Kashmiris fighting a new battle

02 May 2008

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SRINAGAR, May 1: Violence has fallen in Kashmir, but people are starting to show signs of serious trauma after nearly 20 years of struggle against New Delhi’s occupation, according to interviews with doctors.

Increasing numbers of people are complaining of mental health problems, say doctors in the beautiful region, known as the ‘Switzerland of the East’ before the freedom movement started in 1989.

“There’s an alarming mental health crisis,” leading psychologist Arshid Hussain said as he ushered into his office at the government-run Kashmir Psychiatry Hospital a woman whose husband was recently killed by gunmen.

“The violence has dropped but the flow of people seeking psychiatric help gets higher each day,” he said. “I’m getting an increasing number (of people) complaining of insomnia, nightmares, anxiety and unexplained pains.”

The number of daily violence-related deaths involving soldiers, civilians and militants now stands at two, still high but down from 10 a day in 2001. Part of that decline has been attributed to a slow-moving peace process that began four years ago between Pakistan and India.

“Thousands of people have suffered trauma because they’ve seen killings, explosions and other forms of violence,” said Dr Pervez Masoodi, who is associated with a small government-run hospital in Chadoora, a 45-minute drive from Srinagar.

Casual conversations with Kashmiris quickly turn to stories of relatives killed, of near-misses in bomb attacks and anonymous threatening telephone calls.

Experts say they are particularly concerned about children, as many parents are reluctant to bring them in for counselling in case neighbours find out.

Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, the region’s main Muslim cleric and leader of a moderate All Parties Hurriyat Conference, said he had noted people, especially the young, seemed more tense.

“It’s difficult preaching to an angry audience, to bring them some kind of solace,” said the mirwaiz, whose father was shot dead in 1990 by unidentified attackers.

“We need to find a political solution to the Kashmir dispute to end all these traumas,” he said.—AFP