Giving hope to Kashmir orphans

A young social activist is committed to better the lives of orphans

ENGINEERING SOCIAL CHANGE

ARIF SHAFI WANI

There is always one moment in childhood when the door opens and lets the future in. But this door never opened for an unfortunate group of children in Kashmir who lost their childhood in past over two decades of turbulence. They are called orphans.
At a time when Valley is teaming with orphans, the mushrooming of orphanages in almost every locality and villages has compounded this sensitive issue. In absence of any regulation by the Government and monitoring by common people, most of these orphanages have failed to provide even basic facilities to these unfortunate children.
The miserable plight of these orphans, and most importantly their deteriorating psychological state, was brought to fore by a recent survey undertaken by a 27-year old engineer turned social activist, Qurat-ul-Ain Masoodi.
Qurat’s day starts in wee hours when she travels to far-flung areas of Kashmir to make an on-the-spot assessment of orphanages. She spends long hours with orphans to understand their feelings.
In 2010 a chance visit to a city orphanage changed Qurat’s life.  “I was shocked to see miserable condition of these orphans,” she says. “I left engineering and vowed to support them in their inalienable right to live a better life.”
But the going was not easy for her. “Obviously I went through a lot of criticism as we all know that Kashmiri society is still a male dominated and it is really difficult for a girl to work in such an environment,” says Qurat.
Qurat’s family was also apprehensive of her decision. “My family was happy that I will work for a good cause but at the same time they were worried about my wellbeing,” she says. They wanted her to lead a normal life like other girls. “In fact my mother did not talk with me for three months,” she says.
Since her childhood Qurat says she could not see people in pain. She was always moved by the condition of disadvantaged children. “Without second thought,” she says, “I made the final decision to help these children come what may.” She went on to join a voluntary group as research coordinator and visited various orphanages across Kashmir.
Qurat faced a difficult situation when she confronted the mistreatment meted out to the inmates of one orphanage in Srinagar. “During the course of my survey I was shocked to find that the person who runs this orphanage was treating the inmates badly,” she says. Moved by plight of the inmates, she approached the nearest police station. But to her disbelief, she says the cops there refused to even register her complaint.
With no option, she approached the Jammu and Kashmir State Human Rights Commission. “SHRC accepted my complaint and ordered probe against the orphanage by its own police investigation wing,” she says. “My complaint was found true and the SHRC recommended to Social Welfare department to close down the orphanage,” she says “But till date the department has not implemented the order,” she rues.
Qurat says after the expose she faced many threats. “In a place like Kashmir, it is a challenge for you to work on such issues when people try to create politics out of nowhere,” she says. “Initially it was difficult for me and at times annoying also when I would receive a threat or someone would create a hurdle in my work.” But now she believes it’s a part and parcel of her profession. “These things should never affect my work or my love towards these kids and towards the mission,” she says.
The survey she conducted concludes that there is a high rate of psychiatric and emotional disorders (especially anxiety and depression) among children living in orphanages in Kashmir, mainly due to lack basic facilities and psychological support.
In a sample of 140 children the survey found Separation Anxiety was the highest with 36 percent, followed by Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) - 34 percent, MDD (33 percent), Panic disorder (30 percent), Social Phobia and Conduct Disorder (13.5 percent), Generalized Anxiety disorder (10 percent) and Dysthymia (7.8 percent) respectively.
“Sixteen children had features of suicidality (suicidal ideas or plan).Out of them, two had attempted suicide at least once,” Qurat revealed.
During the survey, Qurat says she detected many problems in the functioning of the orphanages in the valley. “Irrespective of gender, children have been kept under one roof in many orphanages. We cannot portray them as hypothetical siblings. This is a serious issue and needs serious action,” she cautions. 
Has conflict in Kashmir taken toll on children?
“It is one of the reasons. Empirical studies on children in an armed conflict show the determinant effects on children‘s mental health and wellbeing. The problems that emerge are internalizing violence which tends a child to perceive abnormal situations as normal ones,” says Qurat.
She says the past two decades of conflict have given everyone in Valley a real tough time. “Due to this we have become so insensitive and dead that we find these innocent kids and issues related to them as minor issues,” she says. “Unfortunately we all know what is happening but no one is ready to call spade a spade and bear its consequences,” she says without mincing words.
Qurat, who runs a voluntary group Aash (Hope), says it is high time to erase the concept of orphanages in Kashmir. “As Muslims it is our religious, moral and social responsibility to take care of these orphans,” she says. We can adopt these kids within our families, she says, and encourage community based rehabilitation to help them to realize their dreams and become better citizens. “Rapid growth of orphanages has become a threat to our society because they have the potential of turning into centers of exploitation and places filled with mental wrecks,” she says.
Qurat has penned woeful tales of sufferings of orphans, her experiences and the survey in form of a book, Sun Ravmuth Laukchar (Our Missing Childhood), which will be released soon.
“My book is genuinely going to highlight miseries and pain that these children are going through and I even hope that our society comes up with something good for these innocent children,” she says. “Let us join hands to do something for these beautiful and innocent souls. Let us make them feel that they belong to us. Yem Che Saen Auwlad (They are our children),” she says.

Lastupdate on : Wed, 19 Dec 2012 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Wed, 19 Dec 2012 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Thu, 20 Dec 2012 00:00:00 IST




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