Conflict, Gendered Violence and the Mental Health Crisis in Kashmir
There is no doubt that there is a mental health crisis brewing in Jammu and Kashmir, with a report released recently suggesting that 1.8 million adults suffer some mental distress — 50% of women and 37% of men suffer from probable depression. The fault-lines in Kashmir are well-documented, but the conflict is taking its toll in terms of trauma and broader mental health issues.
The same study cited showed that from 1989 till 2015, the number of patients going to psychiatric clinics increased from 1,700 to 100,000. Almost 50% of the adult population continues to suffer from some form of mental distress, and 93% percent of the mental health crisis is conflict-inflicted trauma.
Furthermore, the survey has shown that 22% women are going through post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). These statistics have an inevitable connection with the political instability and violence the state continues to suffer.
“The level of mental trauma is so severe that almost every Kashmiri has a traumatic childhood memory”, says Essar Batool, one of the authors of the book Do you remember Kunan Poshpora? She tells Shethepeople.TV, “As a child, and even now as an adult I remember how Indian armed forces barged into my home with their shoes on and asked for our identity cards”.
There is also a ruthless form of gendered violence as well; the rise of post traumatic stress disorder in the light of recent events explains the vulnerability of a particular gender in relation with the conflict. It is the very nature of war that puts women at the edges of victimhood, while the actual political conflict is a confrontation between states, militants and security forces. A research study called ‘Life in Conflict’ has declared that women as members of community continue to suffer because of the ‘superwoman’ image attached to a woman – as wives, as daughters, and as care-givers of the social set up.
“The circle of conflict and gendered violence is so vicious and patterned that the solution cannot be merely be political — rather a human approach needs to be followed”, Lubna Qadri, Kashmiri women’s rights activist tells SheThePeople.TV.
The statistics in the report released in 2015 point out the prevalence of symptoms of PTSD as highest in the districts of Baramulla, Shopian with 20-25% and Budgam as 26-27%. While both Baramulla and Shopian have witnessed incidents of disappearances, mass graves and mass rapes, the latter has witnessed an extensive level of militancy.
“As a social activist, I have come across several other experiences wherein men are generally victims of depression and schizophrenia and women become targets of post traumatic stress disorder,” Essar says.
Another research study suggests the deplorable condition of ‘waiting women’ or what we have come to know as ‘half-widows’. According to estimates, there are 1,500 women identified as half-widows; half-widows as defined by feminist and publisher Urvashi Butalia are women “whose husbands are assumed dead but there is no proof they actually are”. The half-widows live under miserable financial conditions (a prime reason for lack of access to quality medical treatment). According to the data, 35% of them continue to suffer from mental disorders.
According to both Lubna and Essar, the burden of gendered violence lays on the shoulders of women first, because in a family that multi-pronged role played by women leaves them in a submissive subordinate position and secondly, because women are the ‘subjects’ of further victimisation when men are going through unstable mental condition. Therefore, ‘woman’ as a gender becomes a double oppressed category in the context of conflict. Furthermore, when it comes to crimes as heinous as rape and sexual harassment the widespread impunity given to the armed forces under AFSPA is a reason for an ample amount of mistrust towards the mechanisms of justice.
There are several barriers to seeking treatment — be it the lack of psychiatric services or an indifferent attitude towards ‘talk therapy’ or ‘counselling’. The mental health facilities in Kashmir remain segregated and are largely confined to the Government Psychiatric Disease Hospital, Srinagar, which caters for the population of 7 million. This remains the significant reason for the need for decentralisation of mental health services, as expressed by many focus groups discussions during the survey.
The solution for Kashmir’s mental health crisis requires a multi-pronged approach, including an increase of awareness and access. But that alone won’t be enough. As Lubna says, “The past and present infirmities are physical, emotional and mental in nature, the resolution of which lies on both human and political grounds. Anything less than that will be a palliative cure”.
Views expressed are personal. Manisha Chachra is a freelance researcher and writer pursuing her Mphil at Jawaharlal Nehru University.