The people of Kashmir have endured a protracted, unreported conflict on a global scale. Following what the Kashmiri people claimed was a rigged local election that denied them a say in the Indian democratic process, the conflict turned toward armed insurgency in 1989. As a result, in the decade that followed the insurgency, more than half of the people in Jammu and Kashmir were the targets of or witnessed violent government crackdowns, public explosions, and cross-firing between military personnel and armed rebels. With the worst effects of conflict and violence affecting physical and mental health, the safety and freedom of the Kashmiri population were seriously threatened by the strong military presence.
Before India’s revocation of regional autonomy, the mental health of Kashmiris was already thought to be in crisis, has worsened. A significant social upheaval resulted from the abrogation of Article 370, which recognized Jammu and Kashmir’s (J&K) special status and granted the region semiautonomous rights, in August 2019. The area, known as the most militarized in the world, received over 900,000 Indian army personnel. All forms of communication and internet access were suspended, a strict curfew was imposed, and roads were blocked. Thousands of Kashmiris were detained; some have since been released, but a large number is still behind bars.
Psychiatric professionals assert that the effects of such actions by Indian forces on Kashmiri’s mental health are undeniable. According to a 2015 study conducted (by MSF) and the Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences Srinagar (IMHANS) 1.6 million adults displayed significant symptoms of depression, one million of anxiety, and 19 percent showed signs of PTSD respectively. A startling 93 percent of Kashmiris had suffered trauma because of the conflict.
As a result, COVID-19 is still having a devastating impact on Kashmir, with over 317,000 cases and 4,343 fatalities reported by early July 2021 in an area with about 13 million residents. Travel restrictions and protracted curfews made it difficult for people to get access to healthcare. Elderly patients and women were unable to access telemedicine, emergency helplines, or the electronic-based government-funded insurance program due to a lack of internet and other communication services. The psychiatrists claimed that the revocation of Article 370 in August halted advancements in the treatment of mental illness. Patients with pre-existing depression in remission experienced a recurrence of symptoms following the episode of article 370’s abrogation.
Besides adult, mental health one cannot ignore the impact of violence and war on child psychology. Children’s well-being is severely impacted by conflicts everywhere in the world. They continue to be subjected to severe abuse and violence. Millions of children’s lives are at risk as a result of atrocities being committed by violent criminals while they go unpunished. Such an environment has a significant effect and molds attitudes toward life. Children in Kashmir have also experienced such abuses directly. Their physical and mental health is impacted by the bombing of their schools and homes as well as the torture and murder of their families.
The presence of Indian occupation forces in Kashmir has severely impacted the children there, obstructing their development and having a profound impact on their lives as a whole. Their values have been severely hampered by social structural changes. Their sense of security and tranquility has completely disappeared over time. In the decade that followed the armed insurgency, a generation of young people emerged who decided to protest peacefully against what they perceived to be the military occupation of Kashmir. However, they encountered the same level of brutality from the Indian military as the rebels before them.
The valley has long faced a deep-rooted sociopolitical issue, resulting in current public health issues in Kashmir. Local and international organizations have criticized the Indian government for violating numerous human rights through its repressive administration of Kashmir. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights called attention to widespread torture and human rights abuses committed against civilians by Indian armed forces.
In order to effectively address the political, social, economic, and public health issues Kashmir is currently experiencing, a comprehensive response is urgently required. To ensure that Kashmiris do not experience the same nightmare they did because of the communications blackout in 2019 and throughout, the Indian government has a duty under international human rights law to protect the safety and health of the region’s residents.