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Pupils in grip of fear and violence

INDIA

ONE million children in Kashmir are growing up traumatised by 12 years of conflict, according to two new studies.

Educationists and doctors from the embattled state said that they were having to deal with a generation of children growing up without education and suffering increased feelings of aggression, guilt and deprivation.

More than 60,000 people have died in the long struggle between Muslim separatists and Indian security forces, though a month-long ceasefire for Ramadan began on Tuesday. Dr Mushtaq Magroob, a leading Kashmir psychiatrist, said that in the 11 years of his study the number of patients seeking help each day had risen from 70 to 400 and that these were mainly 19 to 25-year-olds.

Dr Magroob conducted his survey from 1989 to l999. He said that schoolchildren referred to him had suffered permanent emotional damage and had a huge sense of fear.

"They have lived under the shadow of the gun for too long and this has led to serious problems," he said.

"What they need is help to deal with recurring nightmares, difficulty in concentration, depression and a total sense of hopelessness about their lives and their future."

In another recent study conducted by the University of Kashmir and the centralministry for health and family welfare, it was estimated that about 60 per cent of children drop out of education as a result of militants repeatedly targeting schools.

Schools are afflicted by periodic strikes - last year they were only open for about 60 days. Parents are refusing to send children to school through fear of them being killed, and militant action has left 828 of the state's 5,000 schools burnt out or razed to the ground.

"The children of Kashmir can never be like their counterparts anywhere else in the country," said Professor AG Madhosh, dean of the faculty of education at the Univeristy of Kashmir, who conducted the study.

Informal education centres have long since shut down, according to the study, because classes were held after 5pm, when nobody dares venture outside. Professor Madhosh added that aggression was something that came almost naturally to pupils: "What is their future, amid shells, crossfires, bunkers in schools and graveyards as play areas?"

Interviews with Kashmir children showed most of them wanted peace. "All the aggression in these children is actually the venting of a suppressed fear of death, socio-economic deprivation and a prolonged fear of competition in life," the study said.

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