(The people seem to be socially disconnected physically from each other due to the events of last couple of decades. This in turn has resulted in many psychological problems!)
In 2015, Medicines Sans Frontier conducted a survey in Kashmir about the mental health of the people. “Nearly 1 in 5 adults (19%) in the Kashmir Valley is living with significant PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) symptoms, representing 7,71,000 individuals, with 2,48,000 (6%) meeting the diagnostic criteria for PTSD,” a report of the research released by the MSF reads. According to the report one out of every two adults in Kashmir is mentally disturbed. This mental disturbance is reported to be the result of the violent conflict in which the valley had been caught for last couple of decades. However, apart from the stress due to the violence and conflict all around, one of the other most important reasons is the virtually total physical social disconnect due to the prevailing circumstances.
Traditionally, Kashmiri society has always been very active socially. Generally, people have always remained in continuous touch with relatives living in different parts of the city and even in the entire Vale of Kashmir. People in each locality have stayed in touch with their neighbours routinely and would also participate in various social functions even regardless of the religion. There used to be very active inter-religious interaction before the eruption of militancy in the nineties of the last century. The social disconnection initially resulted in nineties due to continuous infamous Cordon-and-Search Operations (CASO) often referred to as ‘crackdowns’ and unending strict curfews. People preferred the “safety” of their own homes. However, the early part of the present century did give some relaxation and people had again started getting socially active. But the events of 2008, 2010 and finally those unfolding in 2016 forced local people to remain stuck in their own homes.
Incidentally, the people in rural areas have remained socially more connected with one another unlike the urbanites especially those living in some areas of Srinagar. During the disturbances of 2016, people in most of the rural areas came closer to each other because of the continuous onslaught resultant from CASOs, encounters and so on. Apart from these security operations, the other most important factor for total social disconnection has been the unending calls for bandhs and hartals which always confine people to their homes. Whether there are calls for shutdowns from leaders or there are “restrictions” from the government, the result is the same: confinement of people to their homes! Nobody likes to venture out in both the eventualities unless there are compelling reasons such as sickness, mourning and so on! All these years people in general and sometimes even close relatives have been meeting each other only on two occasions: marriages or funerals!
The physical social disconnection got a shot in the arm by the sudden outburst of the social networking sites like the Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, etc. Now people don’t have to move out at all. All interactions are done virtually through these extremely popular sites. In fact, people have been turning into “couch potatoes”, thanks to these sites! Even though these sites allow people to be in virtual touch with one another for all social functions and other events yet these are no substitute to actual physical interaction. The physical interaction in which people hug each other, shake hands, touch each other and feel each other is totally different and has its own great psychological advantages. Over a period of time people lose touch with the physical reality of other people and even things. The only advantage of these sites is keeping one updated with happenings all around. It is the fastest news disseminating media regardless of the fact whether the news is correct or incorrect. The most in thing these days is WhatsApp. Not only are people using it as the fastest means of communication for transferring data, photographs, videos but also as an easy tool for video calls. At the moment it seems to be the most used information tool on the information highway of Internet! It has also many other advantages such as an aid in education, an important marketing tool and so on. However, in no case can it replace the actual physical interaction.
In recent times, people have once again started meeting each other off and on. It is a good sign for reviving physical interaction. However, the friends instead of meeting in hotels and restaurants need to meet in peoples’ homes. Meetings in peoples’ homes are more informal, interactive than the formal or even informal ones in public places. Apart from this there is urgent need to revive the practice of visiting relatives and friends quite often on a regular basis. The visits should not remain confined to marriages and condolences only! Another decent way of reviving physical social interaction is something like a Coffee House. In the past, the Coffee House was the main point of meeting and interaction. One could sit there for hours on end, discuss various topics on just a few cups of coffee. We have now no such places anywhere. Most of the public meeting places like restaurants are quite expensive and people cannot sit there for a long time. Can some people come forward and set up a society to open Kehwa Khanas on the pattern of Coffee Houses in various urban centres? These could be the meeting places for intellectuals, journalists and others. Food for thought! Incidentally, the journalists have a Press Club now (though it will be fully functional by mid-2018). Hopefully, it will be made as lively as the Press Club in Delhi! A meeting place for the intellectuals. Let us hope the Physical Social Interaction fully revives and the Medicines Sans Frontier’s next survey gives a healthy report about Kashmiris!
Mohammad Ashraf, I.A.S. (Retired), Former Director General Tourism, Jammu & Kashmir