Peshawar-Inside a small home in a far-off Torkhow village of Upper Chitral district, 25-year-old Haya (a pseudonym) had served her mother, an elder brother and other family members for the last four months since her husband dropped her at her parent’s home before leaving for Peshawar in connection with his job.

One day, Haya made tea, handed the teacups to her mother and other family members and left the room. After a few moments, her brother Jalalud Din received a call from another sister: “Haya has jumped into River Chitral.”

This information panicked the family as Jalalud Din said that he along with other relatives rushed to the riverbank in no time.

“Before jumping into the river, Nisa called her sister who lives in Chitral Town and told her that ‘I am jumping into the river, goodbye forever. At that moment, her phone also switched off and her body could not be recovered from the river,” he said.

In a similar incident, 26-year-old Shabnam, four months after her wedding, came to her parent’s home in Arkari village in the Chitral district. Her husband telephoned her and after brief bickering with her husband on the phone, she left the room where all family members were sitting and went to another room.

“After almost an hour, a relative entered home crying that ‘Shabnam is hanging from the ceiling’,” stated Bola Khan, father of the deceased Shabnam. “She was mentally healthy. We had not even thought of this likelihood that Shabnam would hang herself,” her father told The Nation.

There have been numerous incidents of suicide in the Chitral area, which has been recently divided into two districts of Upper and Lower Chitral.

In a study on the causes of suicides among women in Chitral, the Aga Khan Rural Support Programme states that during 2007-2008, reported cases of suicide were 29, of whom 25 were women and 23 were between the ages of 20-30.

The study says most of the suicidal cases were due to women’s problems in relations with in-laws. It adds that most parents do not know the issues that can result from forced marriages.

According to Human Rights Programme Chitral (HRPC), a non-governmental organisation, 150 women in Chitral have committed suicide from 2010 to 2017.

Sardar Ayub, a former regional manager of the AKRSP and having worked on compiling data on such cases, told The Nation that the reasons behind suicides included family issues, marriages, not receiving a share in inheritance, and low marks in exams among students, etc. He also claimed that suicides increase on the days when the results of exams are announced.

“A few years ago, we had identified an attempted suicide case. Later, a psychologist was engaged with the woman who had attempted suicide. However, the under-treatment woman one day shot dead the psychologist and later committed suicide herself too,” he recalled.

Sardar Ayub also said that the education rate has increased in the Chitral region and so has social media usage. “Sometimes women may face an inferiority complex when they see people in other parts of the country and their condition in the rugged mountains where facilities are scarce. He said youngsters from Chitral have committed suicides in other areas too, adding that a student from Chitral committed suicide at the University of Peshawar a month ago.

“I believe that psychologists and psychiatrists should hold camps in various parts of Lower and Upper Chitral to find out the causes behind the higher suicide rate in the area. Students may have low grades in exams in other parts of the country too, and family and issues may also happen in other areas but at least psychologists can find out why such cases occur more in the Chitral region,” he said.

Javeria Kalsum, a clinical psychologist based in Peshawar, says that the major reason behind the suicide cases is psychological issues, arising from sociological issues when people think they are being deprived of their rights.

“First, there is a need to conduct mental health camps and psychiatrists should work in different parts of the district. We first need to know the main problem that prompts women to commit suicide. For this, we use different therapies on their thoughts so that they share their feelings, instead of committing suicide,” Dr Javeria said.

Lower Chitral Police have also established a Women and Children Support Centre, which provides counselling and all legal help to women complainants and children in various cases.

Sonia Shamroz, the first woman district police officer of KP currently posted in Lower Chitral, has introduced women-friendly measures in the area. She has recently set up a Day Care Centre in the Women and Children Support Centre.

“After my posting in Lower Chitral, we also set up a Day Care Centre at the Centre. The Day Care Centre has lady cops on duty on rotation and here the women complainants leave their children to play while they lodge any complaints regarding any harassment case because we want the children not to be psychologically affected in case their mother cries or turns emotional while lodging complaints,” she added.

The official also said that the female cops often leave their minor children at the Day Care Centre where they are looked after while their mothers perform duties in uniforms.

The DPO further said they conduct investigations of all deaths, whether suicides or other cases.

“There were around 13 suicide cases last year, while there had been three cases of suicide since the start of 2022 so far,” she added.

Another officer based in the region said that there is still confusion about why women and young men in Chitral commit suicides, particularly the students who are educated too. He said there is a need for research by organisations on this issue in Chitral.