Hedged Inside the Kashmir Conflict

January 11

Umar Fayaz

After the dead have been buried and bullet holes plastered over, those left behind in a region ravaged by war are left to start their lives afresh. The post-war effects are visible not just in razed buildings and graveyards but also in adults whose livelihoods were taken from them and the children who never went to school.

For the Kashmiri people, where conflict rears its ugly head every few years, this is a never ending cycle in which successive generations have all seen blood shed around in times punctuated by mortar fire which leaves them scurrying for cover.

The Education sector is the mostly affected by this conflict. The unscheduled strikes,curfews and continued violence across the valley has caused many schools to go neglected. The conflict in the region has left many school buildings without proper sanitation facilities and boundary walls.

A study by chinar international in 2016 found that the schooling for the year was only conducted for a total of 4 months. Almost all the respective students had only covered 50% of their yearly curriculum. This damage was ‘irreparable,’ as many students had to leave studying after 2016, due to many reasons caused by the conflict.

In Kashmir human rights abuses have been carried out by the military which has targeted protesting civilians by firing metallic pellets that have caused debilitating injuries. This, added to the curfew and now closure of schools should be enough of a prompt to lay aside the rhetoric and approach the matter with an intent to promote peace in the region. In an already affected region where normalcy can quickly devolve, the withdrawal of educational facilities leaves the Kashmiri children not only with a difficult present but a bleak future as well.

The conflict today is probably driven less by geopolitics than by internal Indian politics, which have increasingly taken an anti-Muslim direction.As can be expected, the consequences for mental health can be substantial. Kashmir is not merely a law and order problem but there are social, emotional, political and psychological aspects involved.

 

Among the devastating effects of war is the hundreds and thousands of people who go missing every year, not even seen again by their loved ones. Family and friends of those people are left with inconsolable hearts, while their wives live in poverty and despair as “half-widows,” not knowing whether they will ever see them again. These families are now associated with an human rights organisation, known as “Association Of Parents Of Disappeared Persons.

Disappearances like these have long been an worse effect of Kashmir conflict. There are often no records of arrests, but on the other hand the families of the disappeared persons allege that these disappearance and tortures has been used as a state tool.

In many areas, the constant violence has also led to the problems of mental health among the people. A study compared the mental health of children in Kashmir to those in Kolkata. The students in Kashmir were found to be more than twice as likely to sufferers from poor mental and emotional health than those in Kolkata. This was attributed to the conflict and the instability caused.

Due to continuing conflict in Kashmir during the last 18 years there has been a phenomenal increase in psychiatric morbidity. The results reveal that the prevalence of depression is 55.72%. The prevalence is highest (66.67%) in the 15 to 25 years age group, followed by 65.33% in the 26 to 35 years age group. The difference in the prevalence of depression among males and females is significant. Depression is much higher in rural areas (84.73%) as compared to urban areas (15.26%). In rural areas the prevalence of depression among females is higher (93.10 %) as compared to males (6.8%).

Kashmir’s war, a territorial dispute between India and neighboring Pakistan, has smoldered for decades. Now it is collapsing into itself. The violence is becoming more intimate and harder to escape.

 

Militarization has also played an ugly role in affecting the children’s mental health in the valley. Across the whole region, areas surrounding schools and other populated areas have become alarmingly militarized, with military camps often found close to school buildings and campuses. The heavy militarization of these areas has lead to a negative psychological impact on children which also led to the higher dropout rates. The children feel scared of the school’s proximity to these camps.

The closeness of these military camps also puts girls in increased dangers. With the presence of army men meaning girls are more at risk of sexual violence, abuse and other forms of harassment. This leads to a further rise in the dropout rates in these schools for the girls as they seek to avoid this.

Kashmir sits on the frontier of India and Pakistan, and both countries have spilled rivers of blood over it. Three times, they have gone to war, and tens of thousands of people have been killed in the conflict. It is one of Asia’s most dangerous flash points, where a million troops have squared off along the disputed border. Both sides now wield nuclear arms. And the two sides are divided by religion, with Kashmir stuck in the middle.

India’s swerve to the right in recent years, with the rise of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janta Party, has deeply alienated its Muslim minority. Many top members of the ruling party have a very questionable record when it comes to treating Muslims fairly. This has emboldened Hindu supremacists across India, and in recent years, Hindu lynch mobs have targeted and killed Muslims, often based on false rumors. Many of the culprits are lightly punished, if at all, leaving India’s Muslims feeling exposed.

In the Indian-administered parts of Kashmir, where there was already a history of bitter conflict, the new politics have spurred more people to turn against the government. Some pick up guns, others rocks, but the root emotion is the same: Many Kashmiris now hate India.

The latest are children and grandmothers. At almost every recent security operation, as Indian officers closed in on houses where militants were believed to be hiding, they have had to reckon with seething crowds of residents of all ages acting as human shields.

Walk through Kashmiri villages, where little apples are ripening on the trees and the air tastes clean and crisp, and ask people what they want. The most common response is independence, people of irrespective gender and age have almost common mindset. Some say they want to join Pakistan. None say anything good about India, at least not in public.

India’s steely response has pushed away even moderates. Soldiers manhandle residents, cut off roads and barge into homes, saying they are looking for militants, who often hide among ordinary residents. When violent protests erupt, the Indian security services blast live ammunition and buckshot into the crowds, killing and blinding people,including schoolchildren who are simply bystanders, despite cries from human rights groups to stop.

“It’s tempting to root for good guys against bad guys in a conflict on. But when you find soldiers barging into your home without your permission and start vandalizing all you stuff and most of all verbally abusing with every person of the family, at that time you suddenly don’t care if they are good or bad soldiers. You just want them out,” a resident who echoes what every Kashmiri feels, said.

Our real-life choices are seldom political. People choose to stay in the war zone for many reasons — work, property, old age, disability, sentimental attachment to home.