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Tenacious Childhood in the Occupied Vale

By Sadaf Thakur

The antagonism between India and Pakistan over the dispute of Kashmir has resulted in imperious violence being unleashed on the people of Kashmir. Kashmir has been witnessing this political turmoil for the last three decades now, and this turmoil has affected the people in the worst possible ways. The political unrest has not only had a bad effect on infrastructure, economics and education, but its impact has had severe psychological manifestations too.

There has been an alarming increase in the psychiatric saturninity among the youth. Research shows that about 33% of the Kashmiri population have a high pervasiveness of mental health problems. People in Kashmir are suffering from stress, and disorders like anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, personality and adjustment disorder, besides post-traumatic disorder, resulting in other health issues like cardiac problems and hypertension.

Ever since I was born I have seen people around me suffering from mental disorders but I had not really tried to realise the reasons why so many people suffered the same problem. And then there came the fateful year of 2008, which clearly answered most of the questions that were unanswered before.  The year saw a huge rise in the number of cases of different kinds of traumas. Suicidal rates were one of the highest in South Asia, and the mental disorders had increased ten-folds.

On 26th of May 2008, the state government of Jammu and Kashmir decided to transfer 99 acres of forest land to the Shri Amaranth Shrine Board for setting up of shelters and other facilities for the Hindu pilgrims. This decision resulted in a big controversy with demonstrations from first starting in the Kashmir valley and then spreading to all over the state. The people of Kashmir were against the land transfer, while the people of Jammu were in favour of such a decision. . Hence the state got divided within. In the Kashmir valley, public buildings, schools, government offices and business remained closed and more than 60 people were killed while thousands of others were injured.

During the turmoil year, I planned to visit my grandparents to see them during the summer break. But things didn’t go as planned. I remember going to my grandparents’ house on the 24th ofMay. The next two days were long and free which I enjoyed thoroughly. But then on 26 May, curfew was imposed in all the 10 districts of the valley. “CURFEW” this term appears innocuous but in reality it camouflages the utmost persecution and suffering inflicted on people. My plan of spending one week changed into a long and painful month. My mother who is very attached to me was worried, so she somehow managed to get me home. The day is imprinted on my mind like nothing else. I was accompanied by my uncle and we started the journey early at 5:30 in the morning.  Though my home was not that far away but we had to take many detours through narrow lanes and by-lanes just to avoid the armed forces. The angry government forces didn’t even spare the women and children. Finding myself helpless and hapless at that time, I wanted to get out of Kashmir, but being a child I didn’t know where and how? I considered myself a prisoner like everyone else in my own motherland which is often referred to as ‘the paradise on earth’ but for me it was a virtual hell.

A short distance of hardly two kilometres took us nearly 4 hours. While walking back home I lost the count of the number of barricades on the roads. We were stopped at a particular barricade, which we could not avoid, as no other alternate route was available. A petrifying voice of a paramilitary personal came from behind a concertina wire. He was there to prevent movement of people on the main road and was unwilling to listen to anyone even if somebody had an emergency. Listening to his incessant shouting I started crying, and after a while he let us go telling me, “Beta hum kuch nahi karen gai” (Child we will not hurt you). On the streets the quietness had an eerie feel about it.

Finally, I reached home. It was overwhelming to be with my family after long break. I was not aware of our family conditions. Living in Kashmir is not easy especially if one is a resident of downtown Srinagar. It is a poor area, where people live in small structures with no place for growing any kind of vegetables unlike other places in Kashmir. The city people mainly depend on villages for essential supplies, and this also had its own ramifications on the downtrodden area. It was due to the voluntary efforts of rural people who brought vegetables, pulses and other essential items that the local mosques could later distribute them evenly among the people. Every family was going through the same situation. Things happened so quickly that no one had a chance to store up on things and same was the case of my family. My father would go early in the morning to the market so that he could buy the basic necessities but would fail to buy the most required of things: Lactogen (infant formula), milk, diapers, and medicines for my infant sister. It was very painful to see my family in such a situation and it hurt more when I would see my sister needed milk or change of a diaper and we were all helpless.

The people, who lived hand to mouth, had the most difficult time. Daily wagers were the worst hit, as with every passing day it was becoming increasingly difficult for them to feed their families. Life came to a halt. Schools were closed and parents were clueless and helpless thinking about the future of their children. Shops and business establishments were closed and stocks of essentials had as mentioned almost dried up.

I belong to a generation of Kashmiris who has witnessed the horror of violence. Curfews, killings have now become a part of our normal life. I have realized growing up in a conflict zone is not easy. It has a direct effect on your mental health as well as other issues. It changes your behaviour towards everything, even to life itself. You stop thinking positively because when you take a look around yourself you find nothing that can boost up your approach towards life. The only things you find around you are killings, pellets and bullet attacks, shootouts, mass disappearances, house-to-house searches, and the petrifying thought of getting arrested anywhere anytime. Insomnia, fear, anger sadness, fatigue all creep in at some point and this happens because of what surrounds you. In short, this sums up our life!

Photo: Iblagh News

Bio:
Sadaf Thakur is a teenager from Srinagar Kashmir. She is soon to begin her medical studies in Tehran, Iran.

***

For more stories, read Café Dissensus Everyday, the blog of Café Dissensus Magazine.

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