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Shell shocked

delhi Updated: Feb 05, 2009 13:55 IST
Abhishek Sharan
Abhishek Sharan
Hindustan Times
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Crowds set Nanhe Paswan’s heart racing. Loud reports leave the 36-year-old gardener startled and agitated. The Chhattarpur resident is a victim of last year’s blast in the crowded Mehrauli market.

On September 27, a bomb had gone off hardly three metres from Paswan. Three-inch-long shrapnel sliced his neck in half.

Four months later, he remains partially-paralysed, awaiting an operation he can barely afford. But more than the physical pain, it is the raw mental scars of the episode that torment him.

Paswan is not alone: roughly 88 per cent victims/ survivors of Delhi’s September 13 serial blasts and the Mehrauli blast are still suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorders (PTSD).

This is the finding of a survey done by city-based NGO, Swanchetan Society for Mental Health. Led by its director and clinical psychologist Rajat Mitra, the group’s team of eight counsellors assessed the trauma level of a representative sample of 76 victims by making them respond to a lengthy questionnaire between December 2008 and January 2009.

“Our team found that while 90 per cent of the victims were suffering from PTSD, none of them had been provided any counselling by any state agency,” Mitra told HT. “It showed that while we may be catching or killing alleged terror operatives, the state is not doing anything to tackle the terror they leave behind in the hearts and minds of their victims. The state, like the US government did after 9/11, should create an institutional framework to counsel victims.”

“I have this nagging fear that a blast would occur near me. For a few seconds, it leaves me shivering while my eyes twitch,” Paswan told HT. He now works as a caretaker of a Vasant Kunj farmhouse as his right hand and leg are paralysed. His monthly earning is a meagre Rs 1,000, down from Rs 5,000 earlier. And there are still seven mouths to feed in the family

A few others, like Mayank Kaul, a 29-year-old sales executive who suffered injuries in his right leg in a blast at Karol Bagh on September 13 last year, still get split-second ‘flashbacks and nightmares’.

The ‘flashback’, which reminds him of the moments he experienced after a bomb went off near him at Gali number 42 in Karol Bagh that evening, comes with or even without an external trigger. “I sometimes smell burning tyres, burning flesh. I get visions of a limb or a hand flying past me,” Kaul told HT.

“A majority of those suffering from PTSD said they experienced sadness and a deep sense of loss, including of dignity. They feel humiliated due to their post-blast dependence on others, due to the injuries they have sustained,” said Mitra.

His team suggested a set of ‘trauma exercises’ to the victims and asked them to express them, verbally or through sketching, to try tackling them.

“We also tried to make them identify the forewarnings of their symptoms, so that they could handle them better,” Mitra said.

The findings of the survey would go into the compilation of a ‘First Intervention Model’, an instructive code on how to identify and alleviate PTSDs among victims of any disaster, especially terror.

Name of the Karol Bagh victim is changed on his request.