Kashmir's Damaged Psyche

L to R: John Halpern, Sadanand Dhume, and Justine Hardy at Asia Society New York on Apr. 5, 2010.

NEW YORK, April 5, 2010 - "The greatest damage of any extended conflict is to the mind, the mind begins to fall apart—until even the most simple of daily tasks become impossible," said Justine Hardy, a journalist and social activist in Kashmir referring to conflict and mental health. "By 2020, the World Health Organization says it is going to be the biggest medical problem in the world ... what we spend more money on than anything else—more than cancer, more than heart disease."

Speaking at the Asia Society in New York headquarters, Hardy discussed the ongoing conflict in Kashmir and the effects of violence on its residents with writer and journalist Sadanand Dhume and documentary filmmaker John Halpern.

Hardy, a journalist and social activist in India and Kashmir, spoke about her new book In the Valley of the Mist, which details the Dar family's struggles to survive within the Muslim community in Kashmir.

Hardy explained that before 1989, the people of Kashmir were known for their artistic abilities, not violence. However, she said after years of conflict, the young or "lost generation" have "No sense for the future, and with no sense of future, they have no hope .... They become fearless."

Having lived in Kashmir for many years, Hardy detailed the changes the Dar family witnessed after 1989. She portrayed Kashmir as the "poster child of that part of the world ... Muslims, Hindus, Christians, Sikhs, however many others, there were Jains up there as well—could all live together."

She portrayed Kashmir as being trapped in the middle of the bigger rivalry between India and Pakistan. When the two countries do engage in peace talks, the citizens of Kashmir are left out of the process, even though they are the victims of the larger conflict.

Dhume, author of my Friend of the Fanatic: Travels with a Radical Islamist, said that India tended to deal with the insurgencies in a few ways: "First of all, you allow things to fester, we don't address general grievances—sooner of later, someone picks up the gun."

In her closing remarks, Hardy concluded that the people of Kashmir have learned to separate good local governance from the larger political institutions in the region. She stated that in order for the Indian government to regain the trust of Kashmiris, it first has to address the question, "How do you intend to better provide for the future of our children?" Halpern added, "It seems that everyone I interviewed wants the ability to choose what their fate will be. They want the ability to have a voice in determining the direction of their society and their futures."

This program was co-sponsored by the Foreign Policy Association.

Reported by Zachary Raske

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