‘Go set yourself on fire’: Abdul Basit is but one of many students under crippling pressure

Published: April 13, 2016

After being taken to Civil Hospital, Basit tragically succumbed to his wounds and passed away. PHOTO: FILE

His name was Abdul Basit and he just wanted to pass his exams. A student of Hamdard University (HU), Basit had been struggling for years according to the principal, Dr Furqan.

As his mother tells it, he arrived late for his Bachelor of Dental Surgery (BDS) exams, because his vehicle had broken down – a frustrating situation any one of us can identify with. When he finally arrived, the exam, scheduled for 11 am to 1 pm had already ended.

Here, Basit begged every official to allow him to take his test, as it was his final year. Dr Furqan told him that the matter was out of his hands, but Basit could try his luck at the university’s city campus in Nazimabad.

In his desperation, Basit scrambled to Nazimabad where he arrived a full hour after the exam had ended. After vice principal, Nadeem Khokhar also turned him down, the medical student set himself on fire to the shock of everyone around.

After being taken to Civil Hospital, Basit tragically succumbed to his wounds and passed away.

There are currently many rumours surrounding the incident. Several reports from reputable news sources suggest that when Basit begged one of his teachers to be allowed to sit in for his exams, his educator taunted him by saying that he would only be granted his request if he set himself on fire.

RT.com: “They asked for money and told him unless he paid up, he wouldn’t be allowed in. The teacher then said ‘Here is some petrol, go set yourself on fire’.”

Others say that the young man used fuel from the very vehicle that had let him down earlier.

Regarding the rumours, from what I have been told by dozens of students from Pakistani universities over the last ten years, our teachers are not only incompetent, but can be cruel as well. If the teacher actually advised Basit to off himself, then he needs to be investigated.

As for the university, we can’t blame them for denying Basit the exam. These rules exist to stop students from cheating. That being said, if the authorities couldn’t have the heart to understand Basit’s circumstances, could they have not offered him another date?

Basit’s case, though, speaks of a deeper malaise in Pakistan. Our educational system is flawed, and rotting at the core. Students study, not to learn but to gain pieces of paper that allow them to find higher paying jobs that in turn help them support themselves and their families. Similarly, our educational institutions aren’t places of learning but businesses that churn out degrees. And like any greedy business selling a sought-after commodity, they offer poor quality services because they are aware of how desperate our students are.

How desperate are they? Having spoken to numerous student counsellors who work at school and college levels in Pakistan, I have been painted a disturbing picture.

Students are under severe pressure in Pakistan to pass their ridiculous exams, where memorising rather than understanding their subject counts. These students suffer from numerous behavioural issues such as anxiety, paranoia, and even thoughts of suicide. Many cope by self-medicating, which only results in more problems. The pressure is not only from their teachers, but their parents as well.

Imagine that.

Our students are being driven into a state of frenzy in a contest over who can best memorise words from a piece of paper.

The sick mentality of our educational institutes can be best seen in their hiring policies. Students of Iqra University and Szabist, to name a few, share anecdotes of their teachers that are difficult to swallow. Clearly, these teachers are not qualified to teach their subject matter. In fact, many of the Computer Science teachers at Szabist are less educated about the subject they are teaching than their own students!

Ultimately, the students have nowhere to turn. Their families care little, while their teachers are so frustrated by their own lack of skill that they take it out on those they have been tasked to teach.

So the students turn to each other, forming relationships. Unfortunately, many of them are as dysfunctional as each other, and it sometimes (though not always) leads to more problems. Others, of course, turn to alcohol and drugs.

Because of the taboo and legal issues surrounding suicide in Pakistan, many documents are falsified by doctors themselves in order to protect families where a student shot himself. But these doctors aren’t doing anyone a real service.

Basit’s case should serve as an eye opener. It isn’t an isolated incident. There are countless Basits across Pakistan, and in order to save them, we need to fix a problem everyone is intent on keeping under the rug.

Has your teacher ever taunted you?

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Noman Ansari

Noman Ansari

The author is the editor-in-chief of IGN Pakistan, and has been reviewing films and writing opinion pieces for The Express Tribune as well as Dawn for five years. He tweets as @Pugnate (twitter.com/Pugnate)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • sdf

    I agree with you on every point except for where you say the university should have given Basit another date.
    why should the university go through the trouble (and expenses) of giving a student another date for an exam already conducted? this is not pre-school where a paper can be very easily be drafted and the child humored.

    basit was late. it is unfair to expect the university to conduct another exam because ONE student couldn’t make it to the exam center on time.Recommend

  • Read Below

    The ironic part is that the degrees issued by nearly all the universities have no meaning in the real world outside Pakistan.
    Most students have to complete foundation-building courses when they go outside to study.Recommend

  • Usman Khan

    I think if he was late, than he is late. No new date nothing. But the teachers should definitely be investigate, 100% if someone told him burn himself, that teacher should be booked for first degree murder. But than again, its Pakistan. Nothing happens..Recommend

  • Shakila Umair

    Nothing is much more important than a human life. Its a private university they could have done it easily.

  • GlobalNomad

    ….and set a precedent for many students in forthcoming years to come late even if their issues are not genuine. This is Pakistan such privileges can be misused.Recommend

  • nimra

    I am a medical student myself and it hurts me to see how every student bothers about how much he/she scores in exams rather than worrying about comprehension of the subjects themselves. Doctors make a difference of life and death , but unfortunately all people think about is money, if only they realize being good at your subject in true sense will bring money anyway but studying only with the incentive of money is disastrous esp. In particular professions!Recommend

  • Humza

    I am sad to say, this student should have filed an appeal to explain his circumstances and waited to see whether he would be allowed to sit for the exam again. The practice all over the world is that you cannot sit for the exams if you have missed them. I am sure there is more to the story and this allegation of so and so said go burn yourself or whatever just strikes me as typical 3 rd world exaggeration without any concrete evidence. Unfortunately, this student seems to be troubled and had psychological problems which came to a head. In university, we had several students who could not cope with the work, stress and personal problems who did commit suicide. It is always tragic but it is unfair to just pin mental illness on a school and suggest that any student who misses an exam should be accommodated on the spot to sit for the exam. Then we wonder why 3 rd world degrees are not valued abroad.Recommend

  • Humza

    It would have been better had the school noted his psychological well being and his inability to cope long before it came to this. Human life is obviously important but not at the expense of making an academic requirement be unnecessary.Recommend

  • Mohsin Haider

    All that can be concluded is that he was under immense pressure. There is no reason to accuse the university whatsoever. Rules are rules. This is just an unfortunate event.
    May he rest in peace.Recommend

  • Parvez

    What this situation highlights is that our system of exams, grading etc ( the total education system ) is broken and needs major repairs…….why this will not happen, as I keep saying, is because it’s kept so by design and is not this way by default.Recommend

  • Syed Muhammad Antiq

    We have all gone through this. Haven’t we? But there is no justification of putting yourself to flames. There are other ways to respond. I mean what does education teaches us? to be rational and to be able to differentiate between good and bad. The world will not run how you want it to be run. In that case would you just go on and do suicide. We all know the shortcomings of our Education system but we need to train these kids a thing or two about education. What difference it had made if he had appeared the next year. This is simply foolish and blaming the education system all alone would do no good.Recommend

  • gp65

    No one could have anticipated he would commit suicide.Recommend

  • gp65

    I usually agree with you but not on this one. It is indeed very unfortunate that this young man chose to kill himself. The socioeconomic environment which leads people to feel that if they do not pass an exam, it is not worth living is certainly heartbreaking.
    But this does not mean people can be given a fresh exam at a university level.
    The fact that he could afford a car, means he could have afforded an auto fare to get to the examination centre, so he was not helpless in being late as you paint him to be.
    Of course if someone told him to go burn himself, that is indeed callous and reflects poorly on the person who said it. But that has not been confirmed. Also many things are said in the heat of the moment even among family members – the statement , even if it is proved, cannot be the basis of concluding an abetment to suicide.Recommend

  • fatima

    According to the news reports he had already spent 8 yrs trying to finish a 4 yrs Bds course. The blame belongs to the family. He was clearly not in the right field for whatever reasons. Maybe he could have shone in another field, given the chance. Is the lable of Dr or Engineer more important than a sons life.
    In my first yr of medical college I was struglling with hostel life. My father’s message to me was that my daughter is more important to me than any degree and if you feel you cant cope come back. I didnt quit, but knowing the option was there meant a lot.Recommend

  • Amazed At This World

    There is only one thing that really is nagging me in my head…. the question….. that whoever told this esteemed blogger about what the deceased student was told by the butcher of a teacher?????? I mean wow….. a boy who died because his head was totally burnt and so was his airway……he must have visited the esteemed blogger… the editor in chief…… in his dream!!!! I’m sure he is a Peer Saab….

    Did you, Mr Editor in Chief of Xyz, ever visited the hospital where the incident happened? Did you actually meet his friends and all the eye witnesses who were present there……. meet the teachers who have been accused (rightly or otherwise is totally another topic ) ……checked out his previous night’s Facebook statuses (at the least )
    Sir, use your pen oh sorry your keys wisely before you type them and give your verdict.
    They might challenge your own credibility !!!!!

    MashaAllah!!! So much for your writing creative and provocative skills.. just a thing of advise for you……… DO YOUR HOMEWORK WELL before you jump into a stunt hole like this….. else you might get burnt yourself!!!