SRINAGAR: It was the grief in their lives that united Tehmeena Latif and Nazima Parveena at an orphanage run by government on the foothills of Zabarwan in Nishat. On occasions, when the going was getting tough, they would console each other.
“There was a time when longing for home and parents would trouble us beyond our capacity to tolerate,” says Tehmeena, who was brought to the orphanage, Markazi Falahi Mastoorat, when she was 8-years-old.
“On such occasions we would console and comfort each other like friends and family. It helped us sustain here all these years,” she says.
Studying in class 10 now, both the girls have been living here from the past 10 years. It is their last year at the orphanage and that is making them uneasy.
“I want to study and stay here a bit further,” says Parveena, who was brought to the orphanage at the age of eight when her father died of an illness. “I am going to miss everyone here once I will leave,” she says.
The spread of orphanages in Kashmir is a recent phenomenon. In 1986, Kashmir had only one orphanage. Now, according to social welfare department, there are as many as 745 orphanages across the Valley. The abrupt increase in the number of orphanages is attributed to the armed conflict that erupted in the Valley in early nineties.
Tehmeena Latif’s father was the victim of this very conflict. She says that she doesn’t know anything about her father. “My mother told me when I was only four months, some gunmen barged inside our home and killed my father,” she says.
A report by UK-based child rights organization, Save the Children, estimates the population of orphans in the state to be 214000. Out of them, 37 percent were orphaned due to armed conflict.
Markazi Falahi Mastoorat has an intake capacity of 25, but presently only 21 girls are admitted here.
The girls study in the nearby government school at Ishbar Nishat. The girls’ orphanage building has two bedrooms, one changing room, one common hall where they study, sleep at night and watch television also.
Inside the orphanage, says Bilkis Hamid, an orphan living here from past six years, the life is disciplined. “We get up early in the morning, offer prayers, have breakfast, pack our lunch and go to school. After coming back, we study, play, watch television and wash clothes,” she says. “We brush three times a day,” she adds.
One of ugly realities of being an orphan in a conflict area is the mental impact it has on the tender souls.
Prominent psychiatrist of valley, Dr Mushtaq Margoob says orphans in Kashmir are psychologically vulnerable. “Children, who are orphans, face many psychological disorders,” says Dr Margoob. “The loss of their parents makes them more prone to psychological disorders.”
A survey carried by International Journal of Health Sciences (IJHS) echoes Dr Margoob’s views. The survey states among the 57.72 percent depressed population of Kashmir, the worst hit is between the age group of 15 to 25.
In view of these grim statistics, the orphanage caretakers say they are putting up their best efforts to make the children feel at home. “It is less of an official duty and more of a moral obligation on our part to look after these kids,” says Jamsheeda, the superintendent of the orphanage.
Bureeda, district social welfare officer, says that the orphanage admits orphans from eight-year old, nurtures them till they reach Class 10 before sending them back to their guardians. “After they leave the orphanage, the government doesn’t offer them anymore assistance,” she says.
But experts believe that children without parents need continuous assistance as they fall among the most vulnerable members of the society. Their care and protection, says Zubair Ali, a scholar of Sociology, also presents a major child-care policy challenge. “Therefore government must come to their rescue and relief,” he says.
Social welfare minister, Asiea Naqash, acknowledges that the PDP-BJP government doesn’t have a proper rehabilitation scheme for orphans. “Some initiatives for orphan welfare are on the cards,” she says.