Already considered an epidemic before India’s revocation of regional autonomy, Kashmiris have been plunged into another crisis affecting their psychiatric health.
Filmmaking student Faiq Faizan left his native Kashmir with his parents when he was just four years old and the Indian capital of New Delhi has been home ever since.
The 25-year-old was spared the worst excesses of the conflict in his home region and was therefore relatively detached from the experience of Kashmiris who have witnessed decades of armed conflict.
That mindset shifted with the revocation of the region’s constitutionally-guaranteed nominal autonomy in August, known as Article 370, by the hard-right Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government.
He said for the first time he felt alienated and humiliated in his adopted home of Delhi.
The mental strain of the anti-Kashmiri sentiment and lack of empathy for natives of the region that came coupled with the repealing of Article 50 forced him to act, not just to help himself but others too.
Faizan and his friends organised mental health workshops for Kashmiris in Delhi suffering from anxiety, repression of mental health issues, trauma, and depression.
With the help of a psychotherapist, they have succeeded in making Kashmiris aware of mental health and its significance.
Nevertheless, Faizan still believes that the issue of how Kashmiris deal with decades of war and political tumult has not properly been addressed.
The crisis, which pitted Kashmiris seeking independence against the Indian state, has resulted in a litany of psychological ailments, exacerbated by recent developments, such as a lockdown on communications in Indian-administered Kashmir that has left the people of the region isolated from goings on both locally and internationally.
Since 1987, Kashmiris have experienced direct armed conflict but also abuses by Indian forces, in what is one of the most densely militarised regions in the world. Human rights groups have long recorded such violations.
They include acts of individual violence, such as invasive body frisking, beatings, and sexual, as well as physical abuse. Examples of collective violence include home searches, curfews, and the brutal treatment of posters through the use of tear gas and buckshot pellets, which have resulted in a spate of deaths and eye injuries in the region.
According to psychiatric experts, such behaviours by Indian forces have left an undisputed mark on the mental health of residents.
A 2015 survey of mental health issues in Kashmir by Doctors Without Borders (MSF) and the Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences Srinagar (IMHANS) found that mental health problems had reached epidemic proportions.
Researchers found that 1.6 million adults showed significant signs of depression, around one million suffered from symptoms of anxiety and an estimated 19 percent of adults displayed symptoms of PTSD. A staggering 93 percent of Kashmiris had experienced conflict related trauma.
According to the psychiatrist Sajid Shah, the August revocation of Article 370 scuppered progress that was being made in treating cases of mental illness.
“Patients already suffering from depression who were in remission saw recurrence of symptoms post the episode of abrogation of article 370,” he said.
'I didn't attend classes'
For Jamia Millia Islamia student Malik Aabid, from Kashmiri’s Kupwara district, the most recent developments have had a significant impact on his studies.
With his mind elsewhere, he has become indifferent to what goes on in his lectures.
“I didn’t attend any classes at university in the first week,” Aabid said.
“We heard all sorts of rumours. There was a rumour, from Kupwara that concentration camps are being set up there.
“It was difficult telling apart rumour from fact.”
Indian policy in Kashmir not only helps exacerbate the region’s mental health crisis but recent developments have also disrupted attempts to deal with the issue.
One psychiatrist practising outside of Kashmir, who did not wish to be named due to possible repercussions, said the communication blockade and curfews were making it impossible to offer psychiatric services.
New reports of torture have emerged from India-administered Kashmir after New Delhi revoked Article 370, ending the region’s autonomy. Now, victims from various villages of south Kashmir’s Shopian district are speaking out and sharing their experiences pic.twitter.com/O8rS5rV4wb— TRT World (@trtworld) September 18, 2019
The restrictions have made it near impossible for pharmacists within the region to contact their suppliers in order to ensure an adequate supply of medicines.
According to the psychiatrist, this had led to patients relapsing as they could not keep up with their treatment plans.
The revocation of Article 370 was marketed by the government as a move to help the security situation in Kashmir, and help bring investment to the region that would improve the lives of the people living there but the impact according to Kashmiris has been the opposite with high levels of disillusionment.
“I have never experienced such trauma,” Jamia Millia Islamia student, Aabid said.