The Kashmir conflict has shaped the unconscious psychology of the entire Indian-administered-Kashmiri population. It imposes an important question of how the current political situation in the valley has and is psychologically affecting the youth, causing many mental health problems. Accordingly, it’s the Kashmiri youth that is most affected currently since they are unable to make peace between the violent past and unstable present. The conflict has not only created a violent context to which people, especially youth respond to with mostly repressed emotions, aggression and frustration. But since the peaceful options are blocked, the Kashmir conflict defies solution causing hopelessness, despair, and numerous mental health problems amongst younger generation that feels unheard and disrespected in this whole scenario.
Eighteen year old, Basit Rasheed Bhat from downtown Srinagar had been throwing stones on every Friday and Sunday, for about six years since 2006. He was arrested twice during these years. “I realized”, Rasheed says, “although stone-throwing is an emotional-outlet, especially for anger and frustration on account of the brutalities faced by the people here, however, not the best option.” He suffered with depression and kept having nightmares of the tear-gas shell for quite some time after the incident that cost him his spleen at the age of 16.
The incident had a deep impact on his academic performance as well. Formerly, being one of the toppers in class eight examinations, he is currently learning carpentry to support his family that consists of his widowed mother and an older brother, after he couldn’t successfully pass his class 10 examinations due to the recurring curfews, strikes and the obvious tear-gas-stone-throwing scenarios.
“Everyone would go out and engage in stone-throwing; I did it because my friends did it and because that was the most fun thing you could do around here, however, at the cost of my health, education, and peace of mind,” says Rasheed. In 2011, when he got arrested, two FIRs were filed against him and he was put behind the bars for about 23 days.
In 2012, he was kept in jail for 15 days even when no FIR was filed against him. These incidents affected Rasheed psychosocially as well. He lost trust in his friends because of whom he was arrested twice and was in a small cell of the jail shared by about twenty other people. He says regretfully, “You go through a lot of pain when you are confined to four walls of the jail and all you can do is think about how different life could have been.”
Unfortunately, he is not the only one. Mubeeda Zafar, a lawyer at the District Court, Srinagar and a counselor, deals with such cases every now and then. She and another counselor, Aamina Iqbal, did a counseling session with Rasheed after he was released from the jail.
While explaining Basit’s story in a psychological context, Iqbal sums up that everyone in Kashmir has been a victim of the ongoing conflict in one way or the other; yet on account of learned helplessness, everyone in the valley is supposed to deal with the ramifications of mental stress on their own. “Unlike in the other parts of India and the West, mental stress in the valley is not considered a big problem since it is less obvious than physical manifestations of the conflict,” says Iqbal.
The problems faced by the youth mostly are mental health problems such as dissociative disorders or hysteria, post traumatic stress disorder, acute stress reaction, depression, drug dependence and abuse, cancer and cardiac problems along with an increase in suicide, and psychosis.
[pullquote]You go through a lot of pain when you are confined to four walls of the jail and all you can do is think about how different life could have been.[/pullquote]“Youth also referred to as teenagers or adolescents, in general, are between the ages of 13-20 years old. This phase of life brings up issues of identity-crisis and independence; asking for experiments, discovery, change and personal growth. It increases the importance of peer-groups,” defines Iqbal.
The psychiatrists believe that young Kashmiri boys and girls have to experience a direct change in their personalities, identities and behaviors everyday on account of gunshots, painful screams, banging of window panes and doors, night protests, police and paramilitary raids, wild scenes of violence. “What further adds up to their fear and anxiety,” clarifies Iqbal, “is when they get directly exposed to the violence due to their or their dear ones’ arrests or killings.”
Kashmiris have been suffering from frequent bomb-blasts, curfews, and property damages— all leading to high levels of stress, endless fear, and insecurity. The after-effects of which still prevail in their behavioral trends. The ongoing conflict has left its imprints on people in different forms. But in Kashmir, there are only a couple of dozens of psychiatrists and a few clinical psychologists, mostly based in the capital city (Srinagar).
Sapna Sangra, Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Jammu and Commonwealth Professional Fellow (2012), says that important issues faced by Kashmiri people always remain unaddressed. “Youth need to be heard so that they are more meaningfully involved.”
“The vicious cycle of innocent people getting killed keeps developing a series of disappointment, injustice, aggression, depression and discrimination in the process,” says Sangra.
Photograph by Altaf Qadri/Associated Press