Our crisis is individual and collective – both
I am 17. Living in a conflicted state all my life has had lasting effect on my brain, and for that matter on me. As everything that you ever witness, experience or believe physically and materially changes your brain. Seeing devastation, gunmen with long rifles slung over their shoulders, pictures of butchered and mutilated bodies, reports of people missing or hearing stories of people in dark prisons treated in unimaginably atrocious ways, my whole being is quite different from any person my age living in any passive and prosperous state elsewhere.
According to neuroscience, the experiences we have in childhood-both positive and negative-impact how neural connections are created in the brain. The more a child is exposed to trauma, the more connections are made in the region of the brain connected to fear anxiety and impulsiveness. Witnessing bloodshed and disputes every single day of my life, I wonder what my brain looks like with all possible connections made in the amygdala. With everything considered; my personality, cognitive content and opinions are all wrought around the violence and massacre I encounter every day. Or in that case of every Kashmiri child.
When confronted with stressful circumstances, children respond by releasing hormones and activating brain circuits to cope. The hormones and chemicals of these stress responses are essential; they help people protect themselves when threatened. When the stressful event is over, the physical responses decrease and finally disappear. But children who are chronically exposed to violence shut off their stress responses. They live constantly in a state of alert and crisis, which can produce neurochemical changes and adaptations that ultimately damage the child. This in our case is quite probable. Kashmiri children are prone to dissociative disorders, acute stress reactions, hysteria, depression, psychosis and suicides. We, thankfully, owe it all to our highly volatile environment, our struggle for independence and the exceedingly oppressive regime.
Violence, into which we were born, has been rooted deep in us. We see it blend into every beautiful view of our vale; we hear words, ominous and precarious alarmingly becoming parts of our vernacular. We see our friends fighting a mighty force against which they have no chance of winning. Amongst all this chaos we are expected to comport. To behave and perform as well as any adolescent living anywhere else. Well, it is difficult. Our brains are not integrated as well as theirs. The emotional crisis are far deeper than anyone else. As traumatized children everywhere have difficulties with emotional regulation, integrated neural functioning and social development, so do we.
I know our antecedents have gone through all of this too. They have heard stories of killings and of underground prisons and torture routines. But they didn’t have it as bad as we do. They never saw bodies of men, men who could have been their brothers or uncles or friends, distorted with dozens of bullets. They never saw buildings and houses, with living and breathing people in them being bombarded with the deadliest missiles. We see it all. With social media being so widely spread and used, we see everything. From encounter sites to mutilated bodies. From orphaned children to poverty- stricken half-widows. And we understand it. But we have never been taught to take in all of this without letting it affect us.
Often we don’t look like it, but the damage is still there. Watching any sort of violence we don’t exhibit any emotional response because we have been desensitized to cruelty. We have been so well- acquainted with it that it seems normal to life. As normal as the clouds to the sky.
Somewhere in the conflict we are lost. Between reminiscence of past sacrificed and future goals we have not been considered. You don’t realise that spending all our lives in such a tumultuous condition might have had some effect on us.
We are emotionally unstable, our personalities askew and our wills mangled. Our self-image is hazed and abilities unexplored. That is the mess we are collectively going through.