Children Of A Violent Past See No Future27 February 2010
Times of India
Srinagar: “We will stop throwing stones when there are no more stones to throw.” This was how a young man put it to me last week at a psychiatric OPD clinic in Srinagar. He lives in Raina-wari. He had joined in the stone-pelting after the recent death of Wamiq Farooq, a boy from his neighbourhood, killed by a teargas canister. I asked him if he could imagine a situation where there would be no reason to throw stones. “There will always be a reason,” he said. This young man is 22. He has no memory of Kashmir before the violence. He has been conditioned by a frightened society, and speaks on behalf of a whole section of young Kashmiris, who believe that they have no choices, and so have been pushed to express themselves this way. “I think it is an act of courage, don’t you?” another young man said to me a little later. “We are throwing stones, even though we know the risks to our lives. Whether we are throwing stones or picking up the gun, the security forces don’t see the difference. They will shoot anyway.” I asked whether he felt that the young men pelting stones over the last few days were truly aware of the risks. At the time an ‘unofficial’ curfew was still in place in the aftermath of Wamiq Farooq’s death. His was the fifth civilian death in a month, and more were to come. People were not able to move around easily, the streets were empty. The young man said they were aware of the risks.That is how he sees it. As an outsider who spends extended periods of time in Kashmir I see it from another point of view. People are usually driven to collective acts of violence for one of two psychological reasons. The first is anger, the second is the sense that there is nothing to lose. In the case of Kashmir, the first is self-explanatory. The second takes us into the pathology of the minds of many young Kashmiris: you are young; you are educated; the inherent optimism of youth has been damped down at each step in your life; recent apparent economic improvements are being threatened by renewed violence; the possibility of a career is almost non-existent; finding the means to provide for a family in the future seems impossible. In short, almost all of the norms that allow young people to transition into the adult world are unavailable. One of the most damaging feelings is that there is no future. Without a shape to the future, without hope, the human condition usually follows one of two courses: it descends into despair, or it is consumed with a level of rage that drives it to take uncalculated and devastating risks. The young men that I speak to are a mix of these two. They are coming to the Government Hospital of Psychiatric Diseases because they are in despair, manifesting as various forms of depression. Or they are trapped in a cycle of rage, anger, and frustration that can cause psychosis or a full mental breakdown in a fragile mind. The nature of the young and still forming mind is driven by the need to express itself, and to discover its strengths and limitations. In a violent society this becomes almost impossible. The physical energy of youth is limited by both the cultural mores of a society that is trying to protect itself from violence, and by the harsh parameters imposed on it by curfews, hartals and bandhs. The need to explore what lies ahead seems closed off by the sense that there is no kind of future to be had in Kashmir. The physical anger seeks an outlet or, as another young man said, “it will explode inside me, it will really kill me”. And so, without rational thought, without planning or consideration of the fallout, young men pick up stones and hurl them with the full force of their rage and frustration at whatever it is they see standing between them and their hope of a future. Justine Hardy founded an NGO that aims to heal the psychological scars of violence on people in the Valley.