On 10 September, 29-year-old Adil Amin woke up terrified by the sound of jets flying over the skies of Srinagar. He suffers from anxiety and has been having constant panic attacks ever since air activity at night–mainly fighter jets patrolling the skies–increased in the Valley.
Increased air activity comes amid heightened tensions between India and China in eastern Ladakh, where armies of both countries are locked in a standoff. Tensions have been high since May when Chinese troops took control of portions of Ladakh that were patrolled by Indian troops for decades.
The Indian Army, in a statement, said that the Chinese troops attempted to close in on an Indian position near the southern bank of Pangong lake on the evening of 7 September. Both armies have accused each other of firing shots in the air, breaking a decades practice of not using firearms during patrol. The statement came after the People’s Liberation Army had, late on Monday night, alleged that Indian troops had crossed the Line of Actual Control (LAC) and “outrageously fired” near the Pangong lake.
Both countries have deployed thousands of troops and additional weaponry in the border region. On Thursday, the Indian Air Force also inducted Rafale jets into its fleet. “It is a strong message for the entire world, especially those eyeing India’s sovereignty,” Defense Minister Rajnath Singh said in a reference to China.
While tensions seem to have cooled down following the meeting of the external affairs minister S. Jaishankar and his Chinese counterpart, where both India and China agreed on a five-point roadmap including quick disengagement of troops and avoiding any action that could escalate tensions for resolving the four-month-long face-off in eastern Ladakh, in Kashmir the movement of jets has only increased.
This has been pointed out by many on social media. “I am outside my locality in old city, everyone is looking into [sic] the skies trying to figure out why these helicopter’s without lights are just moving in the skies too much of sound,” Srinagar-based journalist Syed Shahriyar wrote on his Twitter.
Similar posts were shared by others too. This discourse dominated the conservations at shopfronts and other places in the valley too. While some showed excitement at the prospect of the two countries going to war, some were concerned and anxious about the development.
“Okay the jets won’t let me sleep aaj [tonight]. One of those nights,” tweeted Anam Khan.
While Mrs. Khan, was concerned that the jets won’t let her sleep, Downtown resident Alam on the contrary was woken up by the thunderous sounds of the jets that were, much later, airborne again. “I was scared by the thunderous sounds of jets, I woke up with a racing heartbeat which lead to a panic attack,” he said.
A resident of Srinagar’s Hawal area, Mr. Alam said that the sudden air activity caused him more stress. “ I am already stressed out, this thing and the prospect of a war has only added to my agony,” he said. “I am also worried what will happen in the future?”
Zoya Mir, a research scholar at the Institute of Mental Health and Neuro-Sciences in Srinagar, said that uncertainty–as harboured by Mr. Alam–led to heightened anxiety. “Anything which creates uncertainty provokes anxiety in us, with the whole scenario of what would happen,” she said. “These all questions create a pattern of over thinking.”
While Mr. Alam’s anxiety stems from worrying about a war scenario, he is also afraid that he could be a victim of an accident involving the jet. In 2019, just a day after the IAF carried out airstrikes in Pakistan claiming to have destroyed a militant camp while Pakistan claimed it had merely damaged trees, six IAF personnel were killed after a Mi-17 transport helicopter crashed in central Kashmir’s Budgam district. A civilian was also killed in the crash.
Much later, it was found out that the crash was actually caused by friendly fire, a probe conducted by the Indian Air Force ruled.
“The Court of Inquiry has found that the crash was a result of system failure. Two officers, the chief operations officer (COO) and the senior air traffic control officer (SATCO), have been found to blame,” The Print had reported.
“They downed their own aircraft. How can one rule out that it cannot happen again,” asked Mr. Alam
While the possibility of Mr. Alam’s fear coming true might be very low, Ms. Mir believes these things are cues towards an upcoming threat and hence, “it can lead to anxiety.”
While it remains to be seen whether the two countries will go to war, the fact on the ground remains that the populace of this land will continue to suffer in one way or the other. As this whole war thing would bring harm to them also, so people perceive it as an upcoming threat which can lead to restlessness, anxiety, sleep disturbances, emotional changes.