Monday, August 6, 2007
Lost World,Forgotten People-by Aditi Bhaduri
When Sunita, 24, got married, she was looking forwardto some change in her life. But the much-sought- afterchange never came. Used to living with a family offive in a 10x10-foot hutment, she did not find her newhome - of similar dimensions - radically different.Only the five other members now were all strangers,even if family. For Sunita, the discomfort ofovercrowded living became unbearable because of thelack of privacy and the indignity it entailed. "It'snot possible to change your clothes before yourfather-in-law or brother-in-law, " she complainssullenly.Sunita is not alone in her misery. For the 1,800 menand women living in Battal Balian camp, near Jammu,this one of life's realities. They sought refuge herearound 17 years ago, when terrorism had hit the Kashmir Valley, to escape the horrors of thekilling of Kashmiri Pundits by militants. According to Human Rights Watch, over 300,000 KashmiriHindus - 90 per cent of the Hindu population of theKashmir Valley - remain displaced. In fact, theycomprise India's largest displaced population. Ofthem, about 4,880 families, each with an average offour members, are living in camps in and around Jammu(the summer capital of the state of Jammu andKashmir). And predictably, almost 60 per cent of thedisplaced are women.While almost one-third of Battal Balian camp'spopulation was well into adulthood at the time of theexodus, a new generation like Sunita's has grown uphere. Her husband, Maharaj Kishen, who is in thepolice force, is posted in Budgam near Srinagar, butshe stays with the family because of securityconcerns. The couple meets for a few days every threemonths. But, in his absence, she eagerly watches TVfor news from Kashmir and the images of violence fillher with dread. Quiet, melancholic Sunita suffers fromfainting fits and depression, which is very common inthe camp.Miles from Battal Balian, in Mutthi camp, Janak Rani,65, has acute dementia - she has lost her speech andsits still all her waking hours. She has to be fed,clothed and cleaned by her daughter-in- law. Janak isjust one of the many elderly, who have psychologicaldisorders caused by the trauma of violence in theValley, flight and dislocation.Most women above 40 also suffer from obesity. Hailingfrom Kashmir's rural areas, they were used to anactive lifestyle. But in the camps, due to a paucityof space - narrow walls separate the hutments, whiledirty alleys with open drains are the only outdoorspace available - there is little scope for exerciseor movement. Lack of proper nutrition and a changeddiet (for want of resources and dependence ongovernment rations) has also contributed to theproblem.Extreme climatic conditions, use of harmfulconstruction material, acute electricity shortage,lack of clean and sufficient drinking water anduntreated sewage ensure the spread of many infectionsand diseases in the camps. Skin diseases, respiratoryand pulmonary infections, metabolic and stressdisorders, tuberculosis and diabetes are commonplace.Anaemia, too, is rampant. During a health camporganised by Delhi-based Indraprastha ApolloHospitals, in Purkhu in May this year, Dr Shakti Bhanfound that almost all the 450 women examined hadanaemia, which causes severe menstrual disorders aswell as premature menopause.Doctors at Jammu's Shriya Bhatt Hospital and ResearchCentre say that before the exodus, the average age ofmenopause had been 48 years. It has now come down to41 years. "Depression and trauma lead to prematuremenopause," explains Dr Bhan. "In their case, ayearning for the homeland, the animal-like conditionsof the present, and the uncertainty about the futurehave contributed to depression."Younger women have not been spared from the trauma ofill-heath. Puja, 16, from the Mishriwalla camp did notmenstruate for a full year. She was ultimatelydiagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). DrIndu Kaul, a noted gynaecologist in Jammu, has beenworking with the displaced women for the last 13years. According to her, the rate of menstrualdisorders among women in the camps is 30 per cent ascompared to 15 per cent in the rest of the country.Other physical discomforts and unhygienic conditionslike shared toilets located at some distance from thehutments have also impacted the women negatively. Theunclean communal toilets - one for approximately 75women - are not only the cause of daily humiliationand irritation, but they have serious consequences aswell.Radhamali, 65, from Mishriwalla camp has beensuffering from recurrent UTI or urinary tractinfection for over a decade now. Rajni, 33, in Mutthicamp tripped and had a miscarriage during her firstpregnancy - she was groping her way in the dark to thetoilet situated almost a kilometre away from hertenement. At the same camp, Promilla, 28, had acaesarean delivery, but the unhygienic toilets causedher post-delivery stitches to become septic.While the problems are many and widespread, medicalfacilities in the camps are almost non-existent. Andeven if there are some available, the cost oftreatment is often beyond the inhabitants' means.There is bewilderment in the camps at the indifferenceof the world around them to their plight. "No oneseems to care for us, we do not matter," says RajniBhat of the All Kashmiri Pandit Solidarity Conference.And with no member of the National Women's Commissionor the Ministry of Women and Child Welfare having hadthe time or inclination to visit the camps - Article370 seems to get into the way - who can dispute thisclaim?