LAHORE: A desperate 33-year-old man attempting to set himself on fire to protest rising gas prices abandoned his demonstration today after he was unable to afford the two litres of petrol needed to douse himself and light a match.
Jamaluddin, an unemployed hotel employee from Chauburji, said he wanted to make the “ultimate sacrifice” to let oil companies and the government know, “how desperate and upset Pakistanis are with fuel costs.” But when he went to his neighborhood gas station this morning, he found the price had jumped.
“Just last week it was 10 rupees cheaper, and frankly that was cutting it close,” said Jamal. “These prices are outrageous. Even if I could afford to set myself on fire, I wouldn’t do it now on principle. I may have mental health issues, but I’m not crazy.”
While agreeing it was a wake-up call, Jamal’s plight immediately set off a fierce debate among environmentalists, industry lobbyists and consumer groups as to who is at fault for keeping the self-styled activist from achieving his goal.
“We should open up wildlife reserves to more drilling and lower prices so that brave young Pakistanis like Jamaluddin can afford to set themselves on fire,” said Jamshed Iqbal, chief lobbyist for the Pakistani Fossil Fuel Council. “We need to break our dependence on foreign oil, and if the administration had listened to us when we asked for this three years ago, that man would be a proud pile of ashes right now.”
Danyal Ishaq, director of the Pakistani Environmental Union, called that solution “unworkable.”
“Studies show it would be a decade or more before new drilling made an impact on the domestic market, and by then Mr. Jamal could have a job and a family and a reason to live,” he said. “If this is a wake-up call, it should open our eyes to the need for renewable sources of energy so that Jamal’s children and grandchildren can live in a world where they can afford to set themselves on fire.”
PTI’s Imran Khan, however, said those alternative sources of energy already exist.
“Right now, today, Imran could rub himself all over with clean, affordable coal,” Khan said. “Not only would he burn more slowly and evenly, but just think of the number of Pakistani workers he would be supporting.”
Self-immolation is quite a common, if gruesome, form of protest in the Middle East and Asia. While no one has suggested Jamal go to the Middle East to achieve his aim, the Gulf Coast Tourism Board has extended an invitation.
“Since the floods and the Earthquake, we’ve really turned things around down here,” said PSO‘s spokesman. “Gas is cheaper, the people are friendly, and you only have to dip your toe in the ocean once to be highly flammable.”
Jamal, however, said he’ll stay in Lahore. and wait until gas prices come down before trying again. Until then, he will protest by pointing out that he can’t afford to protest.
“Nowadays, the only people who can afford to set themselves on fire are the rich, and they’re very people who don’t want to set themselves on fire,” Jamal said. “That right there tells you how messed up the system is and how much we need to change it.”