Health appears to be no priority in Kashmir. Last week, the world health day (April 7) passed off as a non-event in Kashmir. The matter of the fact is that Kashmir is the unhealthiest place to live in, not for the environmental pollution but for the turbulence and disorder it has been going through for the three decades. Doctors say that not a single person in the valley can claim to be fully healthy. Every person including doctors is suffering from one or the other disease. The deaths and injuries which have become a routine affair have a devastating impact on the peoples’ psyche and a number of psychological diseases have engulfed common people. According to the Global Burden of Disease Study, mental health/suicide is the top reason for human deaths. And Kashmir being no exception. Official figures reveal that 272 cases of suicide were reported in 2016, which increased to 275 in 2017. About 263 people committed suicide in 2013. The real number is believed to be far higher, as a lot of suicide attempts are said to remain unreported due to the associated social stigma. Officials at SMHS hospital say that they receive 2-3 cases of suicide every day. Of late, suicides have become the major killer in Kashmir, only second to militancy. Since January this year, at least, 10 persons are reported to have died by committing suicide in various parts of the valley. Though the immediate cause of suicides, in majority of cases, is said to be domestic problems but psychiatrists say that the long-drawn armed conflict has affected a large section of the population negatively that prompts them to take extreme steps even on slightest provocation. They say that Kashmir has become the den of psychiatric patients, and if steps are not taken to address this, it would have serious repercussions on the future generations. The seriousness of the situation can be gauged from the fact that the solitary government-run hospital for psychiatric diseases in Srinagar is recording the arrival of dozens of fresh cases of patients every day. Even as experts would have us believe it was a “global phenomenon,” the prevailing conditions and unending political uncertainty in the valley have combined to take a heavy toll on the mental health of its people. At present, around 150 patients suffering from various psychological ailments are admitted in the hospital every day, and their count is increasing with each day. Lately, a new category of patients are reporting at the hospital whose psychological disorders are traced to increasing competition and industrial activity. A few years back, psychological disorder was attributed only to present conflict but, at present, there are multiple reasons behind the increasing numbers of psychological problems. Majority of them are related to environmental stress and over-burden of work. The valley has been going through a virtual hell for around three decades now with thousands of women losing their husbands, sons and other dear ones in the on-going turmoil. While most such affected women, mostly widows, are living in abject misery and penury, thousands of women have been traumatized following the enforced disappearance of their husbands after being picked up randomly by police or security forces. Described as “half widows” their plight is far more poignant as they assemble in or around the city centre at Srinagar every month to demand the whereabouts of their missing husbands from the callous government. Lately, there has also been a sharply upward trend in suicides, with teenagers or youth being the victims in most cases. The alarming tendency is traced to several factors, including the increasing pressure of studies. Rampant unemployment among the educated youth has led to a highly explosive situation marked by growing frustration. Thousands of the desperate youth are believed to have become drug addicts as a result. Sadly, the state government, which is never tired of churning out lofty promises of moons and stars to the people, is brazenly unconcerned about this disturbing situation. In spite of claiming an investment of hundreds of crores of rupees on the improvement of healthcare infrastructure it has failed to provide for an effective and matching response to the mental health problems facing more than 90 per cent of the state population. With the number of patients swelling by the day, the valley’s only Psychiatric Diseases hospital in downtown Srinagar, having outlived its age, is pathetically ill-equipped to cater to their needs. It is time the government got its priorities right and initiated comprehensive measures for addressing the grave problem in the right earnest.
January 21, the day when it all started
January 21 is the unforgettable day in today’s Kashmir. It was on this day in 1990 that around 50 unarmed civilians were savagely killed and more than 100 others wounded in indiscriminate use of firearms by the central reserve police force (CRPF) at Gawkadal in Srinagar. It was a peaceful procession by all means. Thousands of unarmed civilians from uptown localities of Raj Bagh, Jawahar Nagar, Batamaloo and other surrounding localities had taken out the procession and were marching on the streets when CRPF men encountered them at Gawkadal. The state administration, then or now had never been able to reason out as what made the CRPF men to go berserk.
A common refrain in the peoples’ circles in Kashmir is that the massacre had the state approval. It was meant to cause horror among local population to submit to the authority and power of Jagmohan, who had taken control of the state government as Governor just two days before. Jagmohan was appointed governor against the wishes of chief minister Farooq Abdullah. He took it a ruse and resigned from the government. This was second time that Jagmohan was appointed as governor of Jammu and Kashmir. People of the state had a mixed bag of sweet and bitter memories of his first stint. He acted as Indira Gandhi’s stooge to dislodge Farooq Abdullah’s elected government in 1984 to bring Ghulam Mohammad Shah as chief minister of the state. In 1986, he dismissed Shah’s government under an engineered pretext of communal clash at Wanpoh village in south Kashmir’s Kulgam district to see himself at the helm of affairs. This way he came to be known as anti people and anti democracy bulldozer. After taking control of the state administration, he however, tried to rework his image by taking some developmental initiatives. However, his communal instinct awoke when majority of Muslim candidates were ignored in admissions in professional colleges—medical and engineer in particular. This created a massive unrest in the valley which ultimately led to restoration of NC-Congress coalition government.
In 1990 he was reappointed as Governor in the backdrop of very volatile situation. Armed uprising against Indian rule had started with massive public support. Since no action was ever taken against the guilty CRPF men involved in the carnage, it is widely believed that Jagmohan had very obnoxious and lethal plans to undo the Kashmiri movement. Most people in Kashmir believe that the January 21 massacre was a part of this plan. Two days before (January 19), just a few hours after he took over as the state reigns, Kashmir Pandits started migration from the valley. Most of them were provided transportation facilities by the state government itself, and in many cases security was also provided to the fleeing Pandits giving the impression that the state administration had vested interested in assisting Pandits to leave the valley. Gawkadal Massacre was followed by other half a dozen even more heinous incidents of mass killings. The Tengpora Bypass and Zakoora Crossing killings on March 1 in which around 46 persons (26 at Tengpora and 20 at Zakoora) were done to death by the CRPF. Around 30 people were killed in yet another massacre at Karfalli Mohalla with more than 20 others at Handwara. The Hawal massacre was the culmination when around 50 persons were massacred during funeral procession of Mirwaiz Molvi Mohammad Farooq. Though Jagmohan was recalled after the Hawal carnage, the bloody footprints he left behind are still visible. Since the bloodshed continues unabatedly, it is unlikely for the valley people to forget the day when it all started.
Politics of deceit
Far away from the ideal perspective, success in politics demands one to have the ability to control truth and lies and, more importantly, the middle ground between the two. These days, the politicians of Jammu and Kashmir are clearly following this ‘success mantra’. We see them cautiously choosing their words depending upon the audience they are addressing. In the valley, they pose as the messiahs of the people, trying to warp the listeners with their politicking of deceit and double-talk. Elsewhere, they conjure tricks up their sleeve: When in Rome do as the Romans do. While ‘autonomy’ and ‘Kashmir struggle’ become a dominant part of their glossed glossary here, elsewhere, it is ‘Kashmir belongs to India’ parroting that defines their boondoggle of political careers.
Be it the leaders of National Conference or Peoples Democratic Party, their seemingly heartfelt gestures on and about Kashmiris and Kashmir these days are a perfect example of this paradox. Few would dispute with the fact that politics of deception has become a fundamental technique for survival in politics. This is practiced by almost all the politicians in the state. In the midst of all this experimentation is the commoner in Kashmir finding him/herself turned into a lab-rat, peeled and pricked, ridiculed and tricked, again and again. Politicians here are stricken with recreating the tapestry of their fake achievements embedded in the notion of selective amnesia. They pull and tear each other down in an attempt to what is being referred to as ‘regaining lost ground’. What ‘gain’ on which ‘ground’ depends where they stand and deliver their cantankerous speeches–ones that make a lot of noise but change not a bit. We are dog-tired questioning the politicians, who zealously pursue their politics of balancing truth and lies. It is the seemingly sheep of a people here (read every section of the society including the media) that makes an interesting case. Bedazzled and bamboozled we become each time the politicians juggle in front of us. Their tricks are old and repeated, bereft of any pledge, turn and prestige. But as nonchalantly as ever, we always rouse to them in tumultuous applause. We march on their chants exactly how Orwell’s ‘sheep’ did to ‘Napoleon’ in ‘Animal Farm’. The world apparently knows Kashmir as a place of confrontation and struggle, but the rules here are not that hard and fast. They are always moulded in the cauldron of lies and fake hopes. It is not surprising that politicians come back to people, impenitent and equally poised, knowing that they will ultimately get what they want from them. Suggestions aside, it is time to shatter that poise and make them aware of their wrongdoings. It is time to stand-up, ask those tough questions and not take trickery or blabber as an answer.
For the immediate attention of the Governor
It is an oft-repeated story. The winter’s only blessing and charm—snow—always turns into curse in Kashmir. People, who, generally, crave for the snowfall in winter, rue when it actually happens. Not that there is something wrong with the aesthetic and arty sense of the people, but because of the problems they are subjected to after the snowfall. It goes without saying that the snow is the only attraction for people in winter. This year God has been quite gracious to bestow His blessing on Kashmir in the shape of snow. It is for the third time that the valley witnessed a rich snowfall adding a new charm to this beautiful part of the world. The entire valley and its surrounding mountain peaks give a striking charm with white snow capping and covering them all. Social media is agog with photographs and videos of snow accumulating on streets, house lawns, trees and house tops. Videos capturing citizens celebrating the snow fall with awesome charm gave a new meaning and sense to the winter. The whisper of swirling and falling snowflakes evoked a sense of extra delight, marking the arrival of a new feeling to hold onto, this charm captures the imagination and beauty of winter. The snowfall gave a respite to the valley people in some other way as well. The valley had been reeling under harsh cold coupled with dryness causing serious problems like scarcity of water as water bodies and taps had got frozen under sub zero temperature. The snowfall has lessened these problems to some extent. But the peoples’ joy, as always, proved short-lived as new and more problems serious in nature and consequences are staring at their faces. In fact the problems of the people begin with the fall of the first flake of the snow. Power and road connectivity are the first to become the casualties, exposing the traditional lackadaisical and easygoing attitude. As the authorities were yet to overcome the problems that overtook the valley due to January 7 snowfall, this week’s snowfall (on Wednesday) came as another ruse for them to conceal their worthlessness.
Kashmir is snow prone region since its existence. It is not something unexpected or unforeseen has happened. The basic question is why the power supply system is so fragile that three or four inch snow dashes it to the ground. Kashmir is not the only place where there is snowfall. But Kashmir is the only place where everything gets buried under snow—the government in the very first place. Snow falls every winter in Kashmir, and the problems get repeated every time there is a snowfall. The government should have taken all this into consideration well before the time, and efforts should have been made to make maximum of the minimum. But here everything goes in reverse direction. It is not only the power supply that has affected the lives of the people. The road connectivity has also got badly affected in the wake of the snowfall. Most of the roads and streets in capital Srinagar are under snow. Nobody from the Municipality or Public Works department is seen anywhere on the streets clearing or monitoring the road clearance. Srinagar Municipal Corporation, which has an army of people to meet such eventualities, appears to be under deep slumber.
What has made the situation even worse is the water logging on crucial city centers. The exhibition chowk, Jahangir Chow, Hari Singh High Street, Lal Chowk, Regal Chowk and several other surrounding localities have turned into water pools and lakes due to water logging. The drainage system seems to have failed completely.The state government which has moved to Jammu for the winter season is basking in the sunny and warm weather. The valley has been handed over to a few bureaucrats with divisional commissioner as their head, who have ensconced themselves to their cozy offices. The essential commodities and eatables of daily use too have disappeared from the market. They are being sold in black against whopping prices. There is no control over prices. Governor S P Malik, who is currently head of the government, needs to take stock of the worsening situation in the valley, and activate his machinery to mitigate the peoples’ problems. He speaks on everything that comes his way but is turning a blind eye to the daily problems of the valley people.