OVER A COFFEE : Who killed Kamran Faisal? — Dr Haider Shah
If the forensic investigation proves that Kamran had in fact taken his own life then we, as a society, stand convicted of his murder
He was young and was associated
with a newsworthy high profile case of the rental power project. The discovery of his body hanging by the ceiling fan of his room thus had all the essential elements of an Agatha Christie story. The honourable Supreme Court is hearing the case of his alleged suicide and is the competent forum to discuss the question ‘who killed Kamran Faisal’? The body of the deceased has recently been exhumed for forensic analysis to ascertain the cause of death. In these lines, I wish to use some of the medical reports made available to media to underscore an important issue that remains scantly discussed in the national discourse. According to some reports, the deceased had been taking medicines for psychiatric disorders related to heightened levels of anxiety and depression. While the pursuit of an imagined or real killer is underway, perhaps we can use this opportunity to give our attention to the problem of work related stress (WRS), an issue that despite its pervasiveness hardly gets noticed and discussed.
A well-designed, organised and adequately resourced work is a positive motivator for a worker but a poorly designed work environment can be a big de-motivator, and hence a generator of WRS. HSE, the UK watchdog on Health and Safety issues, reports that WRS can be a significant cause of illness and is known to be linked with high levels of sickness absence, staff turnover and exacerbates an individual’s propensity to make errors. Its research shows that WRS is not confined to particular sectors, jobs or industries, and hence, a population-wide approach is necessary to tackle the silent assailant that keeps stabbing employees in broad daylight.
Sometime ago, I carried out an empirical survey on stress levels of officials working in the Customs House Karachi. Not surprisingly, very high stress levels were reported along with physical manifestations like hypertension, anxiety and heart ailments. A high mortality rate at a relatively young age is also noticeable amongst them. Similarly, those who are posted in the head office of the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) are often demoralised and stressed out officials who work under a late-sitting culture. The officers in the FBR remain in their offices until late evening on a regular basis. They are entrusted with assignments for which they never have had any training or acquired special expertise. Terms like ‘aqoobut khana’ (torture cell) and ‘pagal khana’ (mental asylum) are often used by the employees to describe the working environment of the building where important public policy decisions are made daily.
While in advanced countries, work-related stress is often attributed to the lack of harmony with the work environment or unfriendly relations with the bosses, in our case there are multiple sources of WRS. If a government official indulges in monetary bungling, the first stressor is the fear of getting caught. He is always apprehensive of being nabbed by the law-enforcement agencies and is forced to lead a double life so that attention to ‘living beyond means’ is not drawn. If he is a conscientious type and refrains from indulging in any malpractices, he finds himself exposed to the stresses of being a misfit in a hostile environment. While at work he is bullied, he is also not at peace even when at home. He is treated as an outcast as he is unable to keep up appearances in a society where the notion of individual space is still underdeveloped. The opposing forces of his own self-esteem and the demands of his wife and children keep crushing him incessantly.
Our organisations have embraced ‘management by results’ to grotesquely unimaginable extremes. No one cares about providing the right resources for a particular job or designing an adequate organisational structure. Suddenly, a decision is made and demands are raised for quick results. ‘We want recovery of arrears in two days’, ‘we want zero crime rate within one week’. When the operational staff members are recruited on a political basis, the clerk does not know simple typing or using a computer, the investigator has no knowledge of investigation techniques; the prosecutor does not know the ABC of the law, and it is down to the officer to produce results; if anxiety levels would not skyrocket what else would we expect? The gap between resourcefulness and expectations is often so wide that the situation of a government officer is best described by Mohsin Ahsan’s following verse: Ameer-e-sheher ne kaghaz ki kashtiyan de ker/Samandron ke safar per kiya rawaana humain! (After giving us paper boats, the sovereign made us go on a sea voyage).
Based on a longitudinal study of 10,000 British civil servants, a research study establishes a clear link between psychosocial risk factors and subsequent ill health. WRS is, therefore, considered an important issue and Management Standards have been developed for identifying the mechanisms by which workplace factors lead to stress. In the case of Pakistan, at the national level, we hardly harbour any ambitions such as ‘the first to land on Mars’, or ‘to become the fastest growing economy’. At a personal level, however, each individual is ambitious to overrun his neighbour. To be ambitious is not necessarily undesirable. Ambition has helped humans march from the cave life towards modern civilisation. However, just as an excess of food proves detrimental for our body, over-ambition also removes peace from our lives. Especially when success in life is measured only in monetary terms, it becomes extremely stressful to stay afloat.
If the forensic investigation proves that Kamran had in fact taken his own life then we, as a society, stand convicted of his murder. And we are serial killers. Now we are after our next young target.
The writer teaches public policy in the UK and is the founding member of the Rationalist Society of Pakistan. He can be reached at email@example.com