I had just finished the tenure of house job and internship from the SMHS hospital affiliated with Government Medical College Kashmir when I was posted to the district hospital in Islamabad. Those days the faculty of GMC Kashmir and SMHS hospital would see to it that a candidate with an MBBS degree was fully equipped with knowledge and skills to cater to the needs of patients they treated in rural hospitals. In a way, a physician with an MBBS degree was the foundation of a successful health care back then. With the advent of specialization and super specializations, the role of a general practitioner has unfortunately been reduced to a first aid worker. This has led to the present-day confusion where a surgical patient very often lands in OB/gynecology and vise versa due to the lack of a proper referral system.
I am talking of early 1970s, when the political struggle under the banner of 'Plebiscite Front' in J&K was at its climax. There were demonstrations and public rallies in support of a plebiscite in the nook and corner of the state. This made it an ordeal for the government to divert the attention of the state subjects who loved Article 370 from the core of their heart. South Kashmir as usual was at its forefront. Suddenly there was a wave of nocturnal stone pelting on the buildings with 'tin roofs' creating a scare in the neighborhood.
The 'juggler's box' came up with a funny explanation at the time: suggesting a hormone secreted by unmarried mature girls attracts the stones onto the roof tops of their houses. Even though it led to a boom of marriages, the stone pelting did not die until the attention of the demonstrators asking for a plebiscite was momentarily avoided. This was followed by sporadic fires on the thatched houses here and there. People came up with volunteer groups who would stay on vigil during the nights guarding their neighborhoods.
On one such night, as a young physician on night duty, I was in the district hospital Anantnag with an equally fresh and duty-conscious lady doctor on the female wing of the hospital. That night we were confronted with a case of a breech pregnancy with contracted pelvis. Cesarean section was the only choice to save the baby and the mother in labor. A theater assistant on call had to be called from his home in Cheeni Chowk to the hospital. For the fear of being branded as mischief mongers who torch the houses and the horror of being beaten by the neighborhood vigilante, no one from the hospital dared to go to call the theatre assistant. Despite this, the young lady doctor took the risk to join me in person to do the needful. Unfortunately, we lost the mother and her baby – owing to the delay in surgical procedure. This is what can happen when people are forced to take law and order in their hands.
A couple of decades later, I bumped into the same lady doctor in the overcrowded Ragunath Bazaar in Jammu where her family had migrated due to the tragic developments of the 90s. We sat for a cup of coffee in a roadside cafeteria listening to melodious tunes of bells ringing in the temples around- pondering on the good old peaceful days and moonlit nights of Kashmir. Alas the scorching heat of Jammu had turned her deep blue eyes into ashy grey hollows gazing and chasing her homeland across the Himalayas!
Later, during post 90s turmoil, the jugglers tried varieties of juggling tricks to confuse the people of the state. In one of their tricks a "Bhoot" would come out of its Pandora's Box and enter the houses to harass the people. The Bhoot was caught and thrashed to confess that she was none else than our so-called custodians in civvies. The Bhoot was handed over to police, perhaps only to hush up the matter.
Right now, there is an equally disturbing episode out of the juggler's box. This time it has come up with a pair of scissors & a knife to trim or shave the sacred hair locks of the women. No doubt, J&K police has solved one such mystery suggesting the culprit was a disgruntled & irritated maid servant reacting to the misbehavior of the land lady and the land lady's daughter. While we have no reasons to disbelieve the police version in this case, what about half a dozen cases where the victims are raising a finger against the police cousins in uniform?
One could accept the suggestions that all this was done to create a fear psychosis but then it is time we call a spade a spade and expose the Bhoot that has its nefarious activities across the state. We need to remember that such mean approaches to long standing issues in conflict zones have been tried elsewhere too, with tragic reactions leading to unending bloodshed and a perpetual unrest globally.
Let's keep our calm and see things don't worsen.
(The columnist is the writer of the book, `Kashmir in search of peace.')