Islamic issue

The new Hizbul commander's call to fight for Islam over Kashmir is cause for alarm

Disgusted with corruption and unresponsive governments, many Kashmiri youth are easily convinced that divinely sanctioned systems would be better.

A video by Hizbul Mujahideen commander Zakir Rashid Bhat urging Kashmiri youth to fight for Islam’s supremacy rather than a new nation-state, which was widely reported last week, should give us pause. This is not the dominant sentiment in Kashmir, but the speech does give a glimpse into how a significant proportion of Kashmiri students and other teenagers now think. This is precisely the age group that was on the streets for close to four months last year, following the killing of Burhan Wani – Bhat’s predecessor as Hizbul Mujahideen commander – by security forces on July 8.

Such ideas have seeped into young minds through a barrage of messages via social media, on SMS, through televangelists and the discourse of some clerics. In most cases, for the youngsters that imbibe them, these ideas are not carefully thought through. They are rooted in a belief that Muslims are oppressed and degraded on a global scale. Bhat’s speech reflects a contemporary reinvention of ideas that can be traced to the 19th-century poet, Hali and political activist, Jamaluddin Afghani, more than the 18th-century Saudi zealot, Mohammed ibn Abdul Wahhab, founder of the ultra-conservative Wahhabism movement.

Many youngsters believe that Muslims are in bad shape because they have strayed from the true and narrow path shown by Allah through the Quran. Ergo, strictly following what is perceived as pure Islam and eschewing corruptions would bring a golden age. Of course, that means that they must force all those around them to do the same, so that their entire society may be purged. It’s easy to take that two steps further, to make it a global agenda.

Destabilising Pakistan too

This sort of thinking that leans towards a pan-Islamist state or caliphate is dangerous for the stability of nation-states such as Pakistan and Bangladesh as for India. It is easy to forget that Pakistan jailed Jamaat-e-Islami founder Maulana Maududi during the 1950s – the phase in which Maududi was pan-Islamist and argued against a republican nation state.

Hizbul Mujahideen has had close links with Jamaat-e-Islami since 1990. Pakistan played with fire by switching its backing from the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front, which claimed to be nationalist, to the overtly Islamist Hizbul Mujahideen in January that year, through the Jamaat. Pakistan’s deployment of militants from Lashkar-e-Toiba and the largely Afghan Harkat-ul Mujahideen in Kashmir too was a dangerous ploy. Luckily (at least from a liberal perspective), the gunmen of none of those groups made much of an impact on Kashmiri society or thinking. Most Kashmiris thought of them as foreigners right until the previous phase of militancy ended around 2005.

Indeed, the bitter fruits of several such decisions of the 1980s and 1990s have hit Pakistan over the past decade or so. Over the past couple of years, that country has sought to leap over this growing domestic challenge through another kind of global linkage – by turning a large swathe of Pakistan over as an economic corridor for China and Russia to reach the Arabian Sea.

Which way that will turn out is another story.

Narrow vision

More pertinent is the fact that exclusivist, narrow-vision ideas have been absorbed into Kashmiri society. During interactions and surveys among school and college students across the Valley over the past few years, I have discovered a positive correlation between a younger age demographic and the absorption of such ideas. They are more common among today’s teenagers than among young adults – and are, generally, least commonly accepted among older Kashmiris.

It is important to keep in mind that Islam – and hence a system of justice and administration based on Islamic principles – is morally privileged. To many Kashmiri students, Shariat law seems to signify an end to pervasive corruption, self-centred ethics, and maladministration. For one survey, answering different questions in the same questionnaire, many more students wrote that they would prefer Shariat law than agreed that a person should be stoned for adultery or have hands cut off for theft. They viewed shariat as a divinely sanctioned law, which would enforce responsive, corruption-free governance, but they did not necessarily want a very harsh punitive code.

In the same survey, conducted near the beginning of this decade, many students wrote that laws should be based on Shariat and also be democratic. Bhat’s video speech is one among several indicators that democracy has become less popular since then.

The elections of 2008 and of 2014 both raised hopes, which were then dashed. This is a sharp contrast to the 2002 elections, when there was little hope (only disgust with the incumbent regime) but unexpected satisfaction with the Mufti Mohammad Sayeed-led government.

By contrast, the elections of 2014 led to the horrified realisation that people, particularly in the South Kashmir centres of current unrest, had in effect voted for the Bharatiya Janata Party to come to power in the state – where it is an ally of the Mehbooba Mufti-led People’s Democratic Party. Controversies over a beef ban and the special status accorded to the state under the Constitution accentuated that horror during 2015. The emergence on Saturday of Hindutva hardliner Yogi Adityanath as chief minister of Uttar Pradesh will no doubt push Kashmiri youth farther into blinkered identity-based tropes.

Some shrill television anchors described Bhat’s speech as having been dictated by Pakistan. They do not want to see the extent to which the speech is bad news for Pakistan – and China and Russia too! For, Bhat not only urged youth to fight for Muslim domination, he described nationalism and democracy as haraam (unacceptable).

Extremist leadership

Those anchors also trained their verbal fire at leaders of Kashmir’s freedom movement, such as Syed Ali Shah Geelani. They miss the wood for the trees. Today’s so-called radicalised teenagers have little regard for Geelani or any other leader of the freedom movement.

When the Valley rose in revolt in 2008, many bands of youth turned up at the homes of these so-called leaders, asking that they lead their demonstrations against the transfer of land to the Amarnath Shrine board – the issue that sparked the uprising that year. In 2016, young people did not even approach the leaders who are the face of Kashmir’s freedom struggle. During a campus chat last year, students at Pulwama Degree College only named the Prophet as their hero, refusing to name any contemporary figure.

The Hurriyat leaders remained safely ensconsed behind security inside their homes last year - under so-called house arrest. That of course only ceded ground to young men like Bhat to dictate the nature, agenda and objectives of the movement. This is only one of the many counterproductive tactics and strategies of the police and the state government that has sent the situation in Kashmir into a vicious cycle of destruction.

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Removing the layers of complexity that weigh down mental health in rural India

Patients in rural areas of the country face several obstacles to get to treatment.

Two individuals, with sombre faces, are immersed in conversation in a sunlit classroom. This image is the theme across WHO’s 2017 campaign ‘Depression: let’s talk’ that aims to encourage people suffering from depression or anxiety to seek help and get assistance. The fact that depression is the theme of World Health Day 2017 indicates the growing global awareness of mental health. This intensification of the discourse on mental health unfortunately coincides with the global rise in mental illness. According to the latest estimates from WHO, more than 300 million people across the globe are suffering from depression, an increase of 18% between 2005 and 2015.

In India, the National Mental Health Survey of India, 2015-16, conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS) revealed the prevalence of mental disorders in 13.7% of the surveyed population. The survey also highlighted that common mental disorders including depression, anxiety disorders and substance use disorders affect nearly 10% of the population, with 1 in 20 people in India suffering from depression. Perhaps the most crucial finding from this survey is the disclosure of a huge treatment gap that remains very high in our country and even worse in rural areas.

According to the National Mental Health Programme, basic psychiatric care is mandated to be provided in every primary health centre – the state run rural healthcare clinics that are the most basic units of India’s public health system. The government provides basic training for all primary health centre doctors, and pays for psychiatric medication to be stocked and available to patients. Despite this mandate, the implementation of mental health services in rural parts of the country continues to be riddled with difficulties:

Attitudinal barriers

In some rural parts of the country, a heavy social stigma exists against mental illness – this has been documented in many studies including the NIMHANS study mentioned earlier. Mental illness is considered to be the “possession of an evil spirit in an individual”. To rid the individual of this evil spirit, patients or family members rely on traditional healers or religious practitioners. Lack of awareness on mental disorders has led to further strengthening of this stigma. Most families refuse to acknowledge the presence of a mental disorder to save themselves from the discrimination in the community.

Lack of healthcare services

The average national deficit of trained psychiatrists in India is estimated to be 77% (0.2 psychiatrists per 1,00,000 population) – this shows the scale of the problem across rural and urban India. The absence of mental healthcare infrastructure compounds the public health problem as many individuals living with mental disorders remain untreated.

Economic burden

The scarcity of healthcare services also means that poor families have to travel great distances to get good mental healthcare. They are often unable to afford the cost of transportation to medical centres that provide treatment.

After focussed efforts towards awareness building on mental health in India, The Live Love Laugh Foundation (TLLLF), founded by Deepika Padukone, is steering its cause towards understanding mental health of rural India. TLLLF has joined forces with The Association of People with Disability (APD), a non-governmental organisation working in the field of disability for the last 57 years to work towards ensuring quality treatment for the rural population living with mental disorders.

APD’s intervention strategy starts with surveys to identify individuals suffering from mental illnesses. The identified individuals and families are then directed to the local Primary Healthcare Centres. In the background, APD capacity building programs work simultaneously to create awareness about mental illnesses amongst community workers (ASHA workers, Village Rehabilitation Workers and General Physicians) in the area. The whole complex process involves creating the social acceptance of mental health conditions and motivating them to approach healthcare specialists.

Participants of the program.
Participants of the program.

When mental health patients are finally free of social barriers and seeking help, APD also mobilises its network to make treatments accessible and affordable. The organisation coordinates psychiatrists’ visits to camps and local healthcare centres and ensures that the necessary medicines are well stocked and free medicines are available to the patients.

We spent a lot of money for treatment and travel. We visited Shivamogha Manasa and Dharwad Hospital for getting treatment. We were not able to continue the treatment for long as we are poor. We suffered economic burden because of the long- distance travel required for the treatment. Now we are getting quality psychiatric service near our village. We are getting free medication in taluk and Primary Healthcare Centres resulting in less economic stress.

— A parent's experience at an APD treatment camp.

In the two years TLLLF has partnered with APD, 892 and individuals with mental health concerns have been treated in the districts of Kolar, Davangere, Chikkaballapur and Bijapur in Karnataka. Over 4620 students participated in awareness building sessions. TLLLF and APD have also secured the participation of 810 community health workers including ASHA workers in the mental health awareness projects - a crucial victory as these workers play an important role in spreading awareness about health. Post treatment, 155 patients have resumed their previous occupations.

To mark World Mental Health Day, 2017, a team from TLLLF lead by Deepika Padukone visited program participants in the Davengere district.

Sessions on World Mental Health Day, 2017.
Sessions on World Mental Health Day, 2017.

In the face of a mental health crisis, it is essential to overcome the treatment gap present across the country, rural and urban. While awareness campaigns attempt to destigmatise mental disorders, policymakers need to make treatment accessible and cost effective. Until then, organisations like TLLLF and APD are doing what they can to create an environment that acknowledges and supports people who live with mental disorders. To know more, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of The Live Love Laugh Foundation and not by the Scroll editorial team.