Exposure to Violence Led to Formidable Mental Health Crisis in Kashmir: Lancet

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Waquar Hasan | Caravan Daily

LONDON – The prestigious British medical journal, The Lancet, has come out with a strong editorial expressing its “serious concerns for the health, safety, and freedoms of the Kashmiri people” after the Prime Minister Narendra Modi led BJP Government in India locked down the entire state for revoking its special status since August 5.

Under the title, “Fear and Uncertainty around Kashmir’s Future”, the editorial pointed to the huge presence of military forces, communication blackout and continued lockdown for the last 15 days which creates the reason for concerns for the health and safety of the people of Kashmir.

“At least 28,000 Indian security forces have been deployed; in the capital city Srinagar, a lockdown has been implemented that suspended communication and internet links, and a strict curfew has been imposed. The militant presence raises serious concerns for the health, safety, and freedoms of the Kashmiri people,” noted the editorial.

The editorial termed the decision to revoke the special status of Jammu and Kashmir “controversial”. “Last week in a controversial move, India revoked the autonomous status of Jammu and Kashmir, allowing India greater authority over the state’s affairs”.

It talks about the “bloody conflict” the state has witnessed in the last decades and the 50,000 deaths which the conflict claimed in those days. Referring to an UN report, it raised concerns over gross human rights violations happened in the state.

“According to a report by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, published last month, gross human rights violations by state security forces and armed groups have occurred, including cross-border firings, sexual violence, enforced disappearances, and acts of terrorism. The report emphasises continued use of excessive force against civilians—for example, the use of pellet-firing shotguns has led to 1253 people being blinded between 2016 and 2018,” the weekly magazine noted.

However, it has accepted that Kashmir is better than other Indian states in terms of development indicators but said the prolonged violence and conflict has created “formidable mental health crisis” in Kashmir.

“Despite decades of instability, developmental indicators suggest that Kashmir is doing well compared with the rest of India. In 2016, life expectancy was 68·3 years for men and 71·8 years for women, which are greater than the respective national averages. However, the protracted exposure to violence has led to a formidable mental health crisis,” said the weekly journal.

Citing a study to assess the impact of violence on the people of Kashmir, it said, “A Médecins Sans Frontières study in two rural districts affected by conflict stated that nearly half of Kashmiris rarely felt safe and of those who had lost a family member to violence, one in five had witnessed the death firsthand. Therefore, it is unsurprising that people in the region have increased anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder”.

Irked by the editorial, Indian Medical Association (IMA), in an open letter to the editor-in-chief of the journal Richard Horton, slammed the prestigious medical journal for interfering with the “internal matters” of India. The IMA said it, on the behalf of Indian medical fraternity, will withdraw the term “esteem” they had for the Lancet.

Here is the full text of the editorial published on August 17:

Last week, in a controversial move, India revoked the autonomous status of Jammu and Kashmir, allowing India greater authority over the state’s affairs. The announcement fanned tension with Pakistan, which also claims the region and has fought India over it for more than seven decades. At least 28, 000 Indian security forces have been deployed; in the capital city Srinagar, a lockdown has been implemented that suspended communication and internet links, and a strict curfew has been imposed. The militant presence raises serious concerns for the health, safety, and freedoms of the Kashmiri people.

Since the insurgency of Kashmir in 1989, the state has experienced bloody conflict from both sides, resulting in more than 50,000 deaths. According to a report by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, published last month, gross human rights violations by state security forces and armed groups have occurred, including cross-border firings, sexual violence, enforced disappearances, and acts of terrorism. The report emphasises continued use of excessive force against civilians—for example, the use of pellet-firing shotguns has led to 1253 people being blinded between 2016 and 2018. Both India and Pakistan have largely dismissed the report’s recommendations to end the abuse.

Despite decades of instability, developmental indicators suggest that Kashmir is doing well compared with the rest of India. In 2016, life expectancy was 68·3 years for men and 71·8 years for women, which are greater than the respective national averages. However, the protracted exposure to violence has led to a formidable mental health crisis. A Médecins Sans Frontières study in two rural districts affected by conflict stated that nearly half of Kashmiris rarely felt safe and of those who had lost a family member to violence, one in five had witnessed the death firsthand. Therefore, it is unsurprising that people in the region have increased anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi vows that his decision to revoke autonomy will bring prosperity to Kashmir. But first, the people of Kashmir need healing from the deep wounds of this decades-old conflict, not subjugation to further violence and alienation.

 

 

 

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