Valley Of Faces

I constructed this photo series ‘Valley Of Faces’ two months ago. I have a strong inclination towards documentary and street photography. These photos have been taken different places across the length and breadth of the valley. The photo series is a depiction of the psychological state of common masses in Kashmir.

Though Kashmiris are cheerful always but behind every smiling face there is a story of agony, hopelessness, and pain. Over a hundred thousand have been killed, thousands disappeared, countless raped, tortured and orphaned. These have left scars on the psyche of Kashmiri people.
Being a resident of Kashmir and an aspiring documentary photographer, I shot this photo series with this idea to show why my countrymen look depressed in my every normal picture?

The answer is, Kashmir has witnessed extreme tension between India and Pakistan. This is the reason only that Kashmir’s population is suffering from depression according to a recent survey conducted by Medecins Sans Frontieres, “one out of every two adults is mentally disturbed in the Kashmir valley.” The study says that nearly 1.8 million adults equaling 45 percent of the adult population suffers from mental distress in Kashmir valley and a majority of people have experienced or witnessed conflict-related trauma.

Here are the photos that I compiled as part of this project:

Kashmiri Bakar Wal Gujjar family taking shelter under the rooftop of Sheikh Abdul Qadir Jeelani’s Shrine from heavy rains in the old city of Srinagar in Kashmir.These nomadic people are cow/buffalo herders especially Gujjars and goat sheep herders especially Bakar Wal’s. However, the two groups are closely associated and intermarry and commonly referred to as the Gujjars and Bakar Wal’s.

A devotee posing for a picture on the annual urs or anniversary of a Sufi Saint Sheikh Abdul Qadir Jeelani (RA) in the old city of Srinagar in Kashmir.

Attendants of a woman (unseen) who gave birth to a newborn (unseen) at JLNM hospital situated in the old city area of Rainawari Srinagar

On a sunny day inhabitants of Dal lake posing for a picture at Sottu’ road locally known as Mirbehri situated in the summer capital of Srinagar. Sottu road was constructed by Mughals during the Mughal era which connects inhabitants of dal lake from one bank to another located in the interiors of the lake.

Kashmiri youth praying to Allah after finishing the Asr (Afternoon) Prayers unseen at the banks of interiors of DalLake  Situated in the summer capital of Kashmir.

Kashmiri old man who was seated at the banks of DalLake some 13km far from the summer capital of Srinagar situated in Kashmir while I was out with my friends for a weekly photo walk and photo talk sessions on the outskirts of Srinagar.

Saqib, a Gujjar kid from Kashmir looks at my camera while I was busy in framing him at Astamarg Dara situated on the outskirts of Srinagar. Saqib belongs to Bakarwal tribal community of Kashmir found in every hilly nook of the region.This tribe is also known as Dhangar in several parts of India.

Kashmiri youth posing for a picture while standing in a line during the submission of their admission for the 11th standard inside the premises of MPML college situated in the old city of Srinagar in Kashmir. The matriculation exams were held amidst the 2016 Kashmir unrest when Indian security personals martyred the top rebel commander Burhan Muzzafar Wani of Hizbul Mujahideen, a militia organization. Burhan’s martyrdom triggered massive unrest in Kashmir resulting death over 100 youth nearly aged 8-30 in action by Indian security forces while nearly 8000 got injured.Over 350 civilians have suffered grave injuries in their eyes with over 50 of them on the verge of losing their eyesight forever due to the enormous usage of non-lethal pellet guns.

Kashmiri men seated inside the premises of a famous Sufi Saint Mir Syed Ali Hamadani’s shrine situated in oldcity of srinagar

This should remind us of the report published by ‘Medecins Sans Frontieres’ (Doctors Without Borders). Here’s an excerpt from the report:

“The Kashmiri population living in India has been both witness to and victims of violence, involving a number of groups with different aims over the past few decades. Since 2000, MSFHolland has been working in the region, providing mental health care and support in the management of medical waste disposal in the capital Srinagar and outlying rural areas. To identify needs and support project planning, a survey consisting of 510 semi-structured interviews was executed in two violence-affected, rural districts in Indian-administered Kashmir during mid-2005. The period of violence considered was defined by the local population as starting in 1989, continuing until the time of the survey. At the time of the interview, almost half (48.1%) of the respondents said they felt only occasionally or never safe. In the period 1989-2005, people frequently reported crackdownsA (99.2%), frisking by security forces (85.7%) and round-up raids in villagesB (82.7%). In the same period, damage to property (39%) or the burning of houses (26.3%) was considerable. Interviewees reported witnessing (73.3%) and directly experiencing themselves (44.1%), physical and psychological mistreatment, such as humiliation and threats.”
It further reads:
“Mental health problems in Kashmir need to be addressed with urgency. In areas where MSF works, we have implemented community-based mental health services. In all other Kashmir districts, community-based mental health services are non-existent, despite the intentions set out in the Indian Mental Health Policy. Based on the findings of this survey, MSF calls on the health authorities to implement their stated policies and to prioritise the immediate implementation of community-based psychiatric and counseling services in Kashmir. “

(The views expressed by the author are his own)

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