Kashmiri Migrants' Health Trauma:
by Dr. P. K. Hak
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.
Associate Professor, Medical College, Kashmir
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
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
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
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
Sociopathy is common and many a youth have fallen
on bad ways and taken to smoking, gambling and drunkeness out of idleness and
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
Source: Koshur Samachar