Valley's Bloodshed Finds Voice On Canvas
17 September 2005
The Indian Express
Srinagar: Prints of hands dripping blood, snakes around the body of a man surrounded by dinosaurs-each painting reveal the hidden trauma of Kashmir. At the lone psychiatric hospital here, men and women inmates- helped by an international voluntary group-have turned to the canvas in a bid to heal hidden wounds. The paintings help doctors see what is going on in the minds of patients. This is particularly relevant when people are enable to verbalise their deep feelings and thoughts,' says Dr Arshad Hussain, the Valley's leading psychiatrist. Organised by Medicines Sans Frontiers (MSF), the exhibition at the College of Education showcased 60 works of art by 40 patients-the bloody palms were painted by Haneefa, a schizophrenic from Kupwara, who lost her brother to the violence in the early 1990s. Psychiatrists say that around 20 per cent of Kashmir's population is suffering from diagnosable psychiatric disorders-every day 200 patients visit the psychiatry hospital. 'In every family there is one, two or three members having stress-related problems,' says Stefan Hilscher, MSF's Mental Health Officer for Kashmir. 'These sketches were drawn by patients admitted in the hospital over a period of two years so that they could express their feelings and feel relaxed,' says Arshad Ahmad, art therapist. The process started in September 2003, but 'initially, they refused to draw on paper. They felt it is an exam. It took us some time to motivate them. In fact, Haneefa always stood at the window and waited for me,' he says. 'There is a stigma associated with the disease and that the hospital in the shape of a prison supports this stigmatisation,' says MSF's Hilscher. This is depicted by the patients, too. Fayaz Ahmad, a science graduate diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, depicts the hospital as a place of pain and trauma. His sketch shows a man-a psychiatric patient-surrounded by nails, syringes and tablets. To the right, another painting portrays the hospital as a prison.