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

Published: April 13, 2016
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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.