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Mental Health of Kashmiris Needs Urgent Attention: Survey

New Delhi: A damning report on Jammu and Kashmir by humanitarian group Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) says a third of its respondents suffered from psychological// distress and more than one in 10 had been victims of sexual violence since the beginning of the conflict.

The report by the Holland-based MSF is based on 510 interviews conducted in the Kashmir valley over 11 weeks in mid-2005. The survey group defined 1989 as the beginning of the conflict period.

In the period from 1989 to 2005 people reported they had frequently experienced a range of violence such as crackdowns - defined as the surrounding of houses and all occupants being asked to remain in one room during the search - as also frisking by security forces, round-up raids in villages and the destruction or threat of destruction of property.

"Of particular concern was the prevalence of sexual violence revealed by the survey. Although the issue is not openly discussed in Kashmir, more than one in 10 people interviewed stated that they had been victims of sexual violence since the beginning of the conflict," said the MSF survey that was released in November but has got very little publicity in the Indian media so far.

Further, one in seven had witnessed rape and nearly two-thirds had heard of cases of rape.

"Even taking into account different definitions of sexual violence in the region, which may have led respondents to include incidents of inappropriate touching in responses in this category, the occurrence of sexual violence is still unusually high."

One in six interview respondents reported they had been illegally or legally detained, and more than three-quarters of those detained reported that they were tortured while being held.

Nearly one in 10 people reported having lost one or more members of their immediate family due to violence in the period from 1989-2005.

The survey also revealed that peopl e were forced to perform labour (33.7 percent), or to give shelter to militants (18.4 percent).

Not surprisingly, given the incidence of violence reported, approximately half the sample interviewed in the MSF survey reported they never, or only occasionally, felt safe.

The responses to the Self-Report Questionnaire - developed by the World Health Organisation to measure psychological distress, particularly in developing countries - also revealed that one-third of the respondents suffered from psychological distress.

This figure rises to more than 70 percent of people suffering psychological distress if the more widely accepted lower cut-off score is utilised.

The MSF report points to an acute need for a wide range of psychiatric and psychosocial support in Kashmir. There is only one mental asylum at Rainawari in Srinagar to cater to the needs of the entire state.

The findings of the survey reveal a bleak picture of the mental health of people in the conflict-afflicted region and raise important questions about the government's failure to adequately provide mental health services to the population.

It also begs further discussion of the continuing situation of impunity in Kashmir for those who perpetrate acts of terror and violence against the people of the region. Until this cycle of violence is addressed, the situation of the people of Kashmir cannot be improved, says MSF.


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