Tharparkar’s Suicide Crisis

Over the last three years, there has been a drastic surge in the cases of suicide in Tharparkar. According to the SSP office in Tharparkar, there were 129 suicides in the region in 2022, an increase from the 121 in 2021. After Chitral, Tharparkar has the highest suicide rate in Pakistan.

Seventy-year-old Sarang Meghwar sweats excessively in the stifling heat of Mithi, Tharparkar. The deep creases across his forehead betray his age, and he appears to be more bones than man. But his disposition is the result of years of troubles and torment. Meghwar has lost three of his children to suicide.

“My eldest son, Ishaan, was free-spirited,” he tells me in Dhatki, one of the native languages of Tharparkar. “He used to escape from home and travel to strange places. He would frequently disappear for months at a time, without any explanation, and then return inexplicably.”

One day, instead of Ishaan, the police turned up at Meghwar’s doorstep, to inform him that his 27-year-old son had hanged himself.

A few years later, when Meghwar’s 16-year-old daughter Gita was not allowed to pursue a relationship with a boy she liked and was instead, out of social obligation, married off to a man she had no interest in, she chose to kill herself.

Chaandni, Meghwar’s 24-year-old eldest daughter, was married off after she finished her Intermediate exams. She faced intense domestic abuse and violence at the hands of her in-laws and was on the brink of starvation, because her in-laws said she could not eat more than one meal a day.

Meghwar decided to intervene and was on his way to bring his daughter back home when he got the news that Chaandni had also committed suicide.

Unfortunately, almost every hamlet and town in Tharparkar is ripe with such tales. The reality is that Tharparkar usually only garners the attention of Pakistan’s mainstream media when it is hit by a crippling drought or when yet another person in the district commits suicide.

Over the last three years, there has been a drastic surge in the cases of suicide in Tharparkar. According to the SSP office in Tharparkar, there were 129 suicides in the region in 2022, an increase from the 121 in 2021. After Chitral, Tharparkar has the highest suicide rate in Pakistan.

Once a remote region tucked away from the rest of the country, Tharparkar became interconnected due to a 3,000 kilometre-long network of roads which were constructed during Gen Pervez Musharraf’s era, effectively linking Mithi to Diplo, Nagarparkar and Chhachhro.

The construction of these roadways allowed locals access to the outside world and, vice versa, enabled businessmen, mining outfits and the media to venture into the region. This development, however, came at a cost and challenged local traditions which had been in place for ages.


Tharparkar has the highest Hindu population in Pakistan and, as per the 2017 census, Hindus make up more than 43% of the district’s population. This has led to an establishment of certain traditions centred around Hindu customs and practices in the region.

According to social activist and educationist Partab Shivani, inter-caste marriages are strictly prohibited in traditional Hindu societies. Although this is not an official tenet of Hinduism, it has been practised and enforced by many Hindu pundits or clerics since the mid-19th century. It is often ensured that the man and woman being wed have had no family connection for the past 10 generations.

This norm only further compounds a long list of misfortunes Tharparkar’s young people are battling. According to police reports, four couples, aged between 15-30 years, have committed joint suicides in Tharparkar since 2021. Since these couples belonged to the same community, there was no chance of their marriages being approved by their elders.

Due to this rigid adherence to established norms, the concept of love marriage is essentially taboo in Tharparkar, which in turn often leads to unhappy marriages. For instance, last year in Mithi, a woman committed suicide after being married to a man she simply had no interest in.

Referred to as the baddho system locally, exchange marriages (also called vatta-sattas) occur very frequently in many rural communities across Tharparkar. However, such arrangements can regularly lead to the development of problematic dynamics due to the nature of these interlinked relationships.

In many instances, these complicated ties often result in women becoming victims of domestic violence. Shivani explains, “It is expected that if my brother-in-law is physically abusive towards my sister, ie his wife, I should reciprocate that sentiment by beating his sister, ie my wife.”

As a result, such exchange marriages can sometimes trap women in a cycle of violence and enforced ‘accountability’. Women who feel they can’t find a way out of this abuse choose to kill themselves as opposed to spending the rest of their lives as pawns through which family scales are balanced and revenge exacted.

In 2022, 70 females and 59 males reportedly committed suicide in Tharparkar. The cause of suicide for most of the women was simply listed as ‘domestic affairs’ in the official records, but locals know that this term implies domestic violence.

Apart from attending to their domestic responsibilities, women in the region also have to collect firewood, walk long distances to get water and help the males in harvesting cotton, which in turn adds to their stress, since they know that a failure to comply will lead to violence.


But these rigid customs and norms are not only limited to incidents involving marriage. For instance, a particularly tragic story which was relayed to me during my travels through Tharparkar was that of Shivam and Ved, two first cousins who had been inseparable since their childhood.

They wore the same clothes, ate the same food and grew up spending most of their time together. When they became teenagers, their families became suspicious of their intimacy and forced them apart. In retaliation, one day the boys wore matching new clothes, went to the bazaar to eat their favourite mithai, took selfies together, and then hanged themselves.

Furthermore, strict adherence to the caste system also robs many residents of Tharparkar of any hope of upward social mobility, thus trapping them in the system’s unbending structure. The Dalit caste, also known as the ‘untouchables’, lie on the lowest rung of the Jati caste system in Hinduism and are treated as such. Hence, it is no coincidence that the Dalit Kolhi, Bheel and Meghwar communities have the highest incidences of suicide in Tharparkar.

However, many villages in Nagarparkar lie at the opposite end of the rigid social norms spectrum. Nagarparkar, which is one of Tharparkar’s tehsils, lies near the Pakistan-India border. The villages scattered throughout Nagarparkar are largely secluded and inaccessible through roads. Due to this isolation, there is rampant frustration in the area, arising from unemployment and idleness.

According to Krishan Sharma, a social worker based in Tharparkar, these factors have led to a strong culture of drugs and alcoholism in some quarters of Nagarparkar, and the locals here brew their own moonshine, locally called tharra, in their homes. When Sharma went to villages in Nagarparkar to examine kids for malnutrition, most of the mothers accompanying their children were drunk.

The complete breakdown of any societal constructs in Nagarparkar and the lack of adequate healthcare or educational provisions has led to a constant barrage of suicide cases here — each driven by a set of complex underlying factors, which are incredibly hard to address. For instance, just a few years ago, a 14-year-old Hindu boy in Nagarparkar burnt himself alive in the hope of attaining mukti [liberation after death].


Some micro-financing banks and local money-lenders [banyas] in the region offer minor loans to the locals in order to support their farming since the livelihood of communities in Tharparkar depends upon agriculture. Micro-financing institutions such as the Khushhali bank, Akhuwat Foundation and the Thardeep Rural Development Programme also operate in Tharparkar.

They loan money in small amounts, helping alleviate any temporary financial difficulties farmers might have. While the banks demand their money back in full, the local moneylenders demand the return of their loans in percentage increments. This proves distressing for the debtors.

Since the literacy rate in Tharparkar district is only 38 percent, according to the Sindh District Report 2017-18, most farmers are completely oblivious as to how they should go about paying back their loans and whether or not they should trust their local moneylenders.

In some cases, if a farmer has borrowed a sum of money from a bank and is unable to pay it back, he will borrow money from the local banya, who will accept the farmer’s cultivated land and cattle as mortgage. After successfully paying the loan on time, the bank will offer the debtor a bigger loan next time.

However, this can lead to the farmer being stuck in a vicious cycle of loan-taking. The main assets of these farmers are their cattle, so when rainfall is scarce or a drought occurs and crop production decreases, their cattle is often seized. Eventually, the moneylender has to be paid back and, if the farmer is unable to do so and has already lost all his assets, he may choose to commit suicide.

Oftentimes in such a scenario, the lenders gather outside the debtor’s chaunra [straw-roofed mud house] and start seizing whatever he owns, thus attracting a crowd of onlookers in the process. The shame, stigma and financial constraints which arise due to a failure to pay back these loans have caused many farmers to commit suicide.

This is exactly what happened a few years ago in a widely reported incident, when a young farmer from Mitha Tar was unable to pay back a loan. As the collectors protested in front of the boy’s chaunra and demanded that he repay the loan fees — all while neighbours and strangers alike looked on — the young man chose to kill himself instead of being forced to endure the humiliation of facing members of his community and the lenders in such a manner.


Social worker Ali Akbar Rahimoo says that notions of integrity, honesty and community are very important in Tharparkar’s social fabric — often to an extreme extent. For instance, a person would rather die from starvation than use illicit means to obtain money, which perhaps explains why Tharparkar has a negligible crime rate.

Rahimoo recalls that, in 2003, a man hanged himself from a neem tree because he had not eaten anything for three days. “People here would rather kill themselves than be perceived as a burden or engage in criminal activities to survive,” Rahimoo says.

Since 87 percent of people are below the poverty line in Tharparkar, according to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Multidimensional Poverty Index, suicide becomes a recourse for many who are unable to provide for themselves and their families.

Nawal, a carpet weaver from the remote village of Chhachhro in Tharparkar, killed himself and his four sons due to the extreme financial difficulties the family was facing. His cousin Tarachand tells me that Nawal refused to accept either sympathy or money from any of his relatives or friends. Instead, he pushed his sons into a well and then jumped in himself.

Similarly, a 50-year-old Kolhi woman living in Dileep Nagar Mithi says that her son, Gordhan, committed suicide after his wife’s death, who got electrocuted while she was breastfeeding their two-month-old son. Bogged down by grief and the inability to support all of his children, Gordhan killed himself.


Many of the underlying issues which have been highlighted thus far are also present in remote villages in rural Punjab and several areas of Balochistan. Yet these areas do not have the staggering suicide rate that Tharparkar does. So what’s the reason for the difference?

Social workers and intellectuals in Tharparkar argue that the most pressing reason for the region’s high suicide rate has been the advent of the Thar coal mining project, and the sudden arrival of ‘modernity’ that followed suit. Due to this, parts of Tharparkar went from deeply regressive areas to mechanised hubs almost overnight.

The French sociologist Emile Durkheim posits that a sense of anomie arises when a social system disintegrates and newer, stranger values or norms make their way into a society. In many ways, the Thar coal mining

project challenged the traditional value system of the Thari people. Due to the rapid development of infrastructure to facilitate the coal mining, this once quiet, traditional society was forced to contend with an influx of outsiders — irrevocably damaging the region’s social fabric in the process.

Mithi is the capital of Tharparkar district and it has undergone partial urbanisation in the wake of this project, due to which its residents have access to roads, phones, the internet, and television networks. As per the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics, 93 percent of Tharis now have access to mobile internet, but this connectivity is coming at a cost.

The hunger to own the latest gadgets, which are advertised to the Thari youth as something to aspire to, is fuelling a deep sense of insecurity which did not exist till a few years ago. Many youngsters who are unable to attain these objects or lifestyle contemplate suicide because they consider themselves to be somehow ‘lacking’ in a world which is rapidly advancing.

Sharma adds that it has also been increasingly observed that social media platforms in Tharparkar are filled with uncensored images of suicide victims and harrowing details regarding these incidents. The concept of suicide is now not only readily spread online in Thar but also normalised in the process by exposing people to its prevalence.

Earlier, in areas like Tharparkar, each village had a leader called a mukhiya [chief] who managed the general grievances of the residents. If a village housed five communities and an issue or a dispute arose, the chief would attempt to resolve the grievance of the respective community. However, now with the arrival of technology, mobile phones and internet in the region, many Tharis believe that there is a severe communication gap between all members of any given household and community.

Sharma argues that he has seen this decay of interpersonal relationships in Tharparkar first-hand. He posits that the cherished concept of sharing problems with siblings, parents or elders has now eroded away, and the strength of emotional ties has become extinct here. As a result, an entire generation of Tharis have now grown up with no anchorage to their communities or their elders, which has only further exacerbated their sense of unease and loneliness. This, coupled with the poverty already plaguing the land, makes for a deadly combination.

Due to these factors and the commonplace nature of suicide in the region, it is evident that the idea of killing oneself is treated with a degree of callousness and irreverence by many of the locals. During my journey through Tharparkar, I overheard the bus driver relaying a personal dilemma over the phone. At the end of the conversation he calmly and nonchalantly said in Sindhi, “Maan phahoo khae wathaan? [So, should I just commit suicide?]”


The reason why it is so difficult to address this rising suicide rate is because there are no official statistics regarding suicide in Pakistan. As a result, it’s extremely difficult to try to get a sense of which localities need the most help. However, there are some basic requirements that the government must ensure are met if the state wishes to bring down the suicide rate in Tharparkar.

For instance, although the Sindh Mental Health Authority was established in 2017, currently there is only one psychiatrist in all of Tharparkar, and he sits in Mithi. That’s one psychiatrist for nearly 20,000 square kilometres.

According to Rahimoo, 80-90 percent cases of suicide occur in villages far removed from Mithi, and these people have no access to any mental health services. Moreover, the fees involved, the cost of medication and the social stigma of seeking help for one’s mental health further decreases the likelihood that people in Thar will seek out help, even if they are having suicidal thoughts.

As Rahimoo puts it, “Here in Tharparkar, a person will first go to a maulvi for healing, then he will go to the shrines, and then, right at the end, he will think about going to a doctor.”

Dr Karim Ahmed Khawaja, Chairman of the Sindh Mental Health Authority, says that, “Initially the district police was not cooperating with us with regards to the collection of data on suicides in the region. Only after we put in a word with their senior officers did the local police start cooperating with us.”

The lack of seriousness exhibited by the local authorities demonstrates why most suicide cases are so egregiously mishandled by the police in Tharparkar. There is a serious inconsistency in police records when it comes to instances of suicide.

According to police reports in Tharparkar, 120 suicides from 2021 to 2023 have been placed under the category of ‘mental disease’. When this term is used in official records, it means that there is no need for any police investigation, nor is the case forwarded to the courts.

The police do not investigate the suicide case if they receive a statement from the family of the victim saying that the deceased was mentally disturbed, so the case is inevitably shut. The family is not even required to present a medical certificate to substantiate their claim. This is further complicated by the fact that, if a parent kills their own children before committing suicide, police records simply report all the deaths as suicide.


Therefore, because the data collected by local authorities is largely unreliable, cases are underreported and mismanaged or the causes of suicide misattributed, our understanding of the prevalence of this phenomenon in Tharparkar is greatly hindered. Furthermore, politicians who belong to different constituencies of Tharparkar seem unbothered about addressing this issue. I approached multiple local politicians to discuss Tharparkar’s high suicide rate but did not receive a single reply.

As per the district police data, there have been 75 incidents of suicide this year in Tharparkar, up until August 2023. This figure already is equal to 60 percent of the suicide incidents that took place in the whole of 2022. Each year the numbers rise, and these figures do not even take into account all the cases which go unreported.

On a superficial level, the hospitality of the Thari people, their brotherhood and simplicity paints a romantic image of Tharparkar. But in reality, the people of Tharparkar are suffering. Their anguish is a result of years of state neglect and the persistent indifference of the authorities.

The writer is currently pursuing a degree at the Department of Social Sciences and Liberal Arts (SSLA) at the Institute of Business Administration (IBA).

Published in Dawn, EOS, September 10th, 2023 by Matee-ur-Rehman

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