In the strife-torn Jammu and Kashmir, Ghazi Hussain is among scores of children who have seen bloodshed at close quarters. A resident of Doda district of Jammu, the eight-year-old doesn't raise his eyes when someone talks to him and avoids eye contact with anyone — a sure sign of depression, psychologists say. After repeated prodding, he is recounts the horror and misery that have scarred his life forever.
"I still remember the day when my father, mother and uncle were killed. I was beneath a table watching the killers when they barged into our house and fired at my family members. I can't forget that day," said Ghazi, who was just 4, when he saw his family members being massacred by unidentified gunmen.
He has since been brought up at an orphanage in Srinagar. "I want to leave this place but not before completing my studies (he is a student of class IV). I want to organise my sister’s marriage. Fortunately, she was at another uncle's house that fateful day.”
Meet Shabnam of Anantnag district of South Kashmir. Her father was killed by militants on the suspicion of being an army informer when she was just 10. Her mother re-married and deserted her two daughters. Shabnam and her sister live in an orphanage. Shabnam developed psychological complications and went to the extent of attempting suicide.
Following the intervention of the Child Protection Committee, she was handed over to her mother but as fate would have it, her mother abandoned Shabnam again.
There are many Ghazis and Shabnams in Kashmir – orphaned or abandoned by their parents, living in a twilight zone.
Ask them to write the English alphabet and many of them write A for Army, B for Bomb, C for Curfew, etc.
Toy sellers reveal that toy guns, pistols and armoured cars are hot favourites with these traumatised children. Twenty years of perpetual strife has devastated their lives.
Dr Akash Yousuf, who has done pioneering research on children with post-traumatic disorders, said, "They need a different kind of atmosphere as treatment. They should be taken out to tourist resorts and should not live in secluded environments.”
Records from the Srinagar Psychiatric Hospital suggest that an average of 15 patients were registered per day in the Outpatient Department in the 1980s. In 2002, the number increased to an average of 200 patients per day.
Many of them were children.