17 July 2009

In the Valley of Mist by Justine Hardy

Psychiatric wards and the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in Kashmir
Justine Hardy is English, and has been travelling to Kashmir ever since she was eleven years old. For the last 20 years she has been visiting there every year and sometimes several times a year. In the Valley of Mist is a documentary-style book which gives vignettes of her experiences and conversations through the years of the turmoil and conflict in the state. Her books, Goat - A story of Kashmir and Notting Hill, and the novel The Wonder Hill, are set in Kashmir. In Scoop-Wallah she writes about the year she spent as a reporter for The Indian Express in New Delhi.
In In the Valley of Mist one of the things she writes of is the psychiatric wards in the hospitals of Kashmir where helpless victims queue for attention with their loved ones who have been thrown off balance to various degrees by the violence and disruption to their lives.
I contacted Justine before I wrote this review for Sunday Mid-day and she told me
“I have been working in this field for many years, and am now lucky enough to be joined in this in Kashmir by some wonderful doctors and psychiatrists who want to help their people.” Some of these are therapists from the UK who Justine had met several years ago through their work in Bosnia, working with victims of the war there in the mid-1990s.
She added, “It has taken a while for the main clinic to be built in Srinagar at SMHS Hospital. The psychiatrist that I wrote about in the book, Dr Arshad Hussain, has been funded by the
Central Government to build a new psychiatric clinic at the hospital because the problem is so widespread in Kashmir as a result of twenty years of violence. A large percentage of the population is living with varying degrees of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, ranging in severity from low level depression to full mental and physical breakdown. As the clinic was taking longer to build as a result of last summer’s renewed violence over the Amarnath Shrine land, and then recent trouble over the deaths of the two young women in Shopian, we started taking health camps out to the rural areas earlier this year while the clinic was being finished.These are being done by local doctors, we are covering all the expenses, and I have raised money to bring the therapists from England and to cover their costs. They will be working at both the clinic and joining us at the health camps. The therapists and the local doctors are doing all this work voluntarily.”

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