Thursday, June 28, 2012

Marred by conflict, abandoned by hope

By: Salman Nizami

“The worst victims of the decades long violence by extremists in Jammu and  Kashmir are the orphans of the conflict. Scarred and traumatised, many of them have resorted to violence and other crimes. They need to be rehabilitated.” The Kashmir conflict has wreaked havoc on the lives of millions of people. It has taken its toll throughout the State of Jammu & Kashmir, decimating its economy and much more. But few have suffered as much as the State’s orphans. Kashmir has remained in conflict for over two decades. These decades have paralysed economic growth and bred violence and hatred. Lakhs of children have lost their parents and become orphans. Their hard circumstances have turned some of them into criminals or even militants.Today, the orphans of Jammu & Kashmir suffer the most. They are the most vulnerable section of society. They are victims of death caused by accident, demonstrations, torture and other kinds of violence. They can’t afford to visit a doctor or ask for justice, because nobody is ready to hear their helpless voices. The State Government too has paid no special attention to these children.In 2010, the NGO, Save the Children, did a study on this issue. According to the survey, the situation is especially grim in high intensity conflict districts that have suffered insurgency for a long period, and in those areas that are located along the borders and nurtures militancy. The conflict has had a particularly traumatising effect on the orphans raised in these areas.According to the study, orphans comprise 4.4 per cent of the State’s population. This number is close to the 4.5 per estimated by the National Family Health Survey-3 and translates into 2,14,000 orphans in the State. Fulfilling the needs of these children living in family, community and institutional settings is a challenge for the State Government as well as for development practitioners.The study estimates that 41 per cent of Jammu & Kashmir’s under-18 population has been orphaned, which is again close to the corresponding Government figure of 42.6 per cent. The socio-demographic pattern of the households surveyed reveals that at 26.3 years, the average Kashmiri household is quite young.Most families in the State predominantly profess the Muslim faith (86 per cent) and belong to the general category in terms of caste/ tribe status (71 per cent). Forty per cent of the sample population is engaged in professional work while 23 per cent are students. The average monthly income ranges from Rs 1,800 in Anantnag to Rs 5,000 in Rajouri. Gainful employment is low in conflict-prone districts. Thirty seven per cent of children lost their parents due to the conflict while 55 per cent were orphaned due to the natural deaths of their parents and eight per cent due to other reasons. The proportion of children orphaned due to conflicts is higher in Anantnag (56 per cent), Baramullah (33 per cent) and Kupwara (25 per cent) districts.It was observed that a large number of children drop out from higher secondary classes, though the numbers are not clear with respect to the primary and secondary segments. While 38 per cent orphans are in this age group, only two per cent of them receive higher secondary education. Moreover, the study found that only 20 per cent of the orphans were attending the same school as their counterparts in the same age group in the same household, implying that were being meted out a less than equal treatment. Around 10 per cent of all the orphans were found to be engaged as child labourers of which only three per cent were being paid for their work. The remaining seven per cent were unpaid labourers.Also, seven per cent of all households said that taking care of orphans was an economic burden for them. Another four per cent faced other problems while caring for orphans such as threats from militants and others. The main reasons cited by children for dropping out of school were either poverty or their foster parents inability to afford their education. Other reasons included children being afraid of leaving their homes or their schools being too far away. Stress or trauma while attending school was cited as another reason cited for dropping out.Among the orphans attending schools, a large number said that their main distractions in the classroom were that constant worries about their families, noise of explosions and the intimidating presence of troops. Some forty per cent of the students said that they sensed a lack of control over events which led to despair and scepticism about the future. Another thirty two per cent said that their anxiousness was triggered by sudden loud noises or seeing men in uniform. The list goes on.Clearly, these children need special care and proper protection. It is only when they are afforded equal opportunities will they develop their self-worth and capabilities. This in turn will forever change their village, community and country at large.

The dirty hospitals !

Not just patients, attendants too are facing a great risk.

By; Salman Nizami

The health of hospitalized Kashmiris and their visitors is being seriously put at risk by government hospitals. Inadequate infection control measures in hospitals and declining levels of cleanliness are believed to be behind the rise of deaths due to infection. Increased reporting of cases has also contributed. I recently visited some known hospitals in Srinagar. What I found in the hospitals surprisingly inadequate cleaning regimens that could make you sick. I talked to the cleaners, supervisors, nurses, doctors, and hospital administrators to get a handle on what has become a major problem at the health-care facilities in the Valley a shocking number of hospitals acquired infections. My practical survey - which examined in-patients views of the treatment and care they received - was conducted last week in three hospitals. It found that more than 30 per cent rated their care as satisfactory and almost 70 per cent said they were not treated with dignity and respect. However, just 20% said their ward was clean. More than 80 % described the wards and toilets dirty. Patients also complained that they were given too little information about their condition, the side effects of medication or the danger signs to look out for once they got home. Too little help was given to those needing assistance to eat.  About 5 to10 lakh Kashmiris come down with life-threatening infections while in hospitals every year. As many as 2,000 people a year die, the recent deaths of children admitted in GB Pant hospital is a fresh example, due to the presence of hospital waste in the ward several children’s have been died. Nazima Begum’s son Yawar Ahmed of Khanayar Srinagar became one of those statistics this year. He was admitted to G.B.Pant Hospital for treatment. While there, the 6-year-old become the victim of dirt. It ended up playing a role in his death few days later. Nazima remembers the cleaning regimen in her son’s room was less than adequate, saying the cleaners would spend only 10 minutes on a room every day and the dust bin was always ful with waste materials which includes needles, snakes, bottles, food and used water. She says a proper cleaning would have taken much longer. "This has to stop," she says. "This is Kashmir. Which is known for its natural beauty?" Time and again, hospital insiders told me that cleaners were being asked to do more with less. "We used to have one person to one ward of a hospital to clean," one cleaner said. "Now, we have three floors to clean." A cleaning supervisor at the same hospital told that it's "common practice" for cleaners not to change the cleaning solution in the bucket when mopping up. "They just don't have the time," the supervisor said.  Sometimes there aren't enough cleaning supplies. A nurse, whose identity was asked to protect, said she's seen a cleaner mopping common areas after having mopped the rooms of infected patients because she didn't have enough mops to change. "She's just cross-contaminated the whole area, so there's no area that was actually clean." Sometimes, only one cleaner would be on staff in an entire hospital during night shifts. That kind of day-night difference is very common, and it makes no sense she added. I have seen enough in this hospital tour looking at the cleaning practices and found that that some hospitals are worse than others, much worse. "Some hospitals are a real freaking disaster.
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Tales of torture and abuse of women

The portrait of a cheerful, smiling woman in an orchard in Jammu and Kashmir can be found in promotional material of the State’s tourism literature. But many women in the State face discrimination and physical abuse from family members.

Salman Nizami

Suicides in Jammu and Kashmir have become common occurrences. Women, sometimes even young girls, kill themselves in an effort to escape a lifetime of abuse and suffering. Many Kashmiri women are victims of domestic violence. Either way, these women choose to end their lives tragically, by dousing themselves with kerosene and lighting their bodies on fire. Shehnaz Begum felt like she had no way out. Married off to her cousin at the age of 18, she had been beaten routinely by her husband and in-laws in their poor rural home in Devsar tehsil of Anantnag district for the first three years of her marriage. Marriage had become too much of a burden to bear. Then, after she saw her brother-in-law strike his wife on the head with a gun, Shehnaz finally did what she had threatened to do many times before: She doused herself in cooking fuel and struck a match.Now Shehnaz lies in a hospital bed, with third-degree burns covering 35 per cent of her body and ash coating the insides of her lungs. Her physician, Dr Mukhtaar Ahmed, believes it’s unlikely that she will survive. The terrifying thing is that she is far from the only person in Kashmir to take such drastic action. No one knows what the actual numbers are of the women who try to kill themselves in this fashion. More than 80 per cent of them cannot be saved. Dr Ahmed believes that most of his would-be patients never make it to the hospital. In some cases, families are too ashamed or fearful of prosecution to report what happened. “There are many such cases where, because of honour, because of the media, the families don’t want to disclose it,” says the doctor. “I’m sure there are many, many cases that are still invisible.”“I have seen a number of instances of women setting themselves on fire in my life,” says Shehnaz’s mother, wiping away tears. She insists that there is nothing unusual about her daughter. “Four months ago, someone else from our village lit herself on fire and died.”The same is the story of Nargis Ara. She thinks about the one day that she wants to forget, but it is all that she can think about. Still traumatised, she recounts the events that led her to a safe house in Humama, Srinagar. She had been beaten and nearly stabbed to death by her husband just days before I met her. Her lips are quivering and her eyes are full of fear. “He forced himself on me,” Nargis says. “All I could do was scream.” She was married off 15 years ago when she was a teenager. Throughout those years she was tortured and abused, suffering daily beatings with an electrical wire or the metal end of a hammer. This was her normal life. “He chased me with a hammer. He threatened that if I protested he would kill me,” Nargis recounts.Nargis and her husband could not conceive a child. And in Kashmiri society, it seems, the blame always falls on the woman. After one severe beating, she fled her home and to the police station. Her husband promised the police that he would not attack her anymore, so she gave in and agreed to return home with him.Days later, her husband took her on a trip to visit an apple orchid. As Nargis walked along the orchid with her husband he took her near a  tree where he forced her to the ground, lifted her burqa and assaulted her. He then threatened her with a knife. She screamed as he slashed at her throat. Now, she has no one to turn to, not even her own parents. She misses her parents but has not been allowed to meet them. She now hides in a safe house, isolated and alone. Like most Kashmiri women, she has lost all hope.Another case is from Doda, Syamul Nisa whose husband deserted her, allegedly subjected her to harassment, including physical torture, and served life threats, soon after the marriage. Syamul Nisa says, “We married on October 25, 2009, and then moved to Udhampur district for a living. In the second month of the marriage, the relationship turned sour. My dreams of happy married life shattered.” As the days passed into months, she said, her husband was transferred to Kashmir. She also visited the Valley where she gave birth to a baby on October 14, 2010. “Soon after giving birth to a baby, my husband left me at my sister’s house in Srinagar. This further worsened our relationship,” she said. “When we were going to our home in Doda after winter break, my husband dragged me out of his car near Qazigund and tried to flee. However, when people around the area gathered, he pretended as if all was well. However, after covering a distance of a few kilometers, he left me in the running car and escaped. Since then he has been raising demands of dowry.”In Kashmir for centuries women have been considered property — not equals, like the Constitution states. They are often beaten and raped. There are very few places women can turn to. “Our mothers are beaten by our fathers. Sisters are beaten by their fathers and their brothers. It’s a way of life,” said Irfan Mir, a local resident of Bhaderwah.Kalpana Tikku is a Kashmiri Pandit who grew up in Kashmir and has returned to the Valley to work with other women in the hope of bringing about a change in their living conditions. But that, she admitted, will take generations. “They see their mothers being beaten, they see their sisters their aunts, everybody, been beaten and abused” Kalpana said, adding, “So that’s what they expect for themselves.”Unfortunately, Jammu and Kashmir has thousands of similar heart-wrenching stories. But then, it’s also a State where, despite such handicaps, women are forging ahead in life. They provide hope to the thousands of others.