By Hirra Azmat
Srinagar, May 09: “Which game should we play today? Let us play the tiger-tiger game. Wait! Where are you going? I will get my gun first.”
Shakir, a 9-year-old boy, and his friend and classmate Farhan are often seen playing this game nowadays.
Both of them have collected broken bats and sticks that they call “guns”.
They romp around the courtyard of the house shouting the word “encounter”, frequently.
In this ‘game’, Shakir plays Sameer Ahmad Bhat alias Sameer Tiger, the militant who was killed in south Kashmir recently. Farhan acts as his associate, Aquib Ahmad Bhat, who too was killed in the same encounter.
“My kid is getting totally affected by this unending cycle of encounters and killings. He tries to emulate everything he sees on TV or newspapers,” Shakir’s father said in an anxious tone.
“Every morning, Shakir asks me the same question: ‘Humein aaj school jaana hai ki nahi? (Are we to go school today or no?)’”
In another disturbing case, the mother of 13-year-old Raed got alarmed when her son asked what actually did the word ‘surrender’ mean.
This conversation took place in the backdrop of recent killing of University Professor Mohammad Rafi Bhat along with two Hizbul Mujahhin commanders in Shopian.
Before his death, the police had asked the professor’s family to persuade him to surrender.
“My son read the news about this professor. What followed was a barrage of queries: ‘Why do people surrender? Does surrender save life? Did this guy surrender too?’” she said with a distraught face.
Children happen to be the most susceptible to the impact of conflicts. According to a recent report by JKCCS, a human rights body, about 318 children have lost their lives since 2003 in Kashmir, most of them shot dead.
However, the psychological trauma suffered by the children is now beginning to show up.
One contributing factor has been the frequent closure of schools and colleges after 2016 due to prolonged curfews, shutdowns, or protests.
This year has been no different, as the schools have repeatedly been closed to avoid the protests by students.
From March 1 till April 15, for example, schools in north and central Kashmir including private institutions opened for “just 20 days”, official sources had told the Kashmir Monitor earlier.
The number of working days at the schools in south Kashmir was even lesser with the institutions there being able to conduct classes for “just 13 days” in the last month and a half, the sources had said.
Naturally, children are thus forced to stay home all day, and vulnerable to unhealthy behaviors.
Dr Muzaffar, Consultant Psychologist at Centre for Mental Health Services, Help Foundation, said, “Education always becomes the first casualty in a conflict zone.”
“The continued curfews and strikes create uncertainty in the children who are not able to maintain their academic calendar. As a result, they drift towards hopelessness,” he said.
“The sudden change in the routine can result in irritation, aggression and frustration among kids.”
Dr Arif Magribi Khan, a doctor in community psychiatry, echoed similar views, saying the closure of schools results in “behavioral changes” among kids.
“Kids can show bouts of anger and agitations where as teenagers can fall to cigarette smoking which is a gateway to drugs,”
Khan regretted, “The continuous disruption in the school activity severely affects their concentration levels and makes it difficult for them to get back to normal schedule.”
The psychologists urged the parents to “increase their levels of interactions with the kids” and “assign them with tasks that make their days fruitful”.