How combined forces of mental trauma and unparalleled resilience shape present Kashmiri society

How combined forces of mental trauma and unparalleled resilience shape present Kashmiri society

Internationally recognised Kashmir-based expert on disaster mental health and behavioural scientist Prof Mushtaq A. Margoob is both worried and hopeful at the same time. The 2016 uprising and its subsequent brutal crushing by the State has not only opened old wounds, but has also taken a fresh toll on the collective mental health of the Valley. This is what worries him. However, the resilience shown by the people to stand by the injured, the marginalised, at a time when the whole Valley has remained shut for four months, if inculcated as a community culture rather than just a transitory reactionary phenomena, could be the silver lining of this phase according to him. He talks to Aasif Sultan to give us a picture of how the Kashmir society will shape up in the coming years as a result of extreme distress and cruelty. 

Injured collective psyche

Please do not expect me today to give you any repetitive narrative of mental disorders in Kashmir. Over the years, rather decades, one has already said enough and extensively documented through scientific data the epidemic of such problems in Kashmir. The latest Medicines San Frontiers (MSF) and Action Aid surveys once again reveal the same. The individual and societal costs of such political unrest with grievous economic, social and psychological damage have to be measured in terms of generations rather than years. Under present prevailing conditions when perpetual fear, uncertainty and insecurity have ripped the very fabric of everyday life in Kashmir, the psychological concerns and the issues of quality of life of individuals or community will require a holistic approach rather than compartmentalised physical, psychological, socio-political or spirituality related separate description.

Apparently, the phenomenon of stone-pelting has, at least from 13 July 1931 onwards, served as a unique vehicle for Kashmiris to vent their frustration on a range of issues – from the religious and political to the administrative and social. Without going into the details of the current external features of mental trauma and sociology of the stone-pelting in Kashmir, I would prefer to identify here the internal psychobiological perspective of this phenomenon for proper contextual understanding particularly the collective aggressive defiant behaviour of teens.

Kashmir as a chronically lingering unresolved political problem has resulted in an unending process of death and destruction for its populace for no fault of theirs, leading to agonising psychological problems at the individual level; change in social processes and the multidimensional manifestations of transgenerational transmission of trauma.

To understand its appropriate perspective in a little more detail, it may be worthwhile to go over to excerpts from one of my earlier interviews titled ‘It’s the manifestation of anger among Kashmir’s trauma generation‘ published in the Times of India during 2010 unrest (Humra Qurashi, 4 August 2010). The interview, I must say, did influence many people to think reasonably and have a better, reality-based humane understanding of the problem. 

“A whole new generation of the Kashmiris is growing up in this atmosphere of great uncertainty-cum-insecurity and stress. The amount of emotional distress caused by the perpetual state of moment-to-moment living in Kashmir remains anything but hard to imagine.

That prevailing violent conditions have led to a high level of suffering among the masses and has also resulted in a phenomenal increase in mental disorders…. The psychological impact of horrifying life-events resulting from any catastrophe, be it a natural calamity or a human-caused disaster, not only overwhelms the individual’s psychological and biological coping mechanisms but also leads to drastic changes in the perceptions of the whole socio-cultural systems which may never be the same again.

It also leads to a change in previous and emerging social processes as well as shared behaviours of the whole community. Harm deliberately caused by others can lead to shifts in societal conventions and processes, including an increased sense of rage and entitlement to revenge when mourning loss or reversal of feelings of helplessness and humiliation.

Under such circumstances, even a fully grown-up adult’s brain automatically shifts operations from highly evolved reality-based action processes to instinctual/emotion-based reactions. Since the young brain is yet to fully develop psychological mechanisms, children/adolescents are much more vulnerable to emotional actions and reactions.

When they assume that they are getting pushed against the wall they get dominated by their emotions and stop caring for the consequences. Youngsters identify more with the group rather than with their individual identities and can accordingly get heavily involved in activities that essentially had been non-existent in the society earlier. Young Kashmiris reflect the above-referred psychological processes in more ways than one.

The recent developments of defying law and order and facing bullets by teens could also be a manifestation of the ever-increasing indescribable levels of frustration and anger among this ‘trauma generation’, who have hardly seen a moment of complete peace or tranquillity in their lives.”

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A whole new generation of the Kashmiris is growing up in this atmosphere of great uncertainty-cum-insecurity and stress. The amount of emotional distress caused by the perpetual state of moment-to-moment living in Kashmir remains anything but hard to imagine.

Developmentally speaking, adolescence is a period of gaining independence from the protection of the family. And such independence-seeking behaviours are observed across mammalian species with increase in peer-directed social interactions and intensification in novelty seeking which impacts adolescents’ propensity for risky behaviour. Thus engaging during adolescence in riskier behaviours and choices than we do as adults leading to increased incidence of unintentional aggression, hostility, violence and injuries need to be understood without any prejudice, as the way nature has designed human beings.

Any attempt to callously force decisions to get thinking, emotions or behaviour of adolescents conformed by the adults at individual level (a parent, teacher, or any other elder) or by a group (society) or a system (Government ) tantamount to sheer ignorance, arrogance, malice rather total disregard to the of laws of nature. As a behavioural neuroscientist, I would also like to tell you that most recent research has shown that in adolescence certain areas of the brain that are concerned with risk taking and reward-seeking grow relatively at a faster speed than the areas that would correspondingly develop to control the overall human behaviour. Because of this, in secure environments adolescents remain quite capable of rational decisions and understanding risks of behaviours they engage in. But in emotionally charged situations, the overgrowing risk taking and immediate reward seeking part of the brain (accelerator) takes over the executive control area of the brain (brake).

By the way, in today’s scientifically oriented world, even including in politics, perceive the realities of life including judging people or events merely through one’s vague apperception (whereby perceived qualities of an object or event are related to one’s own past experiences) has markedly changed and advanced far ahead.

The application of brain waves’ analysis through EEG (Electroencephalography) and fMRI(functional-Magnetic Resonance Imaging) technologies to run business affairs wisely through the fields like Neuromarketing and Neurofinance has already made entry to political sphere (Neuropolitics) as observed in Mexico (voters liking assessed in advance through  market camera captured facial expressions of  emotional reactions, sadness, fear, anger and happiness, etc.), Argentina, Brazil, Russia, Spain, Turkey and even in the USA.

Unfortunately in this part of the world, unwillingness on the part of politicians to open their shut eyes and see (without the use of these sophisticated technologies and removing the prisms of preconceived notions) the cause of suffering and associated emotional state of these annoyed youngsters as writing on the wall has perpetuated this human tragedy of agonising and traumatising state of status quo over the decades in Kashmir.

It may not be out of context here to briefly refer to the ensuing disabling mental health condition – Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This malady manifests with a group of disabling behavioural and emotional symptoms in some individuals who are exposed to severe psychological trauma and has over the years, as also revealed earlier by our more than two dozen scientific studies, afflicted a sizeable portion of Kashmir population (831,952 adults, Margoob & Ajaz in 2005 and 771,000 adults, MSF in 2015). The children/adolescents, women, weaker members of the community are known to be more vulnerable to this malady.

Though it had been quite gratifying to see recent ground-breaking research done by our team to provide, for the first time, some deeper insights into the risk and resilience for PTSD and its treatment. But unfortunately, some current research observations have started giving me restless nights. Brain regions involved in memory are believed to mediate symptoms of PTSD and a small sea-horse shaped brain structure (hippocampus) serves as the most important storehouse of our memories. More severe chronic continuous forms of PTSD, which majority of our patients in Kashmir have been suffering from, is known to lead to damage and shrinking of this vital memory brain area.

The worrying factor has been that contrary to the findings by the American research team that PTSD treatment of nine months led to 5% increase in this shrunken brain area, our finding (under publication) revealed that in spite of the symptomatic improvement after the same treatment, the brain area among our group of patients continued to be shrunken even following 12-15 months continued treatment. Such depressing manifestation of humanitarian emergencies in conflict regions of the world, with the degree of memory-related behavioural interference in some cases of PTSD of 18 or 28 years of age similar to that of a 70 or 80 years old person, should obviously disturb any human being and arouse a serious concern for chronic disaster-stricken populations.

Particularly the younger generations living in a perpetual mass trauma situation like Kashmir and attempting to endure a never-ending internal state of psychological trauma related brain damage on one hand and the external physical assault of bullets, pellets, PAVA shells, nocturnal raids, arrests, etc., on the other, deserves and demands an exceptionally kind, caring, considerate approach rather than the callous, crude and cruel attitude of the powers that be.

An example to ponder

“There was a relaxation in curfew and I moved out with my friends and four of us were sitting near Rainawari chowk when all of a sudden we saw few patrol party vehicles approaching to pass by. We attempted to move away from them trying to go up the nearby shopfront. Since I was the last one climbing the steps, I momentarily stopped to see if they had left and suddenly I could see nothing”.

On 17 July 2016, a 22-year-old young man Danish from Rainawari had been hit from such a close range that the entire cartridge of pellets, along with the casing (a two-inch metallic cylinder), had gravely injured his eyes and fractured the frontal bone of his skull. The cartridge had entered one eye, scooped out its contents and proceeded to smash both, dispersing hundreds of pellets in different directions in the socket of the eye.

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Today also, like thousands of other injured sufferers of the present turmoil, you will find him with the same conviction, faith and spirituality accepting the decision of the lord, and preparing himself without any grudge or hostility against anybody, to face the world as it unfolds in the long harsh nightly days of years and decades of his future life with ultimate surrender before Him as the Sustainer of the creation.

Following the first surgery at SMHS hospital Srinagar, the neighbours arranged Danish’s travel to an advanced centre of eye surgeries at Hyderabad where, after undergoing two surgeries, he returned back within a fortnight without any improvement in his eyesight. He is currently on follow-up of the experts of the department of ophthalmology and awaiting one more surgery at SMHS for getting eye adhesions released to accommodate artificial eyeball put in for cosmetic purposes only.

Though skull fracture has healed from outside, Danish has in addition to deterring disability of complete loss of eyesight, also to live with more than hundred pellets inside his head for the rest of his life. He belongs to a lower middle-class family with the father a labourer. His brother is a daily wager who has to shoulder the responsibility of marrying off his two young sisters.  He had been working as a field sales boy (runner) with a trader and nurturing high dreams to help the family to overcome the financial hardships.

He had recently purchased a scooter on loan to work more efficiently. Danish has so far, during these four months, been enduring this multidimensional trauma with great courage and resilience. But he does get disturbed in between. About a fortnight back he had a severe bout of sadness and irritation for some brief time. But he did cheer up again. Having interacted and counselled more than half a million sufferers living amongst varied traumatic life events in Kashmir, outwardly this was not something new I was seeing, but facing a victim of the worst epidemic of forced blindness was completely different from inside. Although all of us do sympathise with such people but actually it is only the victims and their dear ones who alone and alone go through hell for the rest of their lives.

There is a particular struggle with how to get past the pain of the human cruelty, how to make sense of it afterwards. The darkest moments are not when the physical pain is greatest but they are the times when the faith in human decency feels lost. With this reality in mind though one could notice a fleeting positive emotional response to a possible optimistic outcome approach through an example of a young girl who lost her sight and hearing at the age of nineteen months and through her courage, intelligence, strength of mind and perseverance established herself as a celebrated author, lecturer, and crusader for the handicapped as Helen Keller.

But any repeated hollow reference to this example in future would be a mere fairy tale pertaining to the contrasting nurturing environment of the Institute for the Blind in Boston and New York City where Keller got transformed. Competent contribution in this initiative by local living examples of endurance and courage can go a long way to ensure strengthening the state of mind of the survivors of this curse.

Essence of collective efforts

While playing at school in Uri at the age of 12 in 1975, Rehmatullah sustained an injury to the right eye followed by the gradual diminishing of vision which gradually affected the other eye also. Within a year he had completely lost sight in both eyes. In spite of all the treatment by the eye specialists at Srinagar, there was no improvement and he was ultimately told that his eye problem is incurable. He felt very dejected and considered his life worthless.

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At present Rehmatullah is the sole breadwinner for his old parents (mother a dementia patient) as well as for the family of his brother who in jail for a couple of years. Like any other human being he does feel low at times due to overwhelming challenges in his life but just an open empathetic talk has most of times made him to bounce back with remarkable resilience and determination.

Meanwhile, after few years somebody suggested his father, a poor man, to take him to Abhenanda Home for Blind at Rambagh, Srinagar. On the very first day of his admission he was introduced to his teacher, who was himself without any eyesight, “a Sardarji” as he says, who was demonstrating other inmates how to make willow branch baskets.

“This gave me a ray of hope, and I felt confident that here I can empower myself to stay alive without a compromised self-respect and becoming a burden to others. I got trained for one year at the home, Rehmatullah told me, adding, “In the meantime, the government decided to engage on trial basis few trained handicapped persons at the newly commissioned SKIMS, Soura. A batch of ten persons, with different type of disabilities, including myself was selected for working in different sections of the SKIMS. I was posted in the Radiology dark room to handle the processing of X-ray films which I soon started doing to the best satisfaction of my superiors and thus restarted a dignified self-sufficient way of my survival”.

At present Rehmatullah is the sole breadwinner for his old parents (mother a dementia patient) as well as for the family of his brother who in jail for a couple of years. Like any other human being, he does feel low at times due to overwhelming challenges in his life but just an open empathetic talk has most of the times made him to bounce back with remarkable resilience and determination. It is commendable to see him more than willing to join the voluntary initiative of similar interaction with hundreds of forced visually challenged persons in Kashmir today.

Individually it may be speculated that resilient people in a positive state of mind will see it like any other challenge in life, may even interpret it as an opportunity to reinforce their strength, character and ultimately aim and expect a better individual and collective outcome out of this chaotic and scary situation prevailing in the Valley.

On the contrary, vulnerable people in a pessimistic state of mind may imagine a total dome and destruction in the coming days with the argument that the currently evolving trend of intolerance, ultranationalism, polarisation and resulting radicalisation will ultimately snowball into a totalitarian and tyrannical political structure, patronising extreme marginalisation, degradation and depravity. Such people are likely to get overwhelmed for long by the present theatrics of politicisation of even mundane affairs of life  – Roti, kapda and makan in Kashmir – of course education of children included in it.

Among the fear stricken, terribly traumatised youngsters, particularly students with a predisposition to heightened anticipatory anxiety and already overburdened by the environmental trauma, those who will feel forced to appear in the examination, will be running the risk of increased self-harm tendencies, depression, drug abuse, adjustment problems and other related problems. As we saw earlier that instead of immediate manifestation in the early nineties, scores of students started attempting suicide following the declaration of results. This was widely reported by the media earlier. Such phenomenon was not to be found in our society earlier.

A 10th-grade school boy from South Kashmir bangs his head against the wall followed by abnormal behaviour after the decision for holding examination in November is made public. The boy continued to be in a dazed state till he got professional psychological support and started improving. Meanwhile, his father has got extremely anxious and agitated with marked insecurity and suspiciousness and in spite of psychiatric treatment including antipsychotic medication has not shown much improvement as yet.

Listening to saner voices

The Kashmiri identity is strongly attached to the idea of belongingness and ownership over the region and the idea that the state belongs to subjects of the state ( Farrukh Faheem 2016). A common Kashmiri does nurse a hatred for the scheming tactics developed in Kashmir since 1947. In the backdrop of the pervasive transgenerational sense of betrayal and anger among masses originating from this festering wound of unresolved political problem,  also expressed through cyclic protests of 2008, 2009 and 2010 in the recent past, the extreme collective threat perception of impending danger of getting discriminated, dispossessed, dislodged and destroyed starting off from the differing ideologies of the political dispensation coming to power both in the state and at the centre, may have led to the manifestation of the  present psychological reaction of ‘Now or Never” expression by the protesting masses. Unfortunately this feeling of collective anguish and protest as a cry for help was projected and propagated by the hatemonger section of the media and some other people as being directed against the people of India and humanity. A passing reference to this patient, who was brought for treatment a few weeks back, should suffice here, as an example:

A seventy-year-old man from a South Kashmir area, accompanied by three family members, had started with restlessness following watching a national TV Channel debate program. He was continuously asking every family member why the jingoist anchor and his team spew so much of venom against the people of Kashmir. Why can’t he be punished for trying to create such a false malicious picture between various communities in and outside the state, he would ask.

The family did their best to pacify the old gentleman but he continued with anxiety and did not sleep well. Within the next two days, he had became markedly withdrawn almost asocial with very little speech and episodes of weeping. His condition continued to worsen and just within a week’s time he had started refusing meals with suicidal tendencies.

After succeeding in establishing a proper rapport with him and assessing his thought process he burst out emotionally saying, “Doctor sahib, I do not know the exact reason but after viewing the TV program I get a feeling of my heart getting about to rupture at times.  While seeing these wicked traders of human sufferings leaving no stone unturned to dehumanise our sufferings and our relations with other human beings of any race, region or religion, don’t you ‘also feel suffocated after listening to the misrepresentation of facts by the TV channels?” 

One wishes and prays that rather than getting hypnotised by such divisive narratives of such irrational pseudo nationalistic bizarre persons, the people listen to saner voices pleading with reason and logic for amicable settlement of the issue through a meaningful dialogue only. Obviously under the spell of loss of touch with the reality, the jingoistic TV anchors and their studio decorated ‘experts’ would like others to consider their wisdom, knowledge, experience and nationalism to be far superior to the working chief of the army of the region or the retired National security advisor of the country, as clearly reflected in their studio debates or discussions.

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A seventy-year-old man from a South Kashmir area, accompanied by three family members, had started with restlessness following watching a national TV Channel debate program. He was continuously asking every family member why the jingoist anchor and his team spew so much of venom against the people of Kashmir. Why can’t he be punished for trying to create such a false malicious picture between various communities in and outside the state, he would ask.

Similarly, Mr. M.K. Narayanan the former National Security Adviser and former Director of Intelligence Bureau in a scholarly article in Hindu, (10 October) that in view of near total alienation of an entire generation of young Kashmiris, angry with the present state of affairs, had painstakingly attempted to tell the powers not to treat the current turmoil in the Valley as a mere  extension of the earlier spells of unrest. He had also warned that dealing with it by using a force of the kind employed against militant outfits like Lashkar, Jaish and Hizb against today’s  school-going children would only inflame passions further.

Unfortunately, egotism or power intoxications seems to be adversely impacting the rational thinking ability of some concerned, resulting in ignoring the sincere professional warnings thus worsening the psychological suffering of people with every passing day. Mr Naraynan has also drawn the attention of students of history to some parallels of Kashmir situation with what occurred in Czechoslovakia (Prague) in 1968. Considering the historical context of a much latter tragedy in the same European region (former Yugoslavia) in the early 1990s, worst in Europe after World War II, reveals that all stakeholders need to do their best to prevent the situation in spiralling into a much worse type of devastating catastrophe.

Initial nationalist rhetoric in former Yugoslavia was soon accompanied by religious fears and symbols manipulated by cynical ultranationalists for their own ends on all sides, with national and ethnic divisions corresponding closely to differences in religious identity of Orthodox Serbians, Catholic Croatians and Bosnia Muslims ultimately resulted in brutal war death and destruction in the whole region. Even after the death of more than two hundred thousand people leading International Criminal Tribunal court subsequently to indict the sitting head of the state for war crimes, ultimately the parties had to settle the issue through peaceful dialogue process only.

No one who sees a disaster is untouched by it but silent agony and painful conditions of the traumatised population first need to be felt by heart to understand their trauma honestly. People find it difficult, if not impossible, to heal from the effects of individual trauma while the community around them remains in shreds and a supportive community setting does not exist. There is whole host of stressors that affect the survivors. 

In the early “heroic” phases of the calamity, there is much energy, optimism, and altruism which we have seen during different types of disasters earlier in Kashmir including the early ’90s, few months after the 2005 snow-storm and terrible earthquake disasters as well as the devastating floods of 2014. With the passage of the time survivors’ real immediate and future concerns are not secured, the implications and meaning of losses become more real, grief reactions intensify, frustrations and disillusionment accumulate. 

People move to the post-disaster disillusionment phase which can explain the disintegrating of the initial cohesiveness replaced by self-centred behaviour manifesting at individual and collective levels which can explain the ‘Strange display of transition  from ‘Resilience’ in crises to self-seeking ‘Razalat’ (Roguish) when all is relatively well. The need for a sustained social support mechanism rather than a mere short lasting reactionary action may be better understood with the following  two examples from earlier disaster events:

Examples:

1) On 10 October 1993 midnight, four days before the Hazratbal siege, a grenade explosion took place in the Hazratbal area. The para-military allegedly entered a fisherman hut located on the banks of Dal and killed two fishermen brothers. Their killing left behind family devastated: two young widows, an aged mother and five children, the youngest one being a four-month-old infant.

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If this is the state of the impoverished deserving families in the heart of the Srinagar city just in the vicinity of the Holy Hazratbal shrine, what must be happening to innumerable deprived families in the periphery without any significant community or government support does not need rocket science to understand and make people to introspect and address their mental, moral and material regression straight away.

The family was still in a state of deep shock and mourning that the whole area including the shrine was put under siege for a month. Their mental and physical condition of extreme agony and confinement can be well imagined. They suffered exceptionally but continued to struggle and support each other without any significant help from outside.

For years, after the tragic event, the family continued struggling with internal state of trauma and depression and outer physical harsh realities of changed life to rebuild their lives and the process rebuilding their lives was still continuing when on 29 Dec 2013 a major fire that broke out in the area. The fire gutted 30 residential dwellings rending 55 families homeless in freezing winter. Wailing and moaning, sitting on the debris of their huts, which turned into ashes within an hour, they were directed to shift to a nearby government school premises were they stayed miserably in a pathetic condition at the school playground for months.

The sufferers blame the false promises of the visiting politicians for discouraging the efforts by the civilian organisations and individuals to come to their rescue rebuild their devastated locality. In a state of disillusionment they had just started picking up threads to rebuild their shelters that the devastating floods again struck them in September 2014. 

Now it was this year of 2016 that with the efforts of the two grown up orphans, working as daily wagers, that they had restarted their life that the present phase of turmoil engulfed whole Kashmir and their sufferings including psychological distress  are increasing with every passing day. If this is the state of the impoverished deserving families in the heart of the Srinagar city just in the vicinity of the Holy Hazratbal shrine, what must be happening to innumerable deprived families in the periphery without any significant community or government support does not need rocket science to understand and make people to introspect and address their mental, moral and material regression straight away.

2) Following heavy snowfall for five consecutive days, on 19 February 2005, a small hilly village “Waltengo Nard” in south Kashmir was struck by a dreadful snowstorm, burying everything, including uprooted trees, damaged houses, dead, injured and other survivors under a cover of 20 to 30 feet snow resulting in the death of almost one quarter of the total populations within minutes. A 52-year-old female along with her 60-year-old husband who got trapped in a collapsed cowshed after a great struggle managed to find way out of the crumbled structure.

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Waltengo Nard in south Kashmir was struck by a dreadful snowstorm, burying everything, including uprooted trees, damaged houses, dead, injured and other survivors under a cover of 20 to 30 feet snow resulting in the death of almost one quarter of the total populations within minutes. A 52-year-old female along with her 60-year-old husband who got trapped in a collapsed cowshed after a great struggle managed to find way out of the crumbled structure.

While labouring out of the storm struck village through the devastated structures, uprooted trees and heavy snow with feet occasionally touching dead bodies underneath, after an ordeal of many hours they reached the neighbouring downhill village to find to her dismay that out of nine family members only their 10-year-old youngest son was alive. After this the patient continued to be disturbed by frightening dreams of dead bodies scattered all around recollection the deafening sounds at the time of storm leading to restlessness agitation and outbursts of anger. “I want to die; I want to go away; I had all hopes pinned on my children, whom I brought up in abject poverty; I was looking up to them as a source of comfort during my old age; I have lost my whole world,” the patient would cry frantically. Usual clouds or winds would frighten her extremely and she would feel haunted intensely by the feeling of an impending calamity.

The process of encouraging the traumatised community to first rely on their inherent strengths and their existing support network, over the next three months, and  showed considerable improvement in all of her symptoms. She had gradually resumed her household activities even accompanying us near to the disaster site. Subsequently, due to various adverse environmental factors she again worsened as is discussed in the case report of her son. Actually  except for the initial 1-2 months after disaster, when as knee-jerk response relief agencies surrounded them, the survivors’ real immediate and future concerns were never secured.

They were abandoned, given false hopes, made dependent, their innate coping weakened, social fabric disrupted and ultimately to their agony fragmented. Post disaster, living bereft and impoverished in itself had been no less traumatizing in view of unfulfilled promises, deplorable living conditions in small tents even in freezing temperatures, uncertainty about the safety of self and significant others and despite all this a sense of helplessness regarding the ongoing happenings.

Although funds were allocated for the relocation and rehabilitation of the survivors on government owned land, at a much safer and central place (Kansloo), the lower rung officials on vote bank considerations “successfully impeded that process”. Ultimately, most of them were relocated to an adjacent mountain, a topographically even more precarious site, where from they continue to be shifted like guinea pigs even today during almost every snowfall.

As it was a cold winter day with 7-10 feet of snow already having accumulated outside, the 10-year-old son of this elderly couple was playing with his sister inside their mud house. After five years ‘Kotha’, when with a big bang the whole structure collapsed and both got trapped inside with his sisters’ body falling under rubble in the opposite direction. He was frightened, and unsuccessfully kept on struggling to reach his sister who was crying and repeatedly asking for water. Though he did succeed in pushing some snow with his feet towards his right hand and threw it towards his sister’s mouth but she was already dead. The boy was lying near her dead body for two days, when he was finally rescued. Since then he had been getting recurrent nightmares, and feeling as if something similar to the disaster was impending.

The child had developed loss of interest in all activities including studies and would not like to see or play with other children; “I am waiting for my sister to come and will play only once she returned”. He was not able to concentrate on his studies and would said, “Whenever I sit in the class and look up to the mountains surrounding my village, I can see my sister coming and calling me, her cries asking for water and my failed attempts (a stream of tears running down his cheeks), all this comes before my eyes as a real scene. I could see mountains moving and thought that all of them would be buried under debris”. With comprehensive psychological treatment the child had again improved, but worsened with the first snowfall, as against all After 10 years promises and plans by all concerned, they continued to live and shiver in open tents under the cover of snow.

It was finally only after the child along with his parents moved to a permanent residential area that the psychosocial interventions yielded the dividends, and the child was much better, studying and progressing well. But due to the negligent  attitude of the government, the whole society including the neighbouring villages’ population, the  whole surviving crowd of orphans and widows compromising of  less than 400 surviving souls were left to fend themselves  for their needs after forgetting  false initial promises by all. Like most other needy children, the boy left studies after initial few years and looked for some menial work in the adjoin sedentary Kashmir’s population areas to feed himself and ageing ailing parents. Two years back, 9 years after the snow storm, the lady now a widow and a week ill person with multiple physical and psychological problems got her only surviving son married.

After a year he had a male child and had to work for extra hours. One unfortunate evening when he was returning home while hanging from the stairway of a overloaded bus, he fell down and received multiple head injuries. Had to be operated in SKIMS where he remained admitted for weeks after getting operated. He has been asked to avoid any strenuous work for few months to be able to recover properly. How must this destitute family and many other thousands of such families in Kashmir be  surviving at present and what we can and  need to do for them is for everybody to ponder and act before it is too late.

As is clear the need of the hour therefore is to outline and implement an appropriate and well-framed strategy for getting the pain originating from the festering psychological wounds particularly among the more vulnerable and marginalised people addressed through utmost empathy and efforts by all. In the coming days our approach towards these victims will reflect whether we conduct ourselves as the elite creation of the nature as human beings and do whatever is possible to ameliorate some pain and distress of these suffering souls or ignore them as a burden and get busy with ourselves to satiate our never-ending animal drives of greed through self centred hypocrisy and rudeness.

The immense Kashmiri resilience

History is witness that centuries of tyranny and other hardships have not been able to break the inner resilience of a Kashmiri. The description of this resilience being discussed by today’s columnist in newspapers is not different than described by Mirza Muhammad Haidar Dughlat (Cousin of emperor Mirza Nasir ud-din Baig Humayun) who ruled Kashmir for ten years during the transitory period of power snatched from local sovereigns to Mughal rulers and had to face this resilience as described by him in his ‘Tarikh-i-Rashidi’ on crucial occasions with total surprise and helplessness. Thousands of pellet and bullet injured survivors are coping mainly because of this inner strength which can be sustained only with a civilized approach to their sufferings.

Since presently almost each person is in a state of trauma and grief, every individual should take responsibility to keep him or herself in a positive state of mind rather than allowing to get drowned in negative toxic thoughts, emotions and behaviours. To be able to do so one should know that there are a number of mental lenses seeing through which can lead to generate negative thoughts and consequent actions. We give an emotional colouring to our thoughts and start a chain of events ultimately leading to actions and our behaviour.

So obviously eliminating such distorting prisms can be very useful in attaining an inner peaceful positive state of mind even in the midst of disturbances. Sharing and caring can be very helpful. We are seeing very heartening examples of continued trend of ventilating pent up trauma related negative emotions by individuals and groups of youngsters through sublimating them artistically. “In the shade of fallen chinar” a short documentary by University students can suffice as an excellent example of this process.

Faith as a source of comfort

All religions teach us that as humans we must live with peace and harmony, as close bonding with fellow human beings is invaluable. But we barter our real spiritual self for ego-based artificial identities and animal instincts. That is why people have unfortunately allowed religion to be misused as source of confrontation rather than unending comfort.

Contrary to the illusory belief of the West that human beings can control their destiny, what I have as the chairman of the disaster management section of the Indian Psychiatric Society seen over years in different disaster situations, like the Bhopal gas tragedy, Latur earthquake, Gujarat riots or even following 2004 Tsunami, the faith that life is entirely determined by the fate and one has to submit oneself to the will of Allah or Eshwar serves as one of the strongest coping mechanisms for the disaster survivors. This also provides sufferers with a sense of identity and helps them control their emotions and create self-help opportunities. This is what exactly we are seeing among the present trauma survivors in Kashmir today also.

Danish offering prayers at his home.

Danish had said in the hospital on the first day of trauma, “I will get better. You have to pray for it.” Today also, like thousands of other injured sufferers of the present turmoil, you will find him with the same conviction, faith and spirituality accepting the decision of the lord, and preparing himself without any grudge or hostility against anybody, to face the  world as it unfolds in the long harsh nightly days of years and decades of his future life with ultimate surrender before Him as the Sustainer of the creation. Do we feel answerable to our conscience and creator regarding our responsibilities particularly towards this group of suffering humanity? Only future will judge and tell us.

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    By: Aasif Sultan

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