A JKLF militant commander in the late 90s, Farooq Ahmad, remembers with horror even today the time when security forces detained him and subjected him to inhuman torture like giving electric shocks to his genitals. Now, more than a decade later, when Farooq has settled into mainstream life, he is living another nightmare: his failure to consummate his six-year-long marriage. Visits to quacks, psychiatrists and andrologists have yielded little result.
“I dread going to bed every night,” says Farooq. “My wife is bearing with me so far. I don’t know how long she will keep on doing so.”
Farooq is not the only one facing this problem; several of his former colleagues face a similar predicament, either being caught in loveless marriages or already divorced. “But none of us prefer to talk about it,” Farooq says. “It is a secret we will carry to our graves.”
An estimate by civil liberties group, Coalition of Civil Society, has put the number of former militants and other torture survivors suffering from sexual dysfunction in the Valley at around a thousand. But while militants may be the direct victims of the conflict — some would even say their tragedy is explicable in terms of the choices they made — there is a large section of the population whose sex lives have similarly fallen apart as a result of the ongoing turmoil in the state. These people have suffered no physical torture, but reel from the indirect fallout of the conflict: the widespread depression and the conflict-induced lifestyle changes leading to the twin afflictions of infertility and the loss of libido.
The scale of the problem can be gauged from the fact that Kashmir has now become the destination of some of India’s top infertility experts.
Dr Firuza Parikh first came to Kashmir to see a “few patients” at the insistence of a patient from the state who had conceived with her help. But when she visited Srinagar, the “few” turned out to be more than a hundred. The problem was so widespread that she had to cancel her return to Delhi and come back from the airport, as some patients had come all the way from the LoC to see her.
“I felt that there is such a big need here, and everyone cannot come to big metropolises so I went again the next month, and the next, and have been going regularly,” says Dr Parikh, who has written the book The Complete Guide to Becoming Pregnant. “Over the past four years, we have set up a full-fledged in vitro fertilisation (IVF) centre for the local people.”
According to Dr Parikh and other doctors, the two main causes of this loss of fertility are stress and depression. A 2009 study by the Sher-i-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences, the Valley’s only tertiary care hospital, found the number of depressed people in the Valley at “more than a million”, with over 100,000 thinking of ending their lives.
The study, published in the International Journal of Health Sciences, throws up quite a few interesting findings. “Kashmir is not merely a law and order problem but there are social, emotional, political and psychological aspects involved,” it says. “A vicious circle of events has been created comprising torture, disappearances, displacement, killings, ballistic trauma, etc, parallelled by a state of mind, wherein grieving, insecurity, oppression, poverty, uncertainties of career and relationships, etc, are the major themes.”
Noted psychiatrist Dr Arshid Hussain sees a large number of such patients at his private clinic in Srinagar’s Karan Nagar area and several of them come with complaints of some kind of sexual dysfunction. “Males in their late twenties, many even younger, come with problems of loss of libido or erectile dysfunction. We also get couples failing to consummate their marriages,” says Dr Hussain. “We are witnessing a dramatic change. Earlier, the major concern with couples in the Valley was how to stop pregnancies, now we are witnessing a struggle to conceive.”
The dearth of psychiatrists and sexologists in the Valley has meant that many people turn to hakeems, quacks and over-the- counter drugs like Viagra. According to the Kashmir Medical Representatives Association, around two million Viagra tablets are sold every month in the Valley. Besides, chemists stock their shelves with an assortment of supposed potency- enhancing pharma products with suggestive names like Manforce, Commando, Covert, Time, Gold, etc, which notch up good sales. People also ask for performance creams and sprays.
“Such drugs make for a good business now. People come looking for them,” says Manzoor Ahmad Reshi, a chemist.
But while loss of libido and erectile problems have afflicted a large section of men in the Valley, women are suffering from medical conditions of their own: Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome and Premature Ovarian Failure. “Our research has shown that 25 percent of adult Kashmiri women in reproductive age group have suggestions of Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome,” says Dr Abdul Hamid Zargar, one of the leading endocrinologists in the Valley and Member, Institute Body, All India Institute of Medical Sciences. The syndrome, Dr Zargar says, stops ovulation and is a major precursor of infertility in the state. “The syndrome has its roots in the turmoil the Valley has experienced in the past two decades.”
A 2006 study by the Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) attributed the high rate of miscarriages among women in the Valley to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, an anxiety disorder caused by “a shocking and upsetting event” in their lives. This crisis has led to the growth of the infertility clinics in Srinagar, some of them visited regularly by embryologists and IVF experts from outside Kashmir.
The Valley’s first Rotunda-Hygeia at Srinagar’s posh Rajbagh, a franchise of its Mumbai based namesake, was set up in 2003. The facility claims to have assisted 1,500 pregnancies since its establishment. Dr Firuza Parikh started ‘Royal Infertility’. Besides, many private nursing homes in Srinagar have now set up their IVF labs where they hire the services of fertility experts from outside the state.
Says Dr Bobby Kapra who manages Royal Infertility: “We get five to six patients every day. There has certainly been a huge increase in sexual disorders in the Valley. Stress is one of the major causes as it can lead to hormonal imbalance and makes ovaries small.”
Similarly, Delhi-based fertility expert Dr Manika Khanna, who visits Srinagar’s Ramzana Hospital, talks about “a beeline of couples” unable to consummate their marriage. “We see married couples of many years who have not procreated, even though they are physically normal,” she says. “We counsel them as a lot of these complaints come from extended periods of stress. And in some cases we help them conceive with IVF.”
But these clinics have little to offer to former militants and civilians, who were victims of torture. Muhammad Basit was picked up by security forces from his home in downtown Srinagar in 1998 when they didn’t find his cousin, a militant associate, and subjected to a brief interrogation.
“They didn’t beat me. But for 10 minutes, soldiers pushed a rod into my rectum and gave repeated electric shocks to my penis,” says Basit. “I have lost my manhood ever since. I didn’t marry. But my friends who have suffered similar torture, are living a hellish married life.”
It has been a long road for Kashmiris from the early 1990s, when militant extremism first made its presence felt in the state. Years later, although there is relative peace, there are also many scars.