can’t even talk properly. Abbas is now the only person who has to hold the fort must marry off his three sisters,” says a bewildered Shahmali.
Arif is too traumatized but conscious of the miseries the family is in.
“What will I do? He left us and didn’t think about what would happen to us. I can’t live without him,” says Arif crying.