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Last Updated: 12/08/2004Self-immolation in Tajikistan
A significantly large number of young women in Tajikistan, and elsewhere in Central Asia, forced into marriage attempt suicide by setting themselves alight. The author explains why.
Woman has been suppressed under custom and law for which man was responsible and in the shaping of which she had no hand. In a plan of life based on nonviolence, woman has as much right to shape her own destiny as man has to shape his .
Martin Luther King Jr.
In order to explain gender roles in RT it should be clarified that in legal basis or de jury, women and men have equal rights and opportunities, de facto, it is the opposite. To support the first claim, the extract from the chapter 2, article 17 of the Constitution of RT is given:
All people are equal before the law and the court law. The state guarantees the rights and liberties for every person irrespective of his nationality, race, sex, language, religious beliefs, political persuasion, knowledge, social and property status. Men and women have equal rights".
In spite of the
government s attempts to promote gender equality by signing various conventions
and having special 10 year program on increasing de facto the status of women, the
situation of Tajik women is not equal. According to Martin Luther King Jr. in
reality you cannot have economic and political equality without having some form
of social equality .
This is the case with
This is a form of structural violence practiced in the country, and it is this kind of violence that imposes conditions which place people at high risk of unemployment, suicide, crime and this concept has transactional links with domestic violence.
Swiss Development Agency s data on violence against women in
Violence against women is very high in Tajik society. The problem is that for instance domestic violence in the family or physical violence (men beating their wives) is considered to be normal, and that is the way things should be. Traditions and religion (Islam) are confused, in this way clergy and older women use misinterpretation of religion as a tool to oppress, control women.
distressing is the number of female self immolations in Central Asia, and this particularly common in
self- immolations in
Women s self-immolations became one of the first issues open for discussion in the society in the period of glastnost (openness) at the end of 1980s and beginning of 1990s. During the Soviet era the problem of self- immolation of women was also high but it was ignored by the government. Doctor Oripova, NGO representative of Umed and the specialist on burns/self immolations from the year 1971 says, During the Soviet time nobody wanted to talk about it, in the Soviet Union everybody was supposed to talk only about the high harvest of the cotton and about how many new cars appeared in the roads, and the negative news were not encouraged. 
The issue of suicides among women has been under investigation for some time by the Tajik government, especially in relation to self-immolation. However, authorities contradict themselves, since they censor the press data about the numbers of such cases and do not want media talk about existence of this issue, although this problem was discussed in the report which was prepared for the UN by the working group dealing with issues of role of women in development, vision for the UN internet-conference Pekin+5 , and also in the report of the Committee of UN on elimination of discrimination against women, which was submitted in January 2001.
It is difficult to regard self immolation as a form of non violent action, since according to the definition:
Non-violent action is a technique of conflict engagement or prosecution that aims to achieve political objectives through the imposition of sanctions and various supporting methods excluding physical, violent acts.
Since, in the definition clearly states that the methods used should exclude physical, violent acts, a question arises violent toward whom? If we suppose that a non-violent action is if individual uses non-violent method towards his opponents, then we can apply this definition in the case with self-immolation.
According to Gene Sharp, we can consider self- immolations as a method of non violent protest under the heading of a symbolic public act . However, women who commit self- immolations do not do it publicly, they do it in their private homes and there are identifiable reasons for these acts.
Grievances and Causes
One of the
suggested reasons is that desperate young women choose death by self-immolation
to rebel against suicide taboo in
interpretation is offered by Zafar Saidov, a researcher into Zoroastrianism in
Human Rights Watch claim that they have proof that domestic violence and the number of suicides in the family are interrelated. NGO activists state that ignoring the problem of violence in the family serves as one of the factors of the growth of the number of women who commit suicides. If a woman gets married and she suffers from domestic physical violence from her husband and his family, and if she returns to her parent s house they will not protect her. They simply send her back to her husband and tell her to be patient and that that is the way it should be. That means, that the closest relatives are complicit in the deaths of the girls or women, who do not understand and do not pay attention to the victims with love and understanding. As a result of such attitude toward them women decide to commit suicide and potentially threaten their souls. Following are examples of women who have committed suicide:
A woman burned
herself just because her mother in law yelled at her that she did not clean the
house properly. Another reason was that a woman committed suicide because she
was part of a polygamous marriage which is illegal in
opinion from my experience working in the Crisis Center is that the main causes
of suicides are violence against girls and women by men and older women. The
system of arranged marriages is also widely practiced, which violates the right
of girls and is one of the forms of violence against women.
The main goal of women who commit a suicide by this way is that they want to die and they sometimes write a note before they commit a suicide with the reasons why they did it. Their goal is mainly to stop violence which was conducted towards them and to stop this violence toward other women.
Many suicide notes blame their husbands or mother-in-laws with the aim of having them prosecuted by the police and there have been cases where this has happened. The method which they chose is very tragic.
However, according to the research which I conducted, I would like to mention that before committing a suicide these women apply different tactics, like first talking to their perpetrators: husbands, mother s-in law, then the pre final step is going back to their parent s house where they are not accepted and send back to their husband s house. Only, then they commit a suicide.
According to the movie which was actually shot by Open Society Institute (Soros Foundation in 2000) with several women who actually tried to commit a suicide but survived it is just one moment, when you don t think about anything else but to die, since this violence continues every day.  The interviewee also mentions that now she looks back and asks why did I try to kill myself instead of fighting for justice, but it is just one moment of total despairness.
Mirzo Aminov the prosecutor of Kulab region in
The effects of these instances are that if the goal of a woman is to punish and successfully imprison her husband. Another success is if actually her death makes an impact on those who used violence against her, and if they change.
Another success (I do not feel comfortable calling the results of women s protests by self immolation success) is to bring attention to the issue and help NGOs and other organizations to deal with the fundamental issues at stake. Hence, women, by their desperate acts, do raise the issue of violence against them on national, regional and international level.
The failure, obviously, is that many die or are disfigured. Most of the time, after they commit a suicide, their husbands and relatives will be sad but after a while her husband just gets a new wife and forgets about his first wife. The thing is that he continues the same violence toward his new wife, and he does not think that this woman could do the same. Hence, I consider self immolation as a method of non violent struggle a failure, Women should not kill themselves but fight for their rights.
self immolations of women I wanted to stress how women struggle in
I do not support the chosen women s method in order to protest against violence. I think that they should fight for their rights, for the rights of their daughters. There is simply no alternative for them they think. However I think that there is always a choice, they simply do not know about them and a special women s movement should be created in Central Asian region which will fight for the rights of women, give alternatives for women so they do not even think about such tragic death and self-immolation. I am sure that if women activists create this movement most women will join them, since most of them are fed up with injustices toward them.
Women chose non violence resistance, but non violent toward their oppressors and violence to themselves. I would like to apply the definition of non-violent resistance which implies the very opposite of weakness. It requires strength, and there is nothing automatic about the resoluteness required for using non-violence methods in political struggle and the quest for Truth . Government and other parties who do not support women in these cases think that women in these cases are weak, but they are in fact strong by choosing non violent methods to their opponents and one day soon they will have a bigger impact and change stereotypes and achieve their goals. To my mind they need a good leader and good strategy and tactics to achieve their ultimate goal.
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Tahmina Khakimova is from Tajikistan where she has worked in a crisis centre dealing with women victims of violence. See also http://www.monitor.upeace.org/innerpg.cfm?id_article=225