Threat of physical violence looms in Kashmir, says report
24 December 2006
Srinagar: Despite a decrease in violent incidents in Jammu and Kashmir since 2004, Medicines Sans Frontiers (MSF), a Holland-based Nobel prize- winning international organisation, has said that the threat of physical violence in the region still looms large. It has also focused on the impact of violence on the mental health of women and children, who seem to be the worst affected. The MSF started the survey, titled 'Violence and Health in Kashmir,' in mid 2005 and conducted it on the basis of research in two blocks in Budgam and Kupwara districts. According to the report released last week, the local population define the period of violence from 1989 to the time of the survey. The 30-page report states that almost half the respondents said that they felt only occasionally or never safe. In the period between 1989 and 2005, people frequently reported of crackdowns (99.2 %), frisking by security forces (85.7 %) and round- up raids in villages (82.7 %). In the same period, there was considerable damage to property (39 %) and burning of houses (26.3 %). Interviewees reported having witnessed (73.3 %) or personally experienced (44.1 %) physical and psychological ill treatment, such as humiliation and threats. The report states that sexual violence was a common strategy used to intimidate people in conflict. However, the issue is not openly discussed in Kashmir. Nevertheless, 11.6 % of interviewees said that they had been victims of sexual violence since 1989. Almost two-thirds of the people interviewed (63.9 %) had heard about cases of rape, while one in seven had witnessed rape. Fear among children The major effect of the violence on children is fear (24.6 %), the survey says. School- related problems also scored highly, such as being unable to attend school (15.5 %) and having problems studying (16.3 %) due to the lack of professional teachers and study material. 'The study findings cause considerable concern. Kashmir remains caught in a cycle of violence despite efforts by governments to break the cycle. Further, our findings indicate that mental and physical health needs are high, while the coping mechanism of individuals is predominantly dysfunctional. Even with a definitive end to violence, it could be expected that a substantial number of people would need support to overcome their problems. This assumption is confirmed by our findings,'the MSF report states. The report highlights mental health problems in Kashmir. 'In areas where MSF works, we have implemented community-based mental health services. In all other Kashmir districts, community-based mental health services are non- existent. Based on the survey findings, the MSF calls on the health authorities to prioritise the immediate implementation of community- based psychiatric and counselling services in Kashmir,' the report adds. 'A nightmare of constant fear' 'Once, Kashmir was referred to as the Paradise on Earth — our findings clearly show that for many Kashmiris, it has now become a nightmare of constant fear. The impact on the physical and mental health and socio-economic functioning is alarming. Our data shows a level of despair and lack of future perspective that potentially endanger the long-term well- being of people,' says the report. The survey was conducted with the help of researchers from the sociology and psychology departments of the University of Kashmir.