In the past three months more than twelve children committed suicides for various reasons but the indifference is still not out of its shell. As a society either we are emotionally absorbent or psychologically lackadaisical.
The overall response to the more recent wave of children committing suicide is confined to cursory condemnations in print and electronic media. In ubiquitous talk shows whenever the ‘issue’ props up politicians thankfully manipulate it to their political ends. The British playwright Edward Bond says that ‘all imagination is politics’. One thinks from where we bring the imagination to brutalise a sensitive issue? Every suicide brings a smudge to the society’s face. In western societies a murder or a suicide jolts the conscience of even a minute community. One stops wondering as why Pakistan is often termed as a failed or failing state. Are we a sane society?
The theories of Erich Fromm (1890-1980), the Swiss psychologist, are of perennial relevance to human societies. In his famous work The Sane Society (1955) Fromm says that ‘boredom is nothing but the experience of a paralysis of our productive powers’. Now for most people depression, boredom, ennui, and alienation are concepts relevant to the industrialized European societies where family system has gone to pieces and the institution of marriage has taken an irredeemable turn. On a realistic note children in western societies learn to live with family traumas as they are educated in multiple ways to negotiate parents’ divorce or legacy of a dysfunctional family. The very word ‘dysfunctional’ rings a bell.
Of late a CNN journalist, who in that occasion was an outsider, informed the ex-PM of Pakistan that ‘frankly speaking Pakistan is a dysfunctional society’. It was not a question but a deadliest verdict. The ex-PM smiled past the comment because the very word ‘dysfunctional’ has connotations too profound to be grasped by a politician who himself at that moment was on the brink of being declared politically dysfunctional. In modern welfare states a ruler is like a benevolent patriarch- a carer and a father. Remember! We call Muhammad Ali Jinnah “father of the nation”. Today, the dismissiveness with which the state of Pakistan treats its subjects is tantamount to a condition of ‘psychological orphanage’.
A child’s suicide is a reminder that the state and the community abandoned it to the destructive forces of life. Among the adults it is far easier to detect causes of what Fromm says a ‘paralysis of productive powers’. But in children it is difficult to diagnose the symptoms leading to suicide. Scolding a child on the street, or school is a cognizable offence in many developed countries. In our society it is a norm. In schools there is no mechanism to measure a child’s mental productivity. How many of us are aware of the facility called ‘child psychologist’? A child’s mental health is taken for granted. The religious clerics in their sermons always talk about the rights of parents but they do not talk about the rights of children.
There are physical statistics which indicate at the deteriorating socio-economic conditions to be the biggest cause behind this ‘malaise’. Statistics may belie human tragedies but the facts are too grim and revealing to be minced: 8.3 % of the 40 million children between the age of 5-14 are subject to child labour, and according to UNCIF 25 million children are out of school, while the population density per square kilometres is 222 persons; and in one year (2011) 2,252 children are sexually abused throughout the country. These figures are enough to drive even the sanest of soul crazy, if not suicidal.
The reasons for child suicides can be various, dispersed, and even discursive. But a child confined between the inadequate atmospheres of school and home is vulnerable to psychological and physical violence. In religious seminaries, especially in the rural areas, the children are more susceptible to child abuse. But in Pakistan people do not talk about these things as it shames their honour however on many other things they compromise on their honour and perhaps in more humiliating ways. A child leaving behind explicit suicidal notes is an alarming symptom for a society which takes a lot of pride in its gelled family values and often curses western societies on this account.
In western societies a child is the most precious asset of the state and in our society it becomes an emblem of collective social apathy. There is nothing more painful than losing one’s child, and there is nothing more satisfying than securing the future of a child who in William Wordswoth’s words is ‘the father of man’- sadly in our society a mirror of image of his elders’ apathy.