Kashmir people going through severe trauma, mental health challenges

Varalika Mishra

Kashmir has been under political turmoil for decades and this has resulted in an enduring psychological impact on the people of Kashmir. The current pandemic has increased fear and uncertainty that was already looming in the hearts of people. Several people in Kashmir have been going through mental trauma, which is engulfed with anxiety and depression. It has its roots with the uncertain future of the state and which decision, could take away their livelihood. Be it school children, women, the youth or old people; every individual out there is dealing with severe mental stress or trauma. The pandemic has accentuated their pain. Over 1.8 million Kashmiris experience some form of mental disorder due to conflict and violence – after 5,500 households were surveyed by Doctors Without Borders in 2015.

 “I feel frustrated thinking about the future, I feel there is no future for us,” 24-year-old Zahra, told IndiaSpend. Zahra is a law graduate, who has been preparing for the state civil services (judicial) examination.

A patient of depression, she had not required medicines for three years until the removal of Article 370 marked a return of anxiety. “I can’t focus on my studies anymore,” she added.

When India’s parliament passed legislation to abrogate Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, there was a crisis in the healthcare sector. Many drugs were in short supply and with courier facility being suspended, several people faced difficulty in fetching medicines, especially for pregnant women or women who wanted medicines for their babies.

Due to the abrogation, fewer people could access mental health care in August 2019. Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF, or Doctors Without Borders) shut down mental health services in four districts of Kashmir valley. “Also a very minuscule proportion of people seek help, rest find other ways to cope. Human beings are very resilient.” Kashmiri adults use prayer as a coping strategy, as well as talking to a family member or friend, and “keeping busy”, the MSF study stated.

On an average, an adult living in the Valley had experienced more than seven traumatic events during their lifetime, the MSF survey had found.

The MSF survey had found that the most common problems faced by Kashmiris are financial issues, poor health and unemployment.

One cannot ignore the suffering that children have witnessed; not being able to go to school for months is highly problematic and simultaneously witnessing violence affects the psychology of human beings badly. In addition, one needs to assess all these parameters and find a solution to combat these mental health challenges. The pandemic has further added to the wounds of these children.

Initiatives such as mental health workshops can be started for every household and school through radio, television and online classes – with proper accessibility to internet.

It is quite unfortunate that mental well-being is still a taboo in the world and not enough focus is given to it. The only hope one can wish is for people to speak out and talk about mental health and spread awareness around it.

The Mental Health Care Act, 2017 has been seen as a historical intervention in the field of medical healthcare. It has been termed as a ‘pro-right’ document for individuals with mental illness [hereinafter referred to as PMI].

Article 39A of the Constitution lays down the directive of free legal aid. This has been incorporated under the Act for persons with mental illnesses who can seek legal aid to exercise the rights provided under the Act. Further, the person is also entitled to the right to complain with respect to the deficiency in mental health care services or facilities provided.

A collective action by civil society and government can certainly bring about a drastic shift in the well-being of everyone in Kashmir and other conflict afflicted areas.