Kashmir, Under Siege and Lockdown Faces a Mental Health Crisis: New York Times

Kashmir has been the root of the dispute between India and Pakistan since 1947. A land of eight million inhabitants is claimed by both the nuclear-armed neighbours and has seen years of violence, riots, exodus, disagreements and bloodshed with no sight of peace.

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The punitive restrictions laid on Kashmir has disrupted the daily life of citizens, the Covid-19 pandemic has further added to the agony. The very little access to help has taken a toll on the mental health of the people,  writes  

On August 3rd, Sara Begum saw policemen rush into her house, badly beat up her son, and detain him. Begum’s son, Fayaz was one of the thousands of people arrested or confined by the Jammu ad Kashmir police.

Ms. Begum while talking to the New York Times said ” “When I close my eyes, I  see my son shouting, ‘Mother, I want to see you.’” Speaking of her son’s arrest, she admitted the adverse effect the arrest had on her mental and emotional wellbeing.

To curb her suicidal thoughts, Begum takes antidepressants. She has attempted suicide twice, once by consuming rat poison and the second time by jumping into a river.

Ever since India withdrew Kashmir’s special status, doctors of the valley are concerned about the collective state of despair which has now caused major psychological trauma for the people. The mental health workers of Kashmir have seen an exponential rise in the number of cases of depression and anxiety.

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Concrete data is difficult to gather, but local medical experts say they are seeing a spike in suicides and an increase in already disturbingly high rates of domestic abuse reports the NYT.

The nation lockdown due to the virus has only exacerbated the problem. Police have been extra strict with the residents of Kashmir, claims the author, while conveniently ignoring the fact that a stern lockdown is the need of the hour to save the people from the deadly pandemic.

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Even before the lockdown,  due to the series of disputes between the Indian forces and Kashmiri militants who seek greater autonomy or a merger with Pakistan, the mental health of the majority of Kashmiris has drastically deteriorated. Nearly 1.8 million Kashmiris, or nearly half of all adults, have some form of mental disorder claims the author.

Dr. Majid Shafi, a government psychiatrist, said the number of patients he sees has increased five folds. Dr. Shafi sees all different kinds of patients, from mothers too worried about their imprisoned children to businessmen burdened with accumulating debts.

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Being the only therapist around for a million people in the district of Pulwama, he says ” “This is just the tip of an iceberg, the crisis will keep growing”.

In Kashmir, every season presents itself with a new crisis.  One season brings the corpses of teenage boys while another brings hundreds of ruptured eyes. This season, Covid-19 has overwhelmed the valley.

The implementation of Article 370 in August snatched away what little Kashmiri had left. Security forces flooded the area, cut off roads, shut down landlines, cellphone lines and the internet, and arrested thousands of Kashmiris, from students to top political leaders, writes the author.

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With phones and internet being cut off suddenly, thousands were left in paranoia and anxiety. Though a few phone services were restored, they are not as efficient as before.

Many Kashmiris who had resorted to using social media to keep in touch with friends and family as stepping outside was dangerous are now left helpless. The nationwide lockdown and downgrading the internet has completely disturbed the education system as students have remained out of school for months now.