by Dr. P. K. Hak
Associate Professor, Medical College, Kashmir
One facet of the multidimensional human rights violation against the Kashmiri Hindus is the health trauma-physical, mental and psychological, resulting from the forced exodus of the community.
While most of the ailments the exiled community suffers are either an exacerbation and greater incidence of the existent health problems, a host of new diseases, entities and syndromes previously unknown or rare in the community have appeared for the first time. The undercurrent of terror under which the community migrated persists and the sense of total deprivation, loss and uprootedness has worked havoc with the psyche of the community. Working in tandem with these factors is the trauma and pressure of migration, the problems of acclimatisation to an entirely different and hostile environment, over-crowding, poor housing, unsanitary and unhygienic living conditions, scarce medicare facilities and malnutrition.
The following report is the collective experience of doctors highlighting some of the diseases that have afflicted the displaced community resulting in mind boggling morbidity and mortality.
Heat trauma was almost unknown to the community living in the salubrious ambience of Kashmir valley. The first summer of exile took a heavy toll of nearly 400 precious lives. There was neither the awareness of the disease nor the implements to prevent or treat it. The lack of basic facilities like fans, and coolers was a far cry in the camps where the refugees live. Even enough water was not available to drink, not to speak of repeated baths to cool the body. During the second summer (1991) people had learnt the basic lessons of frequent cold baths or avoidance of direct heat of the sun, but other basic amenities to ward off the heat exhaustion and heat strokes were scarce to most with the result that another sixty people died. The spectre of a 3rd summer is looking in the face of the community.
More than two dazen members of the community were lost due to drowning. The victims ventured into the fast flowing water of the canal in Jammu where they were driven to cool their bodies in the terrible heat of the summer.
DOGBITES, SNAKE AND SCORPION BITES
An exiled Kashmiri Pandit has summed up the experience in one sentence. "We migrated out of the valley of bullets into a pit of snakes." Many outlying areas in Jammu where the camps are located are over run by bushes which harbour snakes and other reptiles and are rife with stray dogs some of whom are rabid. The members of the community are taken unawares during evenings or dark nights or whon they go to tho bushes to ease themselves. Twelve people have lost lives, ten due to bites by poisonous snakes and two due to rabies (hydrophobia).
The accident rate in the community has increased manifold because the members have to travel a lot in search of shelter and livelihood and for social contact, since their relations have been thrown far and wide in Jammu and its neighbouring districts and in other states of India. The old and infirm have no place to move about for a stroll except the lanes which are strewn with slippery stones causing many a fall and fractures especially of the neck and subdural hematomes (clots in the brain). Many of these victims died because of lack of treatment.
Fall from the roof top has become another common cause of accidents.
Malaria caused a great morbidity and suffering in the community. The community lacked immunity acquired by people living in endemic areas and the disease struck in large numbers and with great severity. Giardia and amoeba are new parasites that are taking roots in the gasterointestinal tracts of the community causing a lot of diarrhoea and dysentery.
Infectious hepatites, jaundice is not uncommon in the Kashmir Valley and not new to the displaced community but its incidence has grown in them because of contaminated water supply or lack of sanitation and disposal.
Overcrowding has resulted in greater numbers of pneumonia and tuberculosis patients in the community. But bronchial Asthama and allergic arveolitisus is rampant as hundreds of new cases report every month during the summer and autumn season. The mushroom growth of pyretheium colloquially known in Jammu as "Congress Grass" in the vicinity of the camps is one of the likely antigenic factors responsible for the allergic disorders to which the community is not immune like the local populace.
It will not be an exaggeration to state that almost cent percent of the displaced community is suffering from skin diseases. More than half of these are fungal infections, some times so severe and disseminated that it calls for both oral and topical antifungal treatment for a prolonged period. Scabies is rampant and almost epidemic in the tents. A significant proportion of them develop secondary bacterial infections with the dreaded complication of acute nephritis, a kidney disease. Furunculosis, boils, abscesses, solar and allergic dermatoes etc. are also commonplace.
Measles, mumps, chicken pox are rampant in children in the camps. Typhoid has become the scourge of the community. In 1991 summer, more than five thousand displaced Hindus contracted the infection. The most disturbing aspect of the infection is the resistance to conventional antibiotics and very costly drugs have to be administered. Lots of patients developed serious complications.
RENAL COLICS AND STONES
The patients flock the clinics with renal colics, many of them due to crystal preciptation as a result of hot climatic condition in summer to which the community is not adapted. The incidence of renal stones and renal infections has risen precipitiously.
Stress diabetese is a new syndrome in the community. Hundreds of new cases have been detected. The most likely cause is the stress which leads to a hyperadrenagic state and release of steroid harmones. Diabetic complications have become common as a result of poor control of the diseases. Thyrotoxicosis which is relatively uncommon in Kashmir has become manifest in larger numbers possibly due to stress.
Angina Pectoris was unmasked in a large percentage of the community, stress, steep roads and difficult living conditions being some of the precipitating factors. Many sudden cardiac deaths occurred, provoked by horror stories, burning and looting of properties left behind by the people and the tragic news of death of close relatives. Hypertension, even in the young, has become common place.
SEXUAL AND REPRODUCTIVE DISORDERS
Because of overcrowding and want of privacy, there is a serious erosion in the sexual functioning of the community; a reduced birthrate being a natural consequence. With a higher death rate relative to a reduced birth rate, the population of the community is fast dwindling.
PSYCHOLOGICAL AND MENTAL DISORDERS
These have become rampant and epidemic in proportion. Depression has seized the entire community and some times so severe that it has led to many a suicide. Acute psychosis and schizophrenia has become manifest in large numbers. Anxiety states, hysterical reactions, panic disorders, phobias, amnesia afflict more than a third of the community. Insomnia is commonplace with frightening dreams and nightmares.
Behavioural disorders are common in children of school going age leading to a high drop-out rate, mostly due to terrible conditions prevalent in the camp schools where apartheid of the worst order is perpetrated against little innocent children who are denied even drinking water facilities.
Sociopathy is common and many a youth have fallen on bad ways and taken to smoking, gambling and drunkeness out of idleness and frustration.
On the whole the Kashmiri Hindus in exile have aged physically and mentally by 10 to 15 years. Premature aging and premature deaths are but a fraction of the wide spectrum of the havoc that has been brought to the community.
Source: Koshur Samachar
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