Suicides have become a common phenomenon among teenage girls in Kashmir - an offshoot of 13 years of relentless militant-related violence in the state.
Jameela, a 19-year-old girl, saw her aunt hit by a stray bullet while working in a kitchen garden. She later also witnessed a shootout in her locality. The young girl was absolutely normal with no history of psychiatric problems. But after these two incidents, Jameela suffered from post-traumatic stress disorders: recurrent, intrusive, and distressing recollection of the events, marked irritability, outbursts of anger, difficulty in concentrating, sleeplessness, sadness and disinterest in all social, domestic and college activities. After a minor altercation with her sister, Jameela consumed pesticide to end her life.
Thirteen-year-old Rihana's father was killed in 1996; subsequently, she stopped socializing or playing with friends and confined herself to her house. She lost interest in everything. Over the years she developed neurological problems. Twice this year, she attempted suicide. Her doctors attribute her condition to deep shock.
Srinagar's two main hospitals - SMHS and SKIMS - receive two to three such cases on an average daily. A large number of people, mostly from villages, don't even reach the hospitals - they die on the way or in local health centers. The hospital records show that survival of people from rural areas is very low while those from Srinagar is higher. The main reason of course, is the lack of medical care and trained staff in rural hospitals and health centers. It takes hours for emergency patients to reach hospitals in Srinagar. As per records, around 23 per cent people with cases of poisoning survive in hospitals.
Before the outbreak of trouble in Kashmir, the percentage of people with psychiatric problems was insignificant and suicides were uncommon. But the number has been increasing. In 1998, 167 such cases - 92 (61 per cent) women and 75 men (39 per cent) were registered in SMHS, the city's main
hospital. In 1999, 208 cases were reported with 144 (69 per cent) women and 64 (31 per cent) men. From April 2000 to March 2001, 567 cases were reported with 377 females (66.5 per cent) and 190 males (33.5 per cent).
In SKIMS, one of the city hospitals, over 200 people reported with mostly organophosphorus poisoning. The male-female ratio here is the same as in SMHS.
Dr Ghulam Nabi Yatoo, Associate Professor in SKIMS, says at least three to five new-suicide or para-suicide cases are registered each week in the hospital's Accident and Emergency Department. He attributes the growing occurrence of depression to the turmoil in Kashmir.
According to a survey conducted by Dr G M Malik, Professor in the Department of Medicine, SMHS hospital, a random sample of 164 para-suicide cases showed that 114 were females (69.51 per cent) and 50 (30.49 per cent) males. The fear, stress, tension and uncertainty prevailing in the state are the main reasons behind the rise in suicides.
Dr. Hamidullah Shah, Head of the Department at Psychiatric Diseases Hospital admits an increase in the number of suicides. According to him girl students who fail in examinations or don't come up to the expectations of the parents take this harsh step. Young girls, whose love affairs have failed, also resort to suicides. And married women, ill treated by their in-laws, also consume poison.
The incidence of newly married men attempting suicides is also on the rise. The reason: impotency. Doctors hold mental trauma due to shock responsible for impotency. Poverty, unemployment and drug addition are other causes of suicide, and the ready availability of organophosphorous substances in villages makes it easier to attempt the drastic step. According to doctors, cases of committing suicide by hanging, stabbing and jumping into rivers are very rare.
Dr Sadaqat Rehman, a clinical psychologist at the Psychiatric Diseases Hospital, considers low tolerance levels a significant factor in this context. The reason: stress due to increasing violence in Kashmir. "Continuing violence has also resulted in the loss of self-control, people overreact to any kind of situation." Women are more sensitive, and therefore the incidence of suicides among them is much higher than among men. Dr Sadaqat also feels that TV channels that beam programs depicting violence, alien cultures and lifestyles also contribute to abnormal behavior in children and teenagers.
Suicide is not just a phenomenon affecting the local, civilian population. Indian troops stationed here for several years are also its victims. They too suffer from post-traumatic stress disorders, leading to suicides. According to reports, over 400 armed forces personnel have committed suicide in Kashmir since the inception of militancy in 1989. And significantly, their reasons for committing suicide are almost the same as those of civilians - fear of death, mental stress, tension, homesickness and the like. A large number of paramilitary force personnel also report to Srinagar's Psychiatric Diseases Hospital with various problems.
Records reveal that 10 to 20 patients reported to the Psychiatric Disease Hospital's Out-Patients Department in the 1980s. Today, 200-300 patients come daily with various psychiatric problems. Most of these are women in the 16 to 25 years age group. And it is estimated that only 10 per cent of those in need of psychiatric care actually reach the hospital. Reporting psychological disorders is strongly associated with social stigma; the hospital also houses an asylum for the mentally unsound.