Archive for the ‘healthcare’ Category

According to a recent report, 1.8 million Kashmiri adults suffer from some form of mental distress.

Hafiza looks through a window covered with a polythene sheet. The family doesn’t have glass for their windows [Baba Tamim/Al Jazeera]

By Baba Tamim


  • An average adult in Kashmir witnesses 7.7 traumatic events during their lifetime
  • Of the adult population, 45 percent suffer from mental distress
  • Fifty percent of women and 37 percent of men have probable depression
  • Thirty-six percent of women and 21 percent of men have a probable anxiety disorder

Source: Doctors Without Borders

Indian-administered Kashmir – Sometimes 52-year-old Hafiza Bano can be seen counting the wooden planks in the ceiling, or the lines on the doors, or the flowers imprinted on the rug.

Her house has three small rooms and a kitchen. In one of the mud-plastered rooms, a disabled relative lives; in another room, guests are greeted. The third is also occupied – by the memories of her dead daughter and “disappeared” son.

This is where Hafiza sleeps – a picture of her son, a jar full of the different medicines she must take and a broken radio tied with a piece of cloth beside her bed.

Almost every night, she dreams of buying her son clothes for Eid. Almost every morning, she wakes up crying.

READ MORE: What mental illness means to me 

Her family gave her the radio in the hope that listening to music might distract her from her thoughts. But it proved to be as delicate as Hafiza’s mental health, and there is no piece of cloth that can hold her together.

Hafiza is mentally ill. And she isn’t alone.

When Doctors Without Borders (MSF) recently released a comprehensive report [PDF]on mental health in Kashmir, it concluded that half of all residents of the valley have “mental health problems”.

The report found that nearly 1.8 million adults – 45 percent of Kashmir’s adult population – suffer from some form of mental distress. A majority – 93 percent – have experienced conflict-related trauma. An average adult was found to have witnessed around eight traumatic events during his or her lifetime. More than 70 percent of adults have experienced or witnessed the sudden or violent death of someone they knew.

According to the report, 50 percent of women and 37 percent of men are likely to suffer from depression; 36 percent of women and 21 percent of men have a probable anxiety disorder; and 22 percent of women and 18 percent of men suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

The report was the third of its kind on mental health carried out by MSF. Its first two were in Iraq and Syria.

Hafiza cries as she stands at the spot where she says her son was taken [Baba Tamim/Al Jazeera]

Transmitting trauma

Indian-administered Kashmir consists of three regions: Jammu, the Kashmir Valley and Ladakh. The nearly 27-year-old armed rebellion against New Delhi’s rule has been centred in the valley, where the highest rates of mental illness are now reported.

Armed groups have been fighting against the hundreds of thousands of Indian troops stationed there – some seeking independence and some accession to Pakistan.

READ MORE: Disease, discrimination and dignity 

In 1989, the year the conflict started, around 1,700 people visited Kashmir’s only psychiatric hospital [PDF]. Last year, that number topped 100,000.

“It’s a crisis,” says Kashmiri psychiatrist Mushtaq Margoob.

“Before 1989, there were no PTSD cases, but now we have an epidemic of disorders in Kashmir. Generation after generation has been at the receiving end; anybody could get killed or humiliated – [it’s] a condition of helplessness. So, it is a transgenerational transmission of trauma.”

The ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) agrees. “Because of both [the] military and [the] militancy, people and their mental health becomes [a] casualty. We have been trying to explore options to try to address the issue,” says Waheed-ur-Rehman Para, a PDP spokesperson.

“When you live in a violent place, it affects your psychology and mental setup. All the violence, restrictions, strikes and curfews do have an impact on destabilising mental health … [The] government needs to have a comprehensive policy to deal with this grave issue.”

Hafiza’s ordeal began in the winter of 1993, when she says soldiers from the Indian Border Security Force (BSF) took her 13-year-old son Javed Ahmed as he was eating lunch with his family at their home in the southern district of Pulwama.

READ MORE: ‘Welcome to Kashmir’ 

Kashmir was under curfew as armed fighters were engaged in a standoff with Indian troops at a shrine in the Hazratbal neighbourhood of the summer capital, Srinagar.

Hafiza recalls that time.

“[The shrine] was under siege, so Javed had no school because the whole valley had [been] engulfed in tension. He had gone out to play with the children in the neighbourhood. And when he got back for food, in no time a group of troops barged into our house. In front of every one of us, they took my son. We pleaded before them, but they wouldn’t listen.”

He was never returned, she says, crying.

It was November 3, 1993. The family say they reported the case to the police and, a week later, received a copy of the First Information Report, a police report registered once a complaint is received.

The report alleged that the 13-year-old was a member of an armed group and that while he was being transported, fighters ambushed the troops in whose custody he was, triggering a gunfight on the evening of November 4.

The report claimed that Javed was able to escape under the cover of darkness during the gunfight.

But the family rejects this version of events, insisting that their son was just a normal schoolboy and that if he had escaped, he would have contacted them.

The family say they sold everything they had to hire lawyers and visit jails and military camps, searching for Javed.

“I have no idea how much money we have spent in the courts to seek justice. I sold every valuable in the house, even the carpet material,” says Hafiza’s husband, carpet-weaver turned auto-rickshaw driver Ghulam Nabi Mattu, 55. That is why, he says, their was not in a suitable living condition.

Hafiza prepares food for the family [Baba Tamim/Al Jazeera]

‘Getting mentally weaker every day’

Located in the village of Mongehoum in Pulwama province, their home is made of mud and wood. Until recently, it didn’t have any windows. But then the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons, an NGO, installed new wooden ones.

Three years after his disappearance, Javed’s sister, Ruksana, died of a heart attack. She was 14.

“My daughter died of a heart attack during Ramadan [in 1996] while searching for her brother,” Hafiza says. “She would accompany us everywhere [to look for him].”

Now, Hafiza and Ghulam are left with one child – their 30-year-old daughter Shafiqa.

“We are facing tough times. I am getting mentally weaker every day. I sought to look for a man for my daughter to marry, but they didn’t find our household to be up to their reputation and denied to marry her,” Hafiza says.

Ghulam’s disabled brother, Wali Mohammad Mattu, also lives with them.

“My disabled brother-in-law has been bedridden for the last six years. I take him out to go to the toilet and bathe [the bathroom and toilet are outside of the house] with the help of a boy from the neighbourhood every day since my husband drives an auto-rickshaw in the city [Srinagar]. If we don’t take care of him, what will people say?”

Hafiza rarely sleeps. According to her medical reports, she is suffering from a “severe reactive depression” with somatisation and migraines.

Hafiza, left, with her daughter, Shafiqa, and her husband, Ghulam [Baba Tamim/Al Jazeera]

She stopped taking her anti-depressants a week ago because the family cannot afford to pay for them.

Ghulam has his own health problems. He suffers from severe back pain, but says that if he pays for hospital tests and pain medication, his family will have to go without food.

“His old auto-rickshaw will be banned in a few months as the model is old,” Hafiza explains, worried about what the government regulation intended to control pollution levels will mean for her family.

“Why did this happen to my family?” she asks as her tears begin to fall again.

Ghulam chips in to say that he sometimes feels as though his wife has gone mad. Had Javed been here, he says, things would have been much better for their family.

“We would have definitely had a better life. He would go to school and also work part-time in the apple orchards,” Ghulam reflects.

His son used to sell ice-cream after school and had always been responsible, he explains.

“If Javed were alive, he would have been a great son and a support to the family.”

Follow Baba Tamim on Twitter: @babatamim

Hafiza must take six types of tablets a day for her medical problems, but the family says they can no longer afford the medication she needs to treat her depression [Baba Tamim/Al Jazeera]

Source: Al Jazeera

SRINAGAR, Kashmir — The street outside is patrolled by riot police officers in camouflage, bracing for the nightly spasm of violence, but it is quiet here inside the operating room. The surgeon’s knife slides into an eyeball as if it were a soft fruit.

The patient’s eyelids have been stretched back with a metal clamp, so his eyeball bulges out of glistening pink tissue. The surgeon sits with his back very straight, cutting with tiny movements of his fingers. Every now and then, a thread of blood appears in the patient’s eye socket. The patient is 8 years old.

“Very bad,” murmurs the surgeon, Dr. S. Natarajan. But then, all 13 cases he will see today will be very bad.

Since mid-July, when the current wave of protests against the Indian military presence started, more than 570 patients have reported to Srinagar’s main government hospital with eyes ruptured by lead pellets, sometimes known as birdshot, fired by security forces armed with pump-action shotguns to disperse crowds.

The patients have mutilated retinas, severed optic nerves, irises seeping out like puddles of ink. “Dead eyes,” the ophthalmology department’s chief calls them.

Every season of popular revolt in Kashmir has its marker.

This summer’s protests in the part of Kashmir controlled by India, the most sustained and violent since 2010, caught the authorities in New Delhi unaware. The stone-throwing crowds have no political leaders, put forward no specific demands and metastasized with alarming speed. Around 60 civilians and two members of the security forces have been killed; on each side, thousands have been wounded.


Kashmiri doctors and paramedics, their eyes covered by patches, protested at a hospital in Srinagar on Aug. 10. They sought to evoke the plight of victims of pellet guns fired by Indian security forces to disperse crowds. Credit Tauseef Mustafa/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

But 2016 will almost certainly be remembered as the year of dead eyes. The eye injuries have become such a focus of public anger that last week, in a conciliatory gesture, India’s home minister, Rajnath Singh, promised that the pellet guns, as they are known here, would be replaced by another type of nonlethal weapon in the coming days.

On the ophthalmology ward at the main Shri Maharaja Hari Singh Hospital, however, new patients arrive every day. Walking the hospital hallway, you first notice a handful of young men in blackout goggles. Then you see them everywhere. A weary ophthalmologist looks on from the break room as Dr. Natarajan’s young patient, waking from anesthesia, stirs and begins to moan.

“That 8-year-old boy, he will live for 70 or 80 years,” says the doctor, Afroz Khan. “The history remains there, even if it is not in the books.”

Retinal Repair

On July 9, Tariq Qureshi, the head of the ophthalmology department, was at a seminar on pediatric retinal repair.

The previous day, Indian security forces raided a village and killed Burhan Muzzafar Wani, a 22-year-old militant leader whose videos posted on WhatsApp and Facebook attracted a vast following. But major violence was not expected. Dr. Qureshi was in the seminar when his phone rang.

It was the hospital emergency room, calling to let him know that two patients had come in with pellets in their eyes. Dr. Qureshi sent a doctor over, and the seminar resumed. Ten minutes later, the phone rang again. It was the same doctor in the emergency room, telling Dr. Qureshi to come immediately, that the number of patients had risen to 15.


An Indian paramilitary trooper held a pellet gun as he stood guard on a road during a curfew. Credit Sajjad Hussain/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The four ophthalmologists, who were across the hospital campus from the emergency room, ran.

For the next 72 hours, they operated in shifts around the clock, suturing the eyes to keep the matter inside from leaking out. In most cases, it became clear, the pellets had burst into through the cornea and out through the retina, leaving little hope of fully restoring vision. Twenty-seven patients were hit in both eyes. The pellets, when they could be removed, were preserved on the heads of cotton swabs.

“Once it goes in the eye, it rotates like this, and destroys everything there inside,” Dr. Qureshi said. “It’s physics. This is a high-velocity body. It releases a high amount of energy inside. The lens, the iris, the retina get matted up.”

The doctors were told to take all possible measures to save their patients’ vision, including complex surgery, at a cost to the government of 70,000 rupees, or around $1,040, per operation, Dr. Qureshi said.

The worst cases go to Dr. Natarajan, the director of Aditya Jyot Eye Hospital in Mumbai, whose visits are facilitated by the Borderless World Foundation, a nonprofit group. Dr. Natarajan specializes in patients whose eyes have been punctured by projectiles — typically, children standing too near fireworks, or industrial workers who did not wear protective goggles, or boxers whose eyes have been punctured by thumbs.

He works in a bubble of calm, eyes pressed to a microscope, using his hands to work a cutter and a light, and using his bare feet to control the machines that surround him. On a screen opposite him is an image captured by a microscopic camera inside the boy’s eye. At times the image is cloudy, a flashlight searching in the fog; at one point there are swimming glints of colored light, like those cast by a chandelier in the sun.

In cases of catastrophic injuries, Dr. Natarajan’s goal is to save a small portion of the eye’s function, enough to sense light, or movement of a hand.


A father, who said his son had been injured by pellets shot by security forces, comforted his son earlier this month. Credit Cathal McNaughton/Reuters

“Even that minor change from zero matters a lot, for a man with no light,” Dr. Natarajan said. “It is like, if you have no money in your pocket, 10 rupees seems like big money.”

Slowly, as residents stood around him in hushed silence, the surgeon flattened out the boy’s retina, as thin and delicate as a lace doily, and used a laser to reattach it to the back of his eye.

Boys Hurling Stones

For an Indian security official, to be engulfed by a hostile crowd in Kashmir is, without a doubt, a life-threatening situation.

At sunset on Friday, Bhavesh Chaudhary, the second-in-command of the 161st Battalion of the Central Reserve Police Force, was drinking tea in the camp garden when an officer called with the news that 20 or 30 young men had begun to gather, chanting slogans. He continued drinking tea. The crowd outside kept growing.

Then, all of a sudden, Commandant Chaudhary and his troops strapped on helmets and leapt into a column of armored vehicles. As they raced through the neighborhood, masked boys appeared from the left and the right, darting out of alleyways, hurling stones. The troops sent stones rocketing back with small slingshots. The convoy halted at an intersection. Chanting could be heard, coming closer: “What do we want? Freedom!”

Commandant Chaudhary would spend the next hour and a half trying to push the crowd back. His troops may be heavily armed, but especially at sunset, when they withdraw to their encampments for the night, it is clear to everyone that they are outnumbered.

On the streets of Srinagar, which have a ghostly emptiness after 50 days of curfew, people have scrawled, “Indian dogs,” “Go India, go back,” “We love Pakistan” and “Burhan is alive in our hearts.”

Commandant Chaudhary has dedicated much of his career to battling stone-throwing crowds. He knows the current of excitement that will surge through them if they see his forces retreat even a few feet — or, more powerfully, if they see an officer fall. If the stone-throwers managed to reach the camp, he said, they would set it on fire.

“They are not afraid, that is the thing,” he said of the protesters. “Once somebody has put on a uniform and picked up a weapon, the law should be maintained, just because the person is there. That is not happening these days. We lost that in 2010.”

Indian troops use pellet guns for crowd control only in Kashmir. They were introduced in 2010, halfway through a particularly bloody season of protest. Pellet guns have been used to break up protests in Egypt, Bahrain and Tunisia, but most countries do not use them on unarmed civilians, as the pellets spray widely and cannot be aimed. For Commandant Chaudhary, who sometimes faces crowds of more than 1,000 hostile young men with a contingent of 20 or 30, it is by far the most effective weapon at his disposal.

“It causes bodily injury, so you will be feared,” he said.

His battalion commander, Rajesh Yadav, nodded at this assessment. “If you pinch them,” he said, “only then people will understand.”

This year, the use of pellets on Kashmiri protesters increased sharply, with the police firing more than 3,000 canisters, or upward of 1.2 million pellets, in the first 32 days of the protests, the Central Reserve Police Force has said.

Though troops are instructed to aim them below the waist, “sometimes it is difficult to go in for precise aimed fire at a moving, bending and running target,” the police explained in response to a lawsuit seeking to ban their use. If they are withdrawn from the arsenal, Commander Yadav said matter-of-factly, troops will have to use their firearms.

As for the government hospital, now jammed with injured protesters and sympathetic volunteers, Commander Yadav said it was no longer a safe place for his officers to go. Not long ago, one of his men sought medical help for chest pain but fled in fear of being lynched.

8-Year-Old’s Prognosis

In a recovery ward at Shri Maharaja Hari Singh Hospital, a nurse pushes a trolley down a row of beds, distributing cups of tea and slices of white bread to a row of young men in sunglasses.

To converse with them is to see new energy coursing into Kashmir’s old cycle of violence. It is difficult to find a patient here who admits to mourning the loss of his eye. They say it is an acceptable price to pay for azadi, or freedom from Indian rule. Quite a few offer to sacrifice their second eye for the cause.

Wazira Banwo, 40, is watching her 8-year-old son, Asif Sheikh, recover from surgery. The boy is curled on his side under a blanket, his head swathed in surgical gauze, woozy and sick. It was his third operation; now, with his retina reattached, he may be able to see for a distance of three to five feet, according to Dr. Natarajan.

Asked whether she was grateful to the government for providing the child medical care, Ms. Banwo grimaces.

“Not a single person from the government has come to help,” she says. “If any one of them come to me, I will tell them, ‘You give me your eyes, I will put them in my child.’”

Ms. Banwo says she often participated in anti-Indian protests herself but discouraged Asif from taking part this summer because of his youth.

On the day he was injured, she says, he just happened to be standing in the market when security forces arrived in a van and fired pellet guns.

“This time he is very young,” she says. “But he will grow. He will understand what happened to him. And he will go out to the street and throw stones.”

His left lung ruptured and bleeding, chest consumed by pneumothorax-accumulation of gas-eight-year-old Junaid Mehraj from Nawab Bazar, Srinagar, who some say was a protester and others a bystander, has been hit by pellets.Across the aisle at SMHS hospital here, Adil, a 22-year-old from Anantnag, is blinded.

If there’s growing debate around use of pellets by the CRPF in containing the unrest in Kashmir, there’s no trace of it here. In the last 24 hours, more than 30 people with pellets wounds have been brought to Srinagar’s primary hospital. The SMHS hospital, which now looks like a clinic in a war zone, has by some accounts a massive 1,200 patients being treated for pellet injuries to the eyes.

Resident medical officer, Dr Shafkat Rasool, told TOI that 800 others have bullet wounds. “There are over 2,000 patients brought here after violence broke out on July 9. Doctors have pooled in resources and all are working 14 to 15 hours daily to han dle the rush. There’s chaos all around. It’s pathetic,“ he said. The CRPF told the J&K HC recently that it had fired 1.3 million pellets in 32 days of protest -the numbers have gone up since–but that if these are banned, its men will be forced to fire bullets to push back stone-pelting mobs which charge at them in hundreds, often thousands.

The forces said pellet guns were introduced in 2010, by the NC government led by Omar Abdullah, who is now asking for an end to it.

After images of 14-year-old Insha Malik appeared in the media, her eyes bandaged and blinded by pellets, she became the personification of damage caused by these deadly weapons. Amnesty International, which has been saying pellet guns are “inherently inaccurate and indiscriminate“, and that their utilisation is “not in line with international standards on use of force“, has reiterated its opposition to it. Referring to an RTI reply , the Wire in a recent report said pellet guns are not on the list of 10 non-lethal weapons suggested by the Bureau of Police Research and Development in its standard operating procedure for tackling violence.

With violence spiralling out of control and curfew for 45 days -the death toll was 67 on Monday-all eyes are on the panel constituted on July 26 to submit its report on pellet guns.

After 12 years, BSF deployed in Srinagar

The Border Security Force, which was taken off counterinsurgency operations in J&K in 2004, was on Monday deployed in Srinagar after 12 years. BSF personnel were deployed in the commercial hub of Lal Chowk in the city and adjoining areas for law and order duties, a police official said. Civil administration officials, BSF and police brass refused to comment on the deployment.

SRINAGAR: In further deterioration of the situation in Kashmir, six persons were shot dead by the forces since Friday evening while a teenager who was undergoing treatment at Srinagar hospital succumbed to injuries, taking the death toll to 65.

A 10th class boy, Muhammad Yasir Sheikh was killed by forces in Batmaloo area of the summer capital on Friday evening, triggering massive clashes in the area.

16-year old Sheik, according to his friends, was out on a walk when he was hit by bullets in his chest, barely a kilometer away from his home.

“He was brought dead to hospital,” a doctor said.

This morning four youth were killed in firing by forces in Beerwah constituency of Budgam district in central Kashmir, day after the area has witnessed protests and clashes between youth and forces.

All the four killed persons were from Aripanthan village in Beerwah which is the home constituency of former chief minister Omar Abdullah.

A local doctor said at least 16 persons, including three women, sustained injuries in forces’ action in the area. The condition of two injured persons is said to be critical and they are undergoing treatment at SK-Institute of Medical Science in Srinagar.

“The two injured persons have bullet injuries. Their condition is very critical though they have been operated upon,” said a doctor at the hospital.

In another incident in south Kashmir’s Anantnag district, Army opened fire on people at Larkipora village of Dooru killing a teenager and wounding more than 12 persons.

Eighteen-year old Ishfaq Ahmad Bhat of Tangmarg in north Kashmir, who had suffered pellet injuries in his head, succumbed Friday evening.

The pellets had perforated Bhat’s skull, causing severe damage to his brain, a doctor said.

With situation deteriorating, authorities on Tuesday imposed massive clampdown in the summer capital and major parts of the Valley which continued to reel under curfew for the 39th straight day post Burhan encounter on July 8.

Former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah hit out at her successor Mehbooba Mufti for not owning up responsibility for the prevailing situation in Kashmir.

“Between 2009-14 everything was my fault but as of the last 4 months nothing is @MehboobaMufti’s fault (sic),” Omar wrote on Twitter.

Meanwhile, five militants were killed and a Colonel and Lieutenant Colonel of Army injured when Army foiled an infiltration bid along Line of Control in Uri Sector of Baramulla district in north Kashmir on Monday. During the gunfight, which took place at Gawalta area along the LoC, commanding officer sustained minor injuries. Also, in the Srinagar gunfight between militants and forces which ended late Mondayafternoon both the militants were killed.

(Photograph by Basit Zargar)

‘‘India has a massacre on its hands’’
By Vishwas Kulkarni

Journalist and political commentator Basharat Peer on how “Kashmir can free us all”, and why the status quo is worse than the state turning into a “jihadi hotspot”.

His 2010 memoir Curfewed Night: A Frontline Memoir of Life, Love and War in Kashmir won the Crossword Prize for nonfiction and was listed among the “Books of the Year” by The Economist and The New Yorker. As Kashmir faces its worst violence in years after the death of a young, “social-mediasavvy” separatist named Burhan Wani, with the toll reaching 47 and scores wounded and blinded by pellets, Basharat Peer talks to Mumbai Mirror about the hopes and impediments of the “Kashmir issue”. Excerpts:

What is your take on the perception of Kashmir’s necessity to India’s security, that we need it to protect ourselves from two belligerent neighbours — China and Pakistan?

India’s main border with China is in the North-East and has nothing to do with Kashmir. India and Pakistan have some of the biggest militaries and massive arsenals of nuclear weapons. Even that does not make anyone fully secure. Real security can only exist when everyone in South Asia lives without fear and lives full, dignified lives. This will truly be possible only when India and Pakistan listen to Kashmiris and find a just, equitable resolution to the dispute over Kashmir — that will free Kashmiris of the oppression, indignity and horrors our multiple generations have now lived with. That will also free India and Pakistan from their militaristic obsessions. It would be wise to see the money being spent on buying more weapons in the name of security and controlling Kashmir being used to build better hospitals and schools in every corner of India and Pakistan. Kashmir can free us all.

After the recent protests and the government’s reaction to it, is India losing the international battle diplomatically for Kashmir? Are we now on the same level as Israel?

Diplomatic battles are cynical by nature. Countries don’t behave like human beings. Nation states have interests; they don’t have feelings of shame. So that doesn’t matter. Every time a soldier kills and blinds a young Kashmiri protester whose only weapon might be a stone, India faces a moral defeat. India has a massacre on its hands.

Is the national media’s coverage of the Kashmir issue reflective of the ground situation?

There are a few honourable exceptions, but overall, the overwhelming majority of the national media is a big sham. They are hiding from the people of India what is being done in your name. It is rather shameful.

If there is a plebiscite, what would Kashmiri’s vote for — India, Pakistan or Independence?

Most Kashmiris will vote for independence. I will vote for independence.

If it is indeed declared an independent nation, can Kashmir sustain itself?

Yes. It won’t be a powerful or rich country. It will be a small country but it will sustain. Nepal gets by. Bhutan gets by. Maldives gets by. The thing with independence is dignity, not soldiers from distant lands who shoot your children, humiliate you. It is not just about economics, but the absence of humiliation.

What do people in Kashmir think about people in India?

They have our solidarity and good wishes. JNU student leader Kanhaiya Kumar famously said in a speech after his release from prison, “Hum Ko Bharat Se Nahin, Bharat Main Azadi Chahiye” (“We don’t want freedom from India, but freedom in India).” Because of Kashmir’s long brutal history with India, Kashmiris have no [more] hope of a just order within India and they are saying, “Hum Ko Bharat Se Azadi Chahiye (We want freedom from India).”

Even if independence does come to Kashmir, what will stop it from becoming a jihadist hotspot, or from balkanising into smaller units based on their allegiances to varying versions of “Islamism”?

The status quo in Kashmir is more dangerous and horrifying than any fears of it turning into a “jihadist hotspot”. And the greatest, most effective advertisement for recruitment for militant groups is the killing, blindings, the humiliation of young people in Kashmir. I feel the fears cited are highly exaggerated and used as a dubious argument to look away from the harsh reality of Kashmir today. What Kashmir has been living with is worse than any nightmarish scenario people outside Kashmir can come up with.

Are maps by themselves misleading? When you think Kashmir, you think Kashmiris. However J&K itself consists of Jammu (largely Hindu); it also consists of Leh and Ladakh, which are culturally closer to Tibet. Where do these play out in the political stalemate of the “Kashmir issue”?

Maps are constructs and artificial. But in the name of the maps, flags and borders, humanity has perpetrated its worst crimes. No cultural, ethnic or religious group should be disregarded in finding a just future for Kashmir. The arc of the moral universe is a long one, Martin Luther King Jr told us. And someday, some blessed day, it will have to bend towards justice in Kashmir.

Generation after generation in Kashmir are crushed in slow motion, and the longings of a people are inscribed on the scars and burns of their young.

A man rows his boat in Srinagar, Jammu and Kashmir. Credit: Reuters

I have been visiting Kashmir since my childhood. Over the years, the valley has taught me many hard lessons about the world. With my early trips to Kashmir, the terrain between history and reality blurred. It was the first time I realised that tragedy was not a foreign country. Its proximity was too intimate and too intense for me to ever return home again to that feeling of comfortable distance. I learnt how most of the world’s greatest crimes are executed without fuss in darkness and silence. I learnt that pain can bleed into the most beautiful things and great horrors are inflicted in the name of flags. I discovered that childhood is not always innocent, that news is not always the news, justice is never passive, laws aren’t always intended to protect, just as terrorists are not always terrorists and freedom fighters are not always freedom fighters.

Though I have travelled all over the world, I keep returning to the Valley. Sometimes I ask myself why. In spite of the many forces that vie to possess it, for me Kashmir endures as one of the most wretchedly forsaken places in the world. Though fiercely desired, the people remain monumentally unloved. Perhaps that is why I love the valley so much. Approximately 135 km long and 32 km wide, it is the site of the world’s largest and most intransigent conflicts. There are no exact figures of the dead, but by any account they number in the tens of thousands, whether a low estimate of about 20,000 by the Indian government to around 100,000 by those living there. Thousands are simply missing, many more displaced or exiled. Few know much about the lives of the soft-spoken people that dwell there, where curfews, torture, rape, detention without charge, extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances and mass graves have simply fallen into a way of life. In Kashmir, there are no hydrocarbons or diamonds buried in the soil, just roses and apple trees. And corpses.

Over the years, I have experienced the curfews, the checkpoints and the garrisoned townships. I have seen the entrails of orphanages, the countless fatherless children and the crippled bodies. I have found myself inadvertently sipping tea in national conferences observing every Kashmiri in the room silent whilst the Indian national anthem was sung. I have watched paid crowds come for staged political rallies and disperse as soon as the broadcast was over. I have seen the broken glass and bombed-out homes rotting in urban wasteland, whilst army abodes luxuriate on the choicest of locations. I have travelled behind military convoys and had my taxi battered by the batons of men riding tanks. I have spent time with the youth, played basketball with teenagers and listened to the way they speak of the artillery fire in the distance and their catalogue of beatings. I have consoled a boy whose best friend bled to death in his arms. Over and again, I have watched an entire population supplicate to men in uniform. In all of these occasions, I have seen no shred of love for the people that reside in the Valley’s folds. In fact, I have never seen such an unloved population, where the reach of compassion evades even the infant, the elderly and society’s most vulnerable.

It is for this reason that when I think of Kashmir, I do not think of polemics between good and evil. I do not think of India and Pakistan. It is of no consequence to me whether Kashmir falls under the aegis of one flag or another, or whether it gains independence. I do not see politics. I see real people and real suffering. I see the orphans and the bullet-riddled bodies of children. I see the sad eyes of wailing mothers. I see the taciturn teenagers watching, remembering. I see generation after generation being relentlessly crushed in slow motion. Somewhere even now a child is being silently broken. The longings of a people are inscribed on the scars and burns of their young.


In the last couple of weeks, almost sixty more fledgling lives were cut short by violence, with hundreds more children permanently blinded by bullets, among them a five year old boy. All this because the life of another youth was extinguished. Lest it be forgotten, 22-year-old Burhan Wani – whose death was recently celebrated in India as the vanquishing of a terrorist, despite there being no official record of him ever launching an armed attack – chose to confront the army on social media as a direct result of personal persecution by the security forces as a child. For the hundreds of thousands of Kashmiris who took to the streets to join his funeral procession, Wani was David against Goliath, the young cricketing teenager who dared, bare-face, to take on the might of one of the most powerful militaries in the world, knowing full well his trajectory would entail the ultimate sacrifice. In response to the popular mass uprising that took hold of the valley following his death, the government imposed an indefinite curfew with shoot to kill orders for any who defied it, shut down the printing press and switched off the phone lines. This summer in Kashmir, there will be no wedding songs as a people continue to mourn their dead.

At a certain point, aloofness gives over to complicity and becomes a wrong. There is a point when witnessing is no longer an option and one must speak up. The heart grows heavy with the lack of love. It is for this reason that I am writing. But what can you say for a people so comprehensively ignored and misappropriated? When their lives are played out for sport and their stories are constantly misrepresented? When their protests are lethally quelled? When their children are butchered in daylight, and their guardians have turned aggressors?  When there is so little compassion around them?

Come to the valley.

Come to the valley. I do not care what caste or creed you belong to. It does not matter to me if you wear a veil, turban or vermillion on your head. It does not matter if your freedom is painted in emerald, saffron or another colour, only come to the valley. Come to Kashmir.  Come with your open souls. Come with your videos, cameras and pens. Go deeper than the Polaroid shikaras and the colourful picnic spots. Go off the beaten track into the townships, the hamlets and the villages. Go into the homes. Talk to the people. See their lives. Touch their flesh. Bury their dead. Feel as they do. Go deep, deep into their hearts. Witness their pain. Come wherever you are. It is not too late to find all that has been lost. Come to the valley of love. Empathy is the most we can hope for. Perhaps one day before it is too late enough hearts that can make a difference will learn to feel the same.

Shama Naqushbandi, is a British author, her first novel is The White House, winner of ‘Best Novel’, Brit Writers Awards (

Jameela and her husband Abdul Rashid Khan (60) were drinking tea in their kitchen when they heard CRPF personnel chasing youths outside their house, located near the Srinagar-Jammu national highway.

Written by Sofi Ahsan | Srinagar |

Srinagar: Nurses and paramedics hold placards and shout slogans during a protest rally against the killing of 55 civilians and use of pellet guns by forces, outside SMHS Hospital in Srinagar on Monday. PTI Photo (PTI8_8_2016_000199A)Nurses and paramedics hold placards and shout slogans during a protest rally against the killing of 55 civilians and use of pellet guns by forces, outside SMHS Hospital in Srinagar on Monday. (Source: PTI)A 55-year-old woman died of a cardiac arrest at Bemina in Kashmir after a CRPF personnel allegedly trained his gun at her on Thursday evening.

Jameela and her husband Abdul Rashid Khan (60) were drinking tea in their kitchen when they heard CRPF personnel chasing youths outside their house, located near the Srinagar-Jammu national highway.

On hearing the smashing of window panes, Jameela rushed upstairs. “When she looked through the broken windowpane, a CRPF man pointed his gun towards her. She collapsed right there,” Khan told The Indian Express. She was rushed to a hospital where she was declared “brought dead”.


A CRPF spokesperson said stone pelting was going on in the area when the woman died. “She (Jameela) died of cardiac arrest. It has become fashionable for people to blame the CRPF for everything,” he said.

The elderly couple have two daughters, both of whom are married. Khan suffers from diabetes and urinary problems. “She would take me to the hospital and also give me medicine on time,” said Khan, breaking down.

Khan sells blankets and has also rented out two rooms in his house. “He does not have any support now,” a neighbour said. Local residents accused personnel of a nearby CRPF camp of attacking their houses whenever any protest took place on the highway.

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