Views from Srinagar
PEOPLE in Kashmir have witnessed massive violence since 1990. This has more or less taken its toll on everybody.
Many studies conducted by various organizations like Doctors Without Borders (MSF) and local psychologists/psychiatrists point to the fact that large section of population in valley suffer from varied degrees of depression and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) due to the violence they have endured or witnessed in the past many years.
In the early 1990s, when the militancy held sway in the valley, people were subjected to large-scale crackdowns, where whole areas were cordoned off and male population and in some cases both males and females as well as children were asked to assemble in nearby grounds, on road sides or compounds of mosques till the time houses were searched for arms and ammunition. People were made to go through identification parades before certain person called “Cat” sitting in a gypsy. The person would either be among the captured militants or their over ground worker or some local working for government machinery.
People’s fate would depend on this masked person’s decision to honk the horn or not in the gypsy while identifying the people who would pass him in long queues. His or her decision would determine what would happen to the person next. If the “Cat” honked the horn on a person, he would be whisked away and then people would hear about the person what he went through if he got out from the interrogation centers. Many were later jailed and many disappeared. People described the identification parades as the most horrific experiences in their lives.
They also feared that ‘Cat’ may falsely identify them to settle personal scores or even to save himself from the torture he feared at the hands of his captors if he didn’t help in picking few even if they had no involvement. The other thing people feared was the site of Maruti Gypsy vehicle. In 1990s the Gypsies were mostly used by forces and they would drive to any area and whisk away any person they doubted to be a militant or involved in militancy in any way. There were crackdowns, identification parades, interrogations, and, then there were civilian casualties in cross fires and in forces’ retaliatory action.
Then there were civilian killing when processions were fired upon. There was also a time in 1990s when some unknown persons would knock at people’s doors and windows after dark to spread fear among common masses. This all left deep scars on the psyche of the people. And in the absence of proper professional help in view of magnitude of the problem the condition of suffers only worsened.
There have been studies conducted on women in the valley who have been found suffering silently on many counts. A similar study by MSF conducted in collaboration with Kashmir University’s Department of Psychology and Institute of Mental Health and Neuroscience in Srinagar reveals that on an average, an adult in the Kashmir has witnessed or experienced around eight traumatic events in his life. Further the study reveals that 70 percent of the adult population has witnessed a sudden death of their relative or some one they knew.
The point is not to get into the specifics of these studies but to allude to a major issue, which may need as much social intervention as clinical. And in the absence of extensive clinical outreach in the face of enormity of the problem and the taboo associated with it, we may have to fall back on the basics to at least alleviate the psychological suffering. This is though not to deny the fact that the clinical depression cases would need medical intervention.
As the valley is witnessing a new slew of curbs in the form of communication blockades and restrictions in people’s movement, and above all the killings and blinding of youth due to pellet injuries, it becomes more imperative that people remain strong and do whatever is in their power to ease their bruised minds.
Recently, a friend told me he considers himself fortunate to be living in the countryside, as he can talk to neighbours and relatives there as well can look at meadows and forests that help him ease everyday pain he is forced to endure in present circumstances. He wondered how people in new colonies that he called concrete jungles alleviate their sufferings in the face of fresh curbs and communication blockade.
The point he was making does not require backing of scientific studies. In the face of curbs on movement and communication and everyday killings and injuries, one might need a little bit of extra effort from one’s part to keep sane and mentally sound.
A practicing psychiatrist in a talk in Kashmir University some time back said he has been observing high incidents of mental disorders and depression among people in the valley and especially among the women folk.
Apart from attributing it to the prevailing circumstances, he listed less inter-personal communication among people as one of the causes. He elaborated it further that earlier woman would spend more time interacting with each other- for example while fetching water from the stream or community tap, or even they would meet up in the evening for traditional course singing. Though one can’t think of changing the clock backwards but the point he was making is that human interaction which is very crucial in alleviating mental fatigue, anxiety and depression.
A colleague and friend also suggested we should all grow vegetables wherever we find some land available. This he said apart from keeping us busy and occupied will actually keep us in good shape both physically and mentally. He said he has started growing vegetables on a small piece of land attached to his house in the city.
He said about the joy his small vegetable garden fetched apart from the benefits he derived from it. I couldn’t agree more when he mentioned that this in turn would help us in getting some produce we so urgently require in present circumstances. Necessity is the mother of invention, so let it be that we innovate new methods and bring green revolution in the valley and stop concretization of villages and stop encroaching on agricultural land. This will hurt us and us only in future as ours is a land locked region with volatile political environment. The Rainawari boy also suggested that we convert all the wasteland and parks into vegetable gardens! Green is soothing to eyes as well as the mind!
[Author can be mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org].