From a tourist’s lens, being born in Kashmir is a blessing to be cherished. To a Kashmiri, however, it equates to a lifelong imprisonment. From the moment a Kashmiri is born, a life full of trials and tribulations awaits him. Routine military operations, communication barriers, raids and curfews are a day-to-day occurrence. Besides being a victim of physical torture, Kashmiris constantly bear mental torment. The prolonged political conflict, that has enveloped the mesmerizing Kashmir Valley, has adversely impacted the mental health of the local population. IIOJK has witnessed over 100,000 deaths in the last three decades, in addition to countless forced disappearances. This has left indelible marks on the minds of the residents of Kashmir who live in a state of perpetual fear.
After the abrogation of article 370 by India in 2019, increase in the number of curfews and lockdowns has further exacerbated mental health issues in the region. Thousands of extra troops were deployed in the region to curb Kashmiris’ resistance. Covid-19 further aggravated the situation by providing India with a motive to intensify their nefarious designs. The far-right Hindu nationalist party BJP is cashing in on Hindu extremism to stay relevant by using Kashmir as a sacrificial animal. Physical torture, detention, sexual violence, extra-judicial killings are few of the major causes for mental health issues; the list goes on. These have resulted in an increase in the number of patients with schizophrenia, bipolar disorders, and phobias and generalized anxiety disorder. Kashmiris are constantly subjected to bombings, sounds of bullets, news about death or disappearance of friends and family. This has crippled their mental health and has pushed them into the abyss of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The number of PTSD patients has crossed the 800,000 within the last three decades.
Mental well-being of an individual guarantees his physical wellness. Maternal health has been badly affected by the mental trauma, resulting in high rates of infertility among women. A recent study conducted by Sher-i-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences (SKIMS) uncovered that a very large number of Kashmiri women suffering from PCOS had chronic psychiatric illnesses including
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), depression and Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Multiple studies have revealed that the mental health in the region has plummeted recently with an increase in depression (41%) and anxiety (26%) among the young and old alike. These alarming statistics point towards a declining mental health situation which is an equally malignant situation to the physical trauma Kashmiris are subjected to on a daily basis. But the sorry state of affairs does not culminate here. To deal with this crisis, only one mental healthcare hospital, Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (IMHANS), exists for the entire bereaved population.
Individuals suffering from depression and anxiety often have existential crisis which leads them to resort to suicides. Recently, a surge in suicides has been seen in Kashmir, with at least 29 suicide attempts in March 2021 alone. A report by National Human Rights Commission has exposed that within past 14 years, 20,000 people have attempted suicides and about 3000 of them were in the 16 to 25 age group. To avoid dealing with the day to day challenges that the illegal Indian occupation of their territory poses, a number of youth are doing drugs. Despite being a matter of very high import, discussions on mental health care are considered a taboo and such individuals are often labeled as a social disgrace.
The need of the hour is to highlight the impending mental health catastrophe in Kashmir on international forums in order to garner international support on the matter. Increased access of the health professionals to the valley should also be ensured. The desensitization of Indian public on the issue by the Indian media has normalized the ordeal and suffering of the Kashmiris. This needs to be challenged by countering Indian media and highlighting Kashmir issue as a Human Rights Issue. Unless these measures are taken, Kashmir will plunge into a never-ending psychological and mental health disaster.Naila Naz, "Kashmir: a sea of traumatized humanity," Business Recorder. 2022-02-05.
Keywords: Political science , Political conflict , Health issues , Hindu extremism , Mental trauma , Human rights , IMHANS , OCD , PTSD