30 Jun Kashmir’s Mental Miseries
In an attempt to understand the drastic situation in Kashmir and its impact on the mental health of women, we had a conversation with Dr.Arif Maghribi Khan.
“I remember this one case of a mother whose name was Fatima. She was the mother of a 9-year-old boy. Things were all sorted until one day when her boy went to his tuition, he didn’t return. It was dusk so Fatima, with her family members and neighbours, went out to search for her boy and discovered that her boy was murdered. The police investigated but till date, nobody knows who killed Fatima’s son. The trauma put her in a bombshell dilemma.
After days of mute, she was so badly injected with the loss that her mental ability was badly affected to that extent that she would go to the cemetery and dig her boy’s grave almost every day. Neighbours and family members had to keep a watch on her. She was badly infused with the trauma at such an extent that when her family members asked her why she was doing it, she said it gave her pleasure. This is what mental illness can do to a person. I met Fatima three years back…” Dr.Arif Maghribi Khan shared this incident with us.
Dr. Arif is actively working for the betterment of the mental state of Kashmiri people especially women. He has worked with SMHS.SKIMS, UNAIDS, and Action-Aid International as a mental health officer.
In 2011, he started the first-ever toll-free helpline for people who are suffering from depression, drug abuse, domestic violence, etc. Dr.Khan has seen over 2000 patients of schizophrenia, PTSD, Drug-addiction, Examinophobia. He has conducted research on PTSD, Drug-abuse, Diabetes in Kashmir. Besides being a REIKI expert, he is one of the few doctors in Kashmir who were trained by the Royal College of Psychiatry, London for the treatment and counseling of patients who suffer from various mental health ailments.
Tell us about the mental state of Kashmiri women.
To understand the mental state of Kashmiri women, first, you need to understand the prevailing situation and how harsh circumstances can be on your mental health. What women in Kashmir go through or the environment they live in is more intense than any other part of the country.
I remember vividly, till 1989-90 I have seen and heard about Kashmir which was more lively and virtuous. My uncle narrated incidents like, back in the day, even the death of a hen on the road was mourned by hundreds and that was because people of Kashmir were not used to brutality and savagery. But after 1990, the peace in Kashmir was disturbed after the conflicts which lead to an undeclared emergency which lasted for over a decade.
People were house arrested, less social gatherings and continuous distress lead people to the demented state. Cinema was banned and all other measures of recreation were shut. Women were more affected by this because men still went out and engaged socially but women lacked that liberty and even at times men puked their anger on women which added more to mental strain.
How was the mental state before and what changes do you see now?
The National Institute of Mental Health and Science, Bangalore conducted a survey in 1989 on suicide ratio in Kashmir. The outcome of the survey was that between 1947 to 1989 only 4 people committed suicide.
Another fact, only 4 patients used to visit Mental health hospitals till 1989 but from 1990 to 2019 approximately 400 patients visit government health hospitals. Apart from government health hospitals, there are private clinics also and I think to meet the break-even point of running the clinic, you need 30-40 daily visitors.
There was only negative news in the newspaper, radio, and television which added more to the distress. I know it’s hard to believe but, back in the day, when we needed to chop meat, we had to borrow butcher’s knife from the slotter house and now keeping weapons at your house is a usual thing in Kashmir.
Presently, there are only 32 psychiatrist and three active mental care hospitals in entire Kashmir to look after a population of over 55 lakh and not a single in the rural area where the problem is immense. Three generations have been in this environment of agony but things are improving. Doctors spread the word and people started addressing this issue. Husbands now bring their wives and daughters for check-ups and follow the doctor’s prescription which is satisfying for me as a doctor. The government is trying to reach people and the situation in Kashmir is improving at a good pace.
How is the state of education of women in Jammu and Kashmir?
If we talk about the state of education in Jammu and Kashmir, there are both pros and cons but I am positive about it. The education in the state before 1989 was exemplary but as conflicts broke out, the educational system was paralyzed otherwise, I think, Jammu and Kashmir would have been at the top of the list in literacy rate.
There is a misconception about Kashmiri people that they don’t want their children to get an education which is not true. During Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s tenure, the condition in the state improved which helped the students return to school. A good amount of girls have cracked DC, KAS, IAS examination and are serving the nation both on the central and state level.
I would really appreciate if more school/colleges open up in the state and roots of more companies reach Jammu and Kashmir so that job opportunities are created.
Any incident or experience you wish to share with us.
The approach of people towards mental health needs to change, just not in Kashmir but all over the country. People who are depressed or are suffering from mental illness should accept it and consult a doctor. Ones around such depressed, mentally unstable people should not mock them. Rather they should help in improving their mental state because even deadliest health problems such as cancer would give you years time to at least try and improve your health but bad experiences or just months of depression can force anybody to commit suicide. At times even after being a doctor and practicing it for so many years, I get goosebumps after seeing the cases of mental disturbance.
I met Fatima three years back. She was in a bad state so I tried to comfort her and tried to understand her situation. When I asked her why she was doing it, she said she is experiencing her child around her. She told me that she often sees her son in the same attire, with his bag going to his tuition. This forces her to go to his grave as she wanted to see him, as her mind forced her to do that.
Due to conflicts and trauma, Kashmiri women mentally are not firm to accept such hard situations. Even small incidents such as break up can lead them to great depression which in certain cases can be the reason for their death. Women during periods take pain killers. Their brain loses rational power and they consume the entire strap of painkillers as a drug and that can be extremely dangerous. Fatima was an extreme case but counseling, therapy, and medication worked well for her. Slowly, gradually she accepted the fact that her boy was gone and is not going to come back. Once she accepted this, to divert her mind, we gave her a small cattle to look after which also helped her in financial stability.
It’s been three years now and Fatima is normal. She is taking good care of herself and her family. She is also spreading awareness and convincing people to look after their mental health. So such cases are overwhelming and give you a great amount of happiness and hope.
Tell us about the role of government and armed forces in your journey.
First things first-I was never interrupted by armed forces during my work, but in 2016 when stone pelting was at its peak, both stone pelters and security forces used to ask me and my team questions like ” Why are you moving in curfew or why are moving out of your house when it’s a day of protest and shutdown”, but I convinced them both and continued my work. The government in the last decade has been dealing with mental care issues quite seriously. Certain measures and policies of government have provided us aid in carrying the good work.
There is just one request I have for the government. Just like we have fire emergency number, police number and other life-saving helpline numbers, I think we should have a national mental health care number as well because the amount of suicides due to depression specifically in youth has increased and this helpline number will surely help us in saving few lives.
Disclaimer-The names of the people have been changed to shield their identity and the article is completely based on the inputs by Dr. Arif.