By Suhaib Iqbal
Nasreen*, 18 years old, a resident of Rajanpur district in south Punjab is the most recent victim of kala pather (black stone), a toxic substance commonly used for hair dying. She lost her life after consuming kala pather after she was refused by her family to marry a person of her own choice.
Rajanpur district that has witnessed increasing number of suicidal incidents in the recent past. Despite a ban by the Punjab Govt. P-phenylenediamine, the chemical name for the substance is easily available in the market and has caused many suicidal and homicidal deaths.
Rajanpur is one of the underdeveloped districts of south Punjab where over 40% of the households live below poverty line and education rate is extremely low. Owing to poor living conditions, increasing number of Rajanpur natives are taking their own lives by consuming the toxic stone. The majority of them are women who became a victim of domestic feuds.
Nasreen has a similar story of suppressed voices, burdened by ignorance, and repressive system that thrives on internalized misogyny. She took her own life when her parents did not agree to marry her to the boy of her choice. She was rushed to the hospital in a critical condition after she consumed the substance but doctors could not save her and she died after two days.
Her father told Pak Voices that his daughter wanted to marry her cousin but they had cut off ties with the boy’s family. He forced his daughter to marry some other suitable suitor. Unable to control important decisions of her own life, Nasreen desired to escape from her painful world.
Most of the recent deaths reported in various district hospitals of south Punjab are owed to the kala pathar. Data collected from Nishtar Hospital Multan reveals that 1100 such cases of suicide were reported in the year 2017, and a majority of them were women who belonged to poverty-stricken districts of south Punjab.
Although Punjab government banned the sale and purchase of kala pathar in September this year to stem suicide cases, however, the toxic material is easily accessible in south Punjab. Over 300 suicidal cases have been reported at Nishtar Hospital since the material was banned. The ban may temporarily turn out to be effective but it will not solve the problem unless the suicide-causing-factors are addressed.
*The name of the victim has been changed to protect her identity.
Sohaib Iqbal is working with Pak Voices as a citizen journalist from south Punjab.