On the edge

How ceasefire violations fuel a mental-health crisis along the Indo-Pak borders

30 November 2019
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On a winter morning in 2001, Irshad Ahmed Chalkoo, an 18-year-old at the time, took a walk around his village, Silikote, in the Uri tehsil of Kashmir’s Baramulla district. The village is located along the Line of Control, the de facto border that divides Kashmir between India and Pakistan. Chalkoo had started taking these walks a few weeks earlier, after he appeared for a fitness test to work in the Indian Army. When he was heading back home, with the Haji Peer river flowing to his right, the Indian and Pakistan armies started trading gunfire across the LoC.

At first, Chalkoo thought it was a routine cross-border fire, and kept walking home. A few steps later, a mortar shell from across the border hit his right leg, breaking it into two pieces. He was rushed to a hospital, around fifteen kilometers away in the town of Uri, where the doctors amputated his leg. “The call letter from the army came 15 days after the incident,” Chalkoo told me.

I met him nearly eighteen years later, in April 2019. The psychological trauma of the incident changed him, he said. Chalkoo exhibits symptoms of depression and anxiety. He quickly gets irritated, finds it difficult to focus when someone is talking and spends most of his time idle in his room. Above all, he lives with the fear that he will one day die in the cross-border shelling. “Now, I am like a living corpse,” Chalkoo said.

India and Pakistan have fought at least three wars over Jammu and Kashmir since 1947—a disputed territory between the countries. The International Border, often called the Radcliffe Line—in Jammu, Samba and Kathua districts in the Jammu division—and the LoC separate the territories of India and Pakistan. In November 2003, the two countries decided to observe ceasefire along both the borders. But the agreement did not stand for long—violations started to spike in 2008, when the peace process between the two countries got derailed. In the last decade, the situation has worsened. The lives of those living along these borders are marred with violence. Both the countries have regularly indulged in a blame game when it comes to violating ceasefire, often trading allegations of “unprovoked fire.”

Raqib Hameed Naik is a Kashmir-based multimedia journalist.

Keywords: Indo-Pak border mental health Kashmir