Where Pellets Blind Young Minds

 31 Aug 2019

Why were several prominent parliamentarians from the Opposition parties denied entry into the Kashmir Valley? So that they don’t get to hear human cries; those appeals to be set free from their cage, from the clampdown, from the barbarity unleashed on hapless residents of the Valley. Together with that, these parliamentarians don’t even get to know the whereabouts of their political colleagues in the Valley, who have either been formally arrested or are placed under house arrest.

To add to the prevailing mess, only the Right-wing politicians are being allowed to enter the Valley. As expected, this is being done so that they may mouth the well-scripted speeches that have been drafted in the corridors of power in New Delhi. The strain of these is that ‘all is well’ and ‘under control’ and that ‘normalcy’ is back—that all is okay in the Valley.

Does the government think that in this day and age it can get away by using such tactics? If all is indeed as well in the Valley as the Centre and the Governor, Satya Pal Malik, claim, then let all of us see for ourselves how very genuine are those sarkari claims. The truth is that the Governor lives in a fortified Raj Bhavan where even birds don’t seem to chirp from fear; what to say of the people in Kashmir, who may not even dare approach the Governor to tell him about the hellish conditions imposed on them.

Needless to say, the Governor has not been spotted walking on the streets, the roads, the lanes or alleys of Srinagar city to see for himself what the ground realities are.

What pellet guns could not achieve is now being done by attacking the very survival of the Kashmiris of the Valley. The Kashmiri is surviving without connectivity, without work, without money to run a household, without medical, educational and healthcare facilities—without a future.

Right from the nineties, I have reported on the aftermath of the violence on Kashmiris. They have never really seen a single stretch of peace. This in itself has left a deep and lasting impact on them. The leading medical professionals of the Valley have been all through vocal on this. One of them is the Srinagar-based Dr. Mushtaq A Margoob, who is an internationally recognised expert on disaster psychiatry.

I had first interviewed him in 2002, followed by another interview less than a decade ago. In fact, whenever a severe crisis erupted in the Valley, I would ask him for observations and comments. Here is what he said to me in 2010, after one such bout of disturbances, “J&K has faced continuous mass trauma for more than two decades now. The amount of emotional distress caused by the perpetual state of uncertainty, insecurity and moment-to-moment living is hard to imagine.”

He also told me that the prevailing violent conditions had heightened the suffering of the people and resulted in a phenomenal increase in mental disorders. This is also clearly reflected in a series of Margoob’s published studies. “More than 58% of the adult population has experienced or witnessed traumatic life events,” he told me. The disabling disorder of post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD was prevalent at the time in more than 7% of the population, and depression in more than 19%.

Women and children are the worst affected. Children between the ages of 5 and 12 who lived in orphanages had a higher than 40% prevalence of PTSD, 25% were depressed and more than 12% suffered from conversion disorder.

This is the picture of a Kashmir that has today become the world’s worst sites for the abuse of medicinal opium. As Margoob told me, “More than 3.8% of the population abuses opioids. Mostly, this abuse was to induce sleep or to get momentary relief from their continuous and agonising psychological pain and suffering.”

In a man-made disaster, in which any harm is deliberately inflicted, it can lead to a shift in societal conventions and processes. There can be an increased sense of rage and feelings of entitlement to revenge can arise, especially when one is mourning loss. There can be a reversal of the feelings of helplessness and humiliation. Under such circumstances, even the fully grown up adult’s brain automatically shifts operation, so to speak, from highly evolved reality-based action processes to instinctual or emotion-based reactions. A fight or flight course of action may be taken by people under such circumstances.

Since the young brain of non-adults is yet to fully develop psychological mechanisms, children and adolescents are more vulnerable to emotional actions and reactions. When they assume that they are getting pushed against the wall they get dominated by their emotions and stop caring for the consequences.

The result is that youngsters identify with the group rather than with their individuality and they can get heavily involved in activities that essentially were non-existent in their society earlier.

This is how the young have been and continue to be affected in Kashmir. Today’s generation of young Kashmiris who live in the Valley reflect this psychological condition in more ways than one. The recent developments, in which they have taken to defy law and order, can well be a manifestation of the ever-increasing levels of frustration and anger among this ‘trauma generation’. This generation has hardly seen a moment of complete peace or tranquillity from time of their birth.

It is difficult not to empathise with these traumatised children, who seem to have lost forever their carefree innocence. Their lives have been scarred by experiences so horrifying that they will never emerge from despair without help. In the words of Margoob, “The haunting demons of memory wreak frightful vengeance on their frail psyche. Trapped as they are in the whirlpool of relived experience; bewildered and frightened; they are agonisingly alone in their pain.”

Today, the Kashmir Valley has among the highest numbers of half-widows, women whose husbands were picked up security agencies, never to be seen thereafter. It follows that the Valley has thousands of ‘missing men’ too, whose parents have set up an Association of Parents of the Disappeared Persons, APDP. I have met many such grieving parents, trying to locate these missing men. Many I have met sold their land and their homes in the hopes to find their sons lodged in prisons across the country and have failed to find them.

Now, reports say that a large number of Kashmiris have been sent to jails out of the state to prisons in Uttar Pradesh. This in itself is a blow for Kashmiris for it can be nearly impossible for families to travel out of the Valley. There is also a fear that they may get attacked by brigades of Right wing goons, and denied accommodation in guest houses and hotels. Not to be overlooked are the weather conditions (of Uttar Pradesh) that could naturally harm the health of Kashmiri prisoners: the State is hitting them in one more way.

That is why Valley Kashmiris are summing up the hellish conditions that have been heaped upon them by the government in this one Hindustani word that applies to tyranny: ‘Zulm!’