A recent editorial article that addressed the health and freedom of ‘Kashmiri people’ published by The Lancet, a well-reputed international medical journal, has been criticised by the Indian Medical Association (IMA). The IMA is the country’s largest body of doctors and claimed that the editorial piece intervened in an internal and personal matter in India under the “garb of concern”.
‘Fear And Uncertainty Around Kashmir’
The editorial piece, ‘Fear and uncertainty around Kashmir’s Future’, asserted that the health of Kashmiris was affected during the recent clampdown in the Valley that bifurcated the state and the revocation of Article 370.
In discussing the health and needs of Kashmiris, the article made reference to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “prosperity” justification for the major changes made in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) and asserted that the people there first need healing rather than alietnation.
The Lancet raised ‘serious concerns for the health, safety and freedom of Kashmiri people’ and the changes made to J&K’s autonomy was called a ‘controversial move’.
The editorial piece was published on August 17 and stated: “in spite of decades of instability, developmental indicators suggest that Kashmir is doing well compared with the rest of India” and that in 2016, the state’s life expectancy was higher than the national average.”
The article cited a study conducted by Medecins Sans Frontieres, an international humanitarian agency, and according to that study, “nearly half of Kashmiris rarely felt safe and of those who had lost a family member to violence, one in five had witnessed the death first-hand”.
The Lancet’s article on Kashmir stated the following regarding the recent changes, current conditions, and the negative effects these are having on people living in the region:
Last week in a controversial move, India revoked the autonomous status of Jammu and Kashmir, allowing India greater authority over the state’s affairs. The announcement fanned tension with Pakistan, which also claims the region and has fought India over it for more than seven decades. At least 28 000 Indian security forces have been deployed; in the capital city Srinagar, a lockdown has been implemented that suspended communication and internet links, and a strict curfew has been imposed. The militant presence raises serious concerns for the health, safety, and freedoms of the Kashmiri people.
Since the insurgency of Kashmir in 1989, the state has experienced bloody conflict from both sides, resulting in more than 50 000 deaths. According to a report by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, published last month, gross human rights violations by state security forces and armed groups have occurred, including cross-border firings, sexual violence, enforced disappearances, and acts of terrorism. The report emphasises continued use of excessive force against civilians—for example, the use of pellet-firing shotguns has led to 1253 people being blinded between 2016 and 2018. Both India and Pakistan have largely dismissed the report’s recommendations to end the abuse.
Despite decades of instability, developmental indicators suggest that Kashmir is doing well compared with the rest of India. In 2016, life expectancy was 68·3 years for men and 71·8 years for women, which are greater than the respective national averages. However, the protracted exposure to violence has led to a formidable mental health crisis. A Médecins Sans Frontières study in two rural districts affected by conflict stated that nearly half of Kashmiris rarely felt safe and of those who had lost a family member to violence, one in five had witnessed the death firsthand. Therefore, it is unsurprising that people in the region have increased anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi vows that his decision to revoke autonomy will bring prosperity to Kashmir. But first, the people of Kashmir need healing from the deep wounds of this decades-old conflict, not subjugation to further violence and alienation.
It was also stated in the pieces that it was: “Therefore…unsurprising that people in the region have increased anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder,”
IMA Slams Lancet For Interfering
“It is unfortunate that the reputed medical journal The Lancet has committed a breach of propriety in commenting on this political issue. It is amounting to interference into an internal matter of Union of India. The Lancet has no local standing on the issue of Kashmir. Kashmir issue is a legacy that the British Empire left behind,” the IMA wrote in a letter to The Lancet.
Awadesh Kumar Singh, a doctor based in Calcutta, referred to the journal as a “shameful editorial”.
While some supported The Lancet for making an accurate assessment of issues in J&K, many others criticised the journal for interfering in the situation in Kashmir.
18 Doctors Write To BMJ
In a letter published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) on August 16, 18 doctors from across the country have asserted that the situation in the Valley is preventing people’s access to healthcare since August 5.
The letter referred to many patients who have been admitted to hospitals due to pellet-gun injuries. The Lancet’s article also cited a recent report published by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and reported that there have been gross human rights violations by security forces that have resulted in multiple forms of violence with 1,253 casualties between 2016 and 2018 caused by pellet firing shotguns.
One of the signatories of the letter wrote: “People are unable to call an ambulance to take a sick person to a hospital, they need to be taken in a private vehicle if they have access to one.”
“These vehicles are stopped every few metres by security forces standing at concertina wire barricades to check the identity and ask questions,” the letter read.
Although pellet injuries were initially denied by the government, the State police had confirmed on August 14 that these injuries were due to “stray protests” in Srinagar.
The letter explained that due to instability in the Valley, the staff in addition to the patience face great difficulty.
he doctors urged that the government to “ease communication and travel restrictions at the earliest and undertake any other measures that are required to allow patients to access healthcare without hindrance” and claimed that there are infringements on rights to healthcare and rights to live in the state.
Scarcity Of Medical Stock
The letter addressed the scarcity of medicines and read: “Certain medications are out of stock in the local stores, and there is at least one report of a person having to fly to New Delhi to purchase medicines for a sick relative.”
“Some women, due to delivery, were moved closer to a hospital when the troop build-up began as they anticipated some trouble. There are likely to be many more women who are not able to get to a hospital for their delivery or have got there very late,” the letter explains.
Also claimed in the letter is that among a population with already high levels of psychosocial stress, the situation has compounded the mental stress of Kashmiris.
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