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Kashmir’s young lovers, the unspoken casualty of lockdown

February 12, 2020

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Kashmir’s young lovers, the unspoken casualty of lockdown

Srinagar, Jammu and Kashmir: On October 2, 2019, Sheema (name changed), 28, a resident of Srinagar, couldn’t contain herself and left in search of her boyfriend Suhail Dar after not seeing him since August 5, when the Indian government scrapped Article 370 of the constitution. The curfew that was placed prevented numerous young lovers and newlyweds from contacting their partners, giving rise to psychological stress, depression and panic attacks, local doctors say.

To meet Dar, who lived in the Barzulla area of Srinagar, Sheema walked nine kilometres but didn’t know his exact location. As she began wandering the alleys of the area, the locals thought she was a police informer. Soon, they learnt she was just in search of her boyfriend. She had to return without meeting him after she found out that he, along with his family members, had temporarily shifted to Jammu.

“While my heart was palpitating in the remembrance of my beloved who had remained cut off from me for more than two months, I kept hoping against all odd thoughts. I became a patient of depression, for which I went to a psychiatric consultant who prescribed me sleeping tablets,” she stated.

Finally, Sheema and Dar spoke on October 14, after the administration announced the restoration of postpaid mobile services. “It was like Eid for me when I spoke to my partner after 72 days,” Sheema exclaimed.

Before that, partial fixed-line telephony was resumed on August 17 and by September 4, nearly 50,000 landlines were declared operational.

However, in the Hindu-dominated Jammu division, the government restored communication days after the blockade. Not only Sheema, but several other young individuals also showed symptoms of psychological stress and disorders owing to the separation from their loved ones.

Clampdown prevented contact

Dr Sadaqat Rehman, a Srinagar-based psychiatrist, told 101Reporters that till mid-October, she used to attend at least two to three cases where the patient was under acute stress and was having panic attacks every day.

In another case, Sarfaraz Yousuf, 28, a resident of south Kashmir’s Anantnag district, found out that by the time the clampdown had lifted, his girlfriend had been forced into marriage by her parents.

Yousuf stated he was in the  Srinagar, where he works, when authorities snapped the communication channels and imposed a curfew across the Valley, leaving many without any means to contact their family or partners.

On August 27, more than 20 days after the curfew was placed, Yousuf managed to reach his hometown but wasn’t able to meet his girlfriend who used to live about 1.5 kilometres away from his place.

After being restless for more than a week, Yousuf finally saw her while returning from the Friday prayers, but couldn’t speak to her in fear as he was accompanied by his father.

After two weeks, Yousuf visited his girlfriend’s locality hoping to catch a glance of her. He went to a local shopkeeper, who happened to be his partner’s neighbour but unaware of their romantic relationship. “Uski shadi hai aaj (It is her wedding today),” Yousuf quoted the shopkeeper as saying and he says, “The answer pierced my heart.”

No communication, rising anxiety

Psychiatrists are of the opinion that the absence of communication among the couples for a long period could lead them to depression.

Before snapping the cellular and internet services in Kashmir, speaking to your partner over phone or video call was a common trend, but when the communication was obstructed abruptly, panic attacks became common among youngsters who were in a relationship, doctors say.

Stating a patient’s case, Dr Rehman mentioned that he was suffering from extreme anxiety and panic attacks, but was excited once he realised that the internet services will be restored as per a Supreme Court order.

Dr Yuman Kawoos, a psychiatrist who works in the district hospital at central Kashmir’s Ganderbal district, stated that she treated dozens of such patients who were in a relationship and were in a state of first-episode depression because of the communication lockdown.

She added that a lot of such patients needed treatment for anxiety, panic attacks, restlessness and sleep disturbance patterns.

However, even after the restoration of cellular mobile services, the after-effects of the communication gag is still present among couples.

Dr Kawoos mentioned that a number of patients diagnosed with depression during the lockdown continued coming even after it ended and when asked about the reasons, they say they weren’t able to bear the separation.

Dr Ajaz Khan, a clinical psychologist at the Government Psychiatric Hospital in Srinagar, explained that in most relationships, a person is ‘dependent’ on their partner regarding regular conversation and support but when the communication is cut abruptly, insecurity and negativity becomes common among them.

“When there is no communication for a longer period, the couples feel insecure, and that leads to anxiety and high-stress level,” he highlighted.

According to him, depression did not occur at the first-stage but insecurity, palpitations, restlessness, stress and negative thoughts developed which ultimately lead to depression.

He added if the stress remains persistent and the symptoms are not managed, depressive symptoms start developing, leading to sadness and lack of interest.

(The author is a Srinagar-based freelance writer and a member of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters.)