Suicide Spiral

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Available figures suggest that at least 119 cases of suicide have been reported in the Kashmir Valley in the past year, translating roughly into one suicide every other day. Over a year ago, data from leading psychiatrists said that suicides had grown 400 per cent over the past twenty years.   They have not exactly been described as a ticking time bomb, but figures from the sole such authority here  should make the government and so-called leaderships, ‘genuine’ and otherwise, sit up and take stock, lest Kashmir be overtaken by a mental health disaster. There will be no dearth of critics to downplay the gravity of the data, inevitably drawing comparisons with advanced western nations. But apart from the fact that the situation there is due to an entirely different set of factors, it would be suicidal folly to talk in relative terms about societies with highly evolved response mechanisms, infrastructure, trained personnel and community and institutional support systems. By comparison, Kashmir is still in the horse-and-buggy age – and this is not to undermine the efforts of the small band of psychiatrists offering a spirited battle, often with broken tools and sparse budgets.

The object here is not to draw up an estimate of the number of doctors required, the number of beds needed in the psychiatric diseases hospital, the need to have credible counselling and treatment facilities in the peripheries, and numerous other parameters deemed essential for mental health care. There are bound to be international guidelines, and given the scale of the problem here, the handful of experts tackling it wouldn’t have been so remiss as not to apprise the government of their needs. There has been some expansion at the psychiatric diseases hospital, but no one would be daft enough to suggest that the government was required to do no more. In any case, international guidelines (who has ever heard of the sub-continent meeting WHO standards even in ordinary health care?) presume “normal’ situations; Kashmir is faced with a crisis.

But the real intent of these columns is to draw attention to some easily observable features of Kashmir’s conflict society and its commentary on the region’s leadership who crow from the rooftops of ‘ideas’ (a term used here diplomatically out of the sense of self-preservation) having been ‘successfully transfered to the next generation.’ This is an unquantifiable intangible, except, of course, if measured in terms of fatality statistics during street violence. In that sense, the leadership and its philosophy are a resounding triumph.  But if reminded that what has also been “ successfully transferred’ is 15 per cent Kashmiris with irreversible Post Traumatic Stress, one in five Kashmiris with chronic depression, a galloping death wish being successfully realized with a multiplying factor of 40 (4000 per cent)  one is likely to hear cries of conspiracy.

The real impact of the past 20 years of conflict in Kashmir – its origins, motivations, strategies, and goals from both sides – deserves special treatment, but what ought to be highlighted is the utter failure of all varieties of leadership to understand what it means to plunge the “trauma generation” into a new conflict. A generation that is sadistically being torn between dread-locks and dread-beards, mosques and motorbikes, veils and tight jeans, clashing value systems, and a bewildering array of recipes of salvation on the one hand and an equally bewildering array of ingredients of progress and modernity on the other.

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