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The Kashmir conflict, which killed at least 35,000 people since 1989, has sired a generation of children lost to hate and fear. They grow up in the no man's land between politics and war. This series focuses on them, the children of an unfortunate conflict.


'I Don't Want To See Death'
About This Series

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[You are on page 3 of this series. Read the previous page.]

ORPHANHOOD brings with it another devastating, at times more permanent, damage. That of the mind.

The Yatheem Trust shelters these orphans. Most orphanages in Kashmir function in rented buildings, with limited seats and limited facilities.
Photo: Mohammad Shafi
Vinod Kumar suffered it -- the government officials who took care of him after the massacre described him as "mentally alert but depressed and frightened" -- as did, do, Naseema and her siblings.

Psychiatrists categorise this as PTSD, post-traumatic stress disorder. It can accompany any kind of trauma. Like, loss of a loved one or witnessing a violent incident.

Dr Wahid Khan, a leading mental health practitioner in Srinagar, put it in perspective, thus: "A child normally identifies himself with the father. The father is his role model, the person whom he looks up for everything. So when the child loses him he is losing his identifying figure. He becomes insecure, lost.

"The death of the father mostly also spells lesser material resources. So the child finds himself at a loss to cope with his normal counterparts, which leads to the feeling he is inferior to others."

Add to this the strain of living7 in Kashmir, caught between two guns, with bloodshed colouring your moods every single day, and you grasp the enormity of the burden the orphans carry.

"Just living under stress, as everyone in Kashmir do, is enough to cause disorders," said Dr Hamidullah, head of the Hospital for Psychiatric Diseases, Srinagar. "The additional problems associated with an orphan will only compound the stress."

Even otherwise, said Dr Mushtaq A Margoob, a reputed psychiatrist from Kashmir, all children go through some trouble during adolescence. On top of this they have had to put with the uncommon tension all around.

"This has forced them to bottle their natural aggression, their fears," he said. "Everything builds up in them and comes out as conduct and behavioural disorders, irritability, distractibility, aggression and the like."

If in Naseema's case the disorder is manifested as depression and fear (she is listless, cannot bear loud noises or the sight of armed men without her heart "beating as it would break", and has nightmares), it used to come out as unbridled aggression with Ashiq (name changed).

At one of Srinagar's orphanages, he said security forces shot his father in 1992, when he was five or six. They had arrived in his village one evening, seeking revenge after they came under fire from militants.

They lined up all the men, and told them to run, the boy continued -- and as they ran, the soldiers fired on them.

"Ashiq came to us so angry and irritable," a social worker remembered. "We used to wonder why he shouted and got violent for no reason. It took about four months of psychiatric treatment for him to be in control of himself."

But the boy still carries the mental scars. Like Naseema, he is affected by loud noises. And he cannot bear someone crying.

"My head aches then," he said. "I don't want to see death."

Unfortunately in Kashmir, mental health is a neglected area like it is in most of India. The need for psychiatry is yet to be recognised and consequently, a very small percentage of the orphans have received any sort of counselling/treatment.

In any case, even if the guardians were to seek psychiatric help for their wards, there just aren't enough facilities. There is only one psychiatric hospital, less than 10 psychiatrists, and very few counsellors in the whole of Kashmir Valley.

This translates into an incredible statistic at the Hospital for Psychiatric Diseases. A doctor sees over 60 patients a day, which, a psychiatrist said, is "at least 52 more than what he should".

IF you meet a lot of people in Kashmir, and ask all you meet about it, you will eventually get an idea of the skeletal support system that exists there for orphans.

You will find: there are 20 orphanages in the Valley, with limited seats and even limited facilities, mostly run from rented, ramshackle buildings; which together boards less than 700 of Kashmir's 18,000 orphans; and the government and NGOs offer some assistance8 to them.

You will also come across a study by sociologist Dr Bashir Ahmad Dabla, Impact of conflict situation on women and children in Kashmir, which tells you the inadequacy of the support system.

"The most crucial problems... the children faced after the death of their father included economic hardships (48.33 per cent), psychological setback (22.00 per cent), denial of love and affection (13.66 per cent), and apathy by relatives and friends (08.66 per cent)."

Dr Dabla's efforts showed that 86 of the 300 orphans he surveyed received financial help from relatives, 67 from government organisations, 36 from NGOs, and 24 from other sources like neighbours and well-wishers.

But the rest, the single largest group of 87 orphans received no help at all. And consequently, as Dr Dabla notes, most of them began to work in the carpet, handicrafts and agriculture sectors, which together employees at the very least 71,0009 child labourers.

Further, the study says the assistance from the government took a long time in reaching; and though it was "more regular and durable", it was inadequate: "75 per cent of orphans showed dissatisfaction in this regard."

Kashmir Divisional Commissioner Khurshid Ganai estimates that the government would need around Rs 360 million per month if it were to provide "adequate financial relief -- Rs 1,500 per family -- to the orphans". Which it doesn't have.

What Needs To Be Done

A detailed survey to identify
Provisions for a monthly allowance
      of at least Rs 1,500.
Avenues for psychiatric help,
More orphanages and more seats
      in the operational ones.
Encouraging NGOs, social workers
      to come into Kashmir.
Measures to check corruption
     like transparency in financial
     dealings and accountability.
Avenues to address psychological setback, the second crucial problem the orphans face according to Dr Dabla, too are limited.

"A solution would be to impart basic psychiatry to all physicians in Kashmir," said Dr Wahid Khan. "The people do not know enough to approach a psychiatrist, so normally they go to physicians. If trained, the doctors can help them, or refer the needy to us.

"We also need a number of trained counsellors. Many of the cases that come to us can be set right with psychological debriefing [letting the patient talk about the incident that is bothering him] and some counselling.

"And, yes, we need more psychiatrists too... I would say around 15 to 20. This would ensure there is at least one in each district hospital and enough staff in Srinagar."

Adrienna Carter, a clinical psychologist with Medicins Sans Frontieres, agrees. She says 'guidance counselling', which her organisation tested in Kosovo successfully, would go a long way in Kashmir too.

"Like in Kashmir, counselling was not a known factor there," she said. "So we recruited about 25 people, physicians, nurses, social workers and trained them in counselling.

"They went out with mobile mental health clinics, debriefing people. For a day every week, they became counsellors. It was extremely effective."

For these measures, more NGOs should come into the Valley. As of now, there are only a few functioning among children -- among them, the Yatheem Trust, HELP Foundation, Save the Children Fund and the Muslim Welfare Society.

"About 30,000 NGOs work all over India," said Yatheem Trust official A R Hanjoora. "But not one has come forward with a special programme for the increased number of orphans in Kashmir."

True, agrees Ashiq Kashmiri, chairman and general secretary of the Muslim Welfare Society. "And that's because the world still does not know what our children are undergoing," he said. "A concentrated effort is needed to publish their plight and route help to them."

Equally important, if not more so, is an end to the violence. As Dr Dabla notes, there is no conflict in what the orphans want for future:

A peaceful society free from stress and bloodshed, a society where there are no homeless.

A postscript:
Remember, in the 24 hours after you forget about these orphans, Kashmir will sire six more. In the next 10 days there will be 60, in a month 180, and by next year 2,160 more.

Page 4: Life, From An Arm's Length

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This article is part of Chindu Sreedharan's study on the Impact of Militancy on the Children of Kashmir, as a National Foundation for India Fellow for 2000-2001.

Page Design: Rajesh Karkera

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