Amid Contagion Curbs, Siege Mentality Returns to Haunt Kashmir


As pervasive pandemic unleashed a besieged world order, Mumbai for a change looked like a curbed Maisuma, Delhi as caged Downtown, while Bangalore became curfewed Sopore. But for the lockdown-ridden people of the valley, the current phase only escalated the sense of siege-mentality.

Rakshanda Afrin

AFTER a certain point in pandemic lockdown, Shagufta, 18, couldn’t take her besieged routine anymore. Feeling vexed, she started raising her pitch against her parents, and refused to come out of her room for hours together.

In seclusion, she kept thinking of her classmates—with whom she shared the last ‘normal’ class before August 4, 2019.

“Although we’re not new to lockdowns, but I and my classmates are finding it hard to adjust to these repeated restrictions now,” said Shagufta, who was looking forward to join college this year.

“Such a cursed life makes you captive in your own home.”

Coming from the volatile Rajouri Kadal of Srinagar, the citadel of cleric Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, Sagufta’s is a classic case of the ‘siege mentality’ — a peculiar socio-psychological state arising collectively, if a person is not free, the way he or she want to be.

“I’ve witnessed the 2016 and 2019 lockdowns,” she said. “To some extent, that besieged life was bearable. But I don’t know why this present lockdown feels a different experience.”

Expert Take

Living in such an atmosphere of perpetual siege gives rise to ‘besieged’ minds, Dr. Mushtaq Margoob told Kashmir Observer.

Due to lack of freedom, he continued, such minds have been seen in erstwhile Soviet Union, North Korea and Syria.

“When a population is confronted with an insecure and uncertain situation, this troubled mentality seeps into almost every human endeavor,” Kashmir’s ace mental specialist said. “It impacts psychological as well as behavioural social patterns and practices.”

Human beings are supposed to have some sort of control and some feeling about their future, but in a conflict situation, perception of world changes, he said.

“Kashmiris are already overburdened. And when the population is locked up constantly, they’re being deprived of mobilising their pent up emotions with their peer group, neighbours or relations.”

According to the 2015-survey conducted by MSF, Doctors without Borders, nearly 1.8 million adults (45% of the adult population) in the Kashmir Valley show symptoms of significant mental distress.

“Diagnosable psychiatric or psychological problems are more prevalent in a conflict prone zone like Kashmir,” the doctor, with over 28 years of clinical experience in Kashmir, said.

“As nobody knows how long it will continue, people mobilise their own inbuilt mechanism at individual and collective levels to face it.”

‘It’s way of life’

Siege mentality, said Prof. Noor Baba, has become a way of life in Kashmir for years now.

“We’ve got accustomed to this,” the political science professor told Kashmir Observer.

“When I started teaching during the early 80s, I was young and it was usual after office hours for us to travel and go to restaurants, and socialize. A lot of social activities were happening in the valley.”

But after the 90’s insurgency and violence, restrictions increased, Prof Baba, a senior faculty at the Central University of Kashmir, continued.

“There was a time when curfew would be imposed at 3pm, so people had to rush homes. That was deeply seeded into our minds. Social lives were deeply impacted, but somehow we’ve learned to live with this.”

Kashmiris had been quarantined for a very long time, the professor said. “If people were expecting relaxation, in our case it got more reinforced after the Covid-19 situation.” 

Playing a Therapist

Life under such a siege tremendously affects every aspect of lives, said Dr Arif Maghribi, a Srinagar-based psychiatrist. “Some people recover, but many do not, even after 20 years. Some cases change into major depressive disorders.”

But as relentless restrictions and curbs only deepens siege mentality, Dr. Maghribi focuses on awareness.

“I’ve started telephonic counselling for the last three-four years,” the mental specialist said. “However, with little awareness of mental health, the stigma continues to be associated with it.”

A Glaring Change

Away from lockdown-plagued home last summer, when Afdista of Anantnag went to Mumbai for studies, she marveled the idea of free-world for a long time.

“I wasn’t used to seeing so many people roaming and driving cars till late hours of midnight,” she said. “Since childhood I had seen many nights even before the day ended.”

Growing up, she lived through many days of long curfews, watching forces roughing up locals for merely being on the street.

“This would make me believe that we were some besieged people,” she said. “Maybe we were made to accept that reality, which otherwise is totally inhuman.”

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Rakshanda Afrin

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