On August 5, 2019, a historic Bill was passed that changed the constitutional fabric of India, perhaps forever. The region of Jammu and Kashmir had been until then, wrapped by the bare threads of Article 370 and Article 35A of the Constitution of India. These statutes of law, although provisional and temporary, provided a sense of safety to the ethnically diverse population of Jammu, Kashmir, and Ladakh. However, in an unprecedented move, the ruling Government, Bhartiya Janta Party, proposed a bill in the last few working hours of the Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha to bifurcate the region of Jammu and Kashmir into two Union Territories with the eventual hope of transitioning into statehood.
It has been over two months, and the fate of the region is still under shadows. Narratives of conflict and cohesion around this decision have stormed the social media portals, which have become an alternate space of debate and discussion against the often-vitriolic discourse of mainstream media houses. On the one hand, the Government of India is criticized for the manipulative maneuver with which it implemented the abolishment of Article 370 – for instance, stopping the Amarnath Yatra, issuing urgent notices to tourists in the Kashmir Valley to depart immediately, communication blackout in the Valley, shutting down businesses, and detaining the political leaders at the midnight hour. While on the other hand, the Government of India is also being lauded for its courage in initiating a decision over a region that has garnered international presence for several decades. This decision significantly alters the history of independent India and geopolitics of the South Asian sub-continent.
As the impacts of this decision unfold, the real, far-reaching consequences will only become visible after October 31, 2019, when The Jammu and Kashmir Reorganization Act, 2019, will come into effect. Only then would we know how the lives of J&K residents remain changed forever. As various forums discuss the potential consequences, changes, and concessions that the Central Government will provide J&K shortly, a focus is needed on the interlinked and (in)visible anxiety caused to the youth of Jammu.
Compared to their peers in Kashmir, the youth in Jammu faces similar and seemingly different challenges. As a mental health researcher in Jammu City, I have observed a steady growth and demand for mental healthcare in the region. My interactions with mental health professionals at the only state-sponsored psychiatric hospital have revealed to me the acute shortage of mental health professionals in Jammu City to meet the outpatient demands at the hospital. People often come from far-flung areas for consultation, renewal of medicine prescription, disability certificates, etc., to the sole psychiatric hospital. Managing clinical and administrative responsibilities while balancing work and personal life is, in itself, a severe challenge to these professionals in Jammu City. Through my varied interactions with mental health professionals, their clients, the youth of Jammu, and other Jammu residents, I have garnered a few reasons that are contributing to the brewing mental health crisis for youth in Jammu.
First, disruption of daily life due to incidents of conflict, violence, and curfew either in Jammu or neighboring Kashmir has facilitated a sense of despair and uncertainty among the youth. Second, frequent communication blackout in a society that is gradually losing its social structure of community participation, joint family set-up, or lack of a large number of siblings is pushing the youth towards loneliness.
In my research and interaction with young residents of the Jammu region, I often witness a deep sense of sadness and a loss of future Self. Men often complain about the lack of employment opportunities, unfair regional distribution of merit-based appointments at government offices, increasing trend of ad-hoc hiring or contractual positions compromising long-term financial safety, and articulate improvised forms of living in precarious political, structural, and personal circumstances. Women, on the other hand, express their helplessness through uncontrollable tears. They cite how their gender roles in the society often restrict them to familiar and traditional roles of home-maker, teacher, tutor, or creche coordinator. Their aspirations of becoming a professional such as a scientist or researcher often stay at the foothills of their adult life as they navigate marriage, motherhood, and family responsibility due to the expected social norms and lifestyle in a Jammu society.
Men and women both express anger, psychological distress, and social anxiety over their loss of futures due to delay in examinations, frequent disruption of governance, strikes, and demonstrations, ineffective law, and order, etc., to name a few. While these incidences stand to change in light of the abolishment of Article 370 and the central government’s promise of providing regular care and access to Jammu and Kashmir like other Indian states, the merit of these promises remains to be seen. In light of these changes, we cannot ignore the pleas of youth that is navigating ruptured pasts, slippery presents, and uncertain futures. Their pain is embodied and is manifesting in varied forms of a mental health crisis with addiction leading at the top. Intoxicating oneself with illegal substances to numb feelings and emotions, avoiding pain and suffering is equivalent to dissolving the Self through suicide.
Such kinds of invisible violence and control over one’s environment and choice either politically, filially, or socially conceal their collective dread and anxiety. Loss of social esteem, loss of meaning in life, loss of social capital for youth in Jammu is an indication of broken social world order in which instability, vulnerability, and precarious economic living are pervasive. Thus, the need of the hour is to attend to the administrative changes that the region of Jammu and Kashmir is going through, and also pause and reflect on the futures of youth, provide them with resources, opportunities, and avenues to articulate their aspirations and frustrations to progress towards holistic psychological well-being.
(The author is a mental health scholar and Ph.D. student at the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill, USA.)