Covid-19 Lockdown In Kashmir Further Imperils Mental Health

Covid-19 Lockdown In Kashmir Further Imperils Mental Health
Photo Credit: Reuters/ TPG Images
What you need to know

Kashmir's COVID-19 lockdown comes on top of India's information "clampdown." in what may lead to a mental health crisis.

Maliha has not been to school for seven months. 

Maliha, 14, studies at a middle school in the Pampore area of south Kashmir. The Indian government was going to reopen the schools in late February after a months-long security and communications clampdown. Maliha was excited to see her friends at school again, but the joy only lasted a week before the coronavirus lockdown.

“I do not like to talk. Who I will talk to? There are no people around my age,” said Maliha, who memorized the entire chapter of the Quran during the clampdown to keep herself occupied.

Her father, Shabir Ahmad Wani, is a small shopkeeper who wants his children to study and rise in social status. 

“In mainland India children are benefiting from the internet and technology, but our children have been denied this right. Their studies are over; first due to the clampdown, and now due to this lockdown,” Wani said.

Kashmir has remained under a complete clampdown since August 5, 2019, when the Indian government abolished the special status of the Muslim-majority region. Around 1.2 million children in Jammu and Kashmir have been confined to their homes without access to online material or classes. Despite the prolonged lockdown, the Indian government has maintained the ban on high-speed internet to prevent protests against the abrogation of the region's autonomy.

Just a few lanes away from Wani’s house lives Bilal Ahmed Dar with his wife, mother, and two children.

Dar’s children are both in kindergarten. His son, Asfar Bilal, used to play cricket after finishing his homework every day, but the lockdown has put his favorite sport on pause. 

“Initially, we managed to keep him home and busy and let him watch his favorite cartoons and play games. But within a week’s time, he got disinterested in everything, ” Dar said.

Asfar became physically weak and annoyed as time went on. He would often fall asleep while crying. His parents would give him hope that he could go back to school the next morning, but the promise has yet to come true. His mental health deteriorated with the confinement. 

“We took him to a nearby hospital, the doctor said he is under stress and needs to relax. We were baffled to hear about the condition; we thought he is just not feeling good by being home continuously,” Dar said.

There’s little recent research on mental health among Kashmir’s children. But a 2006 study on Kashmiri children with PTSD showed that their trauma related to Kashmir’s turmoil. Nearly half had seen a close relative killed; 15 percent said they witnessed torture; four percent said they were beaten or tortured by security forces. 

A clampdown without end has already harmed both the children's and the adults’ mental and physical health.

“The lack of internet will hamper the accessibility to true facts, online classes, children will get disconnected from the outside world and friends, and this can cause stress,” said Dr. Sheikh Shoib, consultant Neuropsychiatrist at Jawahar Lal Nehru Memorial Hospital.

Amnesty International India in a press release demanded that regional authorities must restore full access to internet services in the region and ensure that people have full access to health and safety-related information.

Kashmiri author Mirza Waheed said the Indian government’s denial of internet services during a devastating pandemic is “tantamount to a criminal act.” 

“Timely information, online studies, health advisories, and remaining in contact with dear ones are more essential than ever,” Waheed said. “A state that chooses to deprive an entire population of all this during an unprecedented global health emergency is guilty of knowingly endangering them.”


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TNL Editor: Daphne K. Lee, Nicholas Haggerty (@thenewslensintl)

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