The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Kargil shells pound civilian minds

Srinagar, Aug. 10: Four years after hostilities ceased in Kargil, residents of the region are still paying a price.

Border shelling and the fear of having to rush to bomb shelters have resulted in residents of the border town being afflicted by various mental ailments. Valley-based psychiatrists are finding it difficult to cope with the large numbers of patients who come to them from the desert region of Kargil.

“I hardly remember getting a patient from Kargil who would not complain of sleeplessness and other manifestations of post-traumatic stress disorders,” Dr Margoob, the Valley’s leading psychiatrist said here.

Sultan (name changed) is one of the patients Margoob has treated recently. The 45-year-old has been distraught ever since he saw a Pakistani shell land on his neighbour’s house last year, killing all those inside.

“He has never been normal since,” says Margoob. Sultan suffers sleeplessness, excessive sweating, tremors, palpitation and displays suicidal tendencies — all symptoms of a post-traumatic stress disorder.

Margoob has been trying to help Sultan get better, but with little success. “The intensity of the symptoms is very high among Kargil patients,” he said.

Sultan is not the only patient with such complaints. Margoob has had dozens of them from Kargil, including patients who have migrated to safer places near the border town. “Since the Srinagar-Leh National Highway remains closed for nearly six months because of heavy winter snow, I have to often take frantic calls from my patients whom I try to treat over telephone by advising local doctors how to manage such complaints,” he says.

The rush of patients from Kargil is adding to Margoob’s workload and increasing their numbers at the only hospital for mental diseases in the Valley. There has been a big rise in psychiatrist disorders in the region. Nearly 36,000 patients with psychiatric problems have visited the hospital in the last seven months.

Margoob told a recent workshop on mental ailments here: “Post-traumatic stress disorders bring about structural changes in the brain, which affect our memory and leads to forgetfulness. Imagine what would be its devastating effect on the next generation.”

The mental hospital was gutted in 1995 in a mysterious fire. Despite the best efforts of local doctors and the government, it remains in a shambles.

“There is total confusion inside the hospital. It truly is a madhouse,” said Bashir Ahmad, who visited the hospital recently with his mother who had suffered palpitations.

Psychiatrists attribute the big rise in mental aliments to killings, arrests, crossfire incidents and nocturnal crackdowns that have been so common during the 13 years of insurgency in the state.

This is borne out by Margoob’s statistics. In 1985, 775 patients visited the hospital. The number rose to 1,762 in 1990, when militancy erupted in Kashmir.

In 2001, 37,860 patients visited the hospital, and 43,654 the next year. In the first seven months of 2003, 36,000 patients have sought psychiatric help at the hospital.

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