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Poverty: a non-traditional security threat
By: Dr. Abid Qaiyum Suleri

She may not be living under the economic poverty line.
However, her husband was an unemployed drug addict. She was a chronic victim of
domestic violence. Arguments on financial issues occurred routinely, and on top
of everything, there are reports that the children had not been fed for the
last three days. First thing first. Can one imagine the state of mind in which
Bisma decided to end the lives of her two minor children? She may be depressed,
frustrated, helpless, extremist, revengeful, all of the above, or none of the
above, but it does not change the fact that she took the precious lives of her
children. And here arises the second question: who is responsible for the
deaths of these children — Bisma, her husband, her relatives, the state,
society, all of them or none of them? One can think of all kinds of possible
answers; however, the Punjab police were quick in fixing responsibility and
arrested her on a charge of murder. She would remain the talk of town for a few
days and then all attention would be diverted to some other equally gruesome
incident; after all, Pakistan is a land of the happening, where there is no
dull moment.

I agree that ‘chronic poverty’ may not be the cause of this
tragic incident, but Bisma’s extreme behaviour clearly indicates chronic
depression and mental health issues, especially when she had a history of
suicide attempts and her mother had also committed suicide a few years ago.

Fortunately, Bisma did not kill herself, but earlier last
month, a cancer patient allegedly killed seven members of his family before
committing suicide. Media reports are full of instances of such extreme
behaviour. One wonders where we are heading towards as a society. Are we a mob
of psychopaths, sadistic and violent individuals, or our sheer helplessness
pushes us towards extreme behaviour? Perhaps, there is no easy answer to this
question, but one can certainly assume that societal behaviour would have been
quite normal if there had been attempts by our successive governments to implement
Article 38 of the Constitution of Pakistan, which states: “The State shall
provide basic necessities of life, such as food, clothing, housing, education
and medical relief.” True that ours is a resource-starved country, but even if
our state had abundant resources, it would only be able to provide basic
necessities even if it knew the number of deprived people. Mapping the demand
side reflects the political will to act; however, our policymakers are clearly
living in a state of denial. They do not want to read their lab results as it
may diagnose their chronic ailments.

We have not released our poverty figures for the last many
years. The National Nutritional Survey result was released after a lapse of two
years as someone in the bureaucracy was not comfortable with the fact that 58
per cent of the population in Pakistan is malnourished. The World Food
Programme-SDPI-FAO-Unicef-led “State of food (in)security in Pakistan 2013”
report, suggesting (on the basis of government data) that almost 50 per cent of
the people have a chronic caloric insecurity, has been awaiting clearance and
shuttling between the Pakistan Agricultural Research Council and the Ministry
of Food Security and Research for the last six months. In a country where
physical health requirements remain unmet, we simply do not believe that mental
ailments exist; thus, most media reports term Bisma a ‘ruthless mother’ and a
‘monster mom’.

I wonder how many more deaths are required to convince
ourselves that helplessness leads to extreme behaviours. We need to acknowledge
the multidimensionality of poverty and need to recognise that poverty, in any
form, is a non-traditional security threat, which can erode the basic societal
fabric.

It may require a revised social contract to address societal
extreme behaviours, but by then, it would be too late for this ‘ruthless
mother’, who may attempt to commit suicide during her trial. I wish the court
could have sent her for psychiatric treatment before handing her over to the
police on judicial remand. It is still not too late. Perhaps, the Supreme Court
or the Parliament’s Committee on Human Rights can still intervene and consider
this case under Article 38. It would turn an accused into a victim, and may
also lay the foundation of a paradigm shift, which is necessary if we want to
provide psychological relief to our frustrated society.

This article was originally published at:

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint or stance of SDPI.