A recent editorial on Kashmir in The Lancet has stirred strong sentiments in some sections of India’s medical community. They raised objection over the political overtones of the piece, written against the backdrop of the revocation of Article 370, which they felt was ‘out of character’ for the medical journal.

The British journal, however, has stood its ground. The editorial expressed “our profound concerns about the physical and mental health of Kashmiris, which we believe have been given insufficient attention so far,” a spokesperson for the journal told BusinessLine.

Pointing out that such articles were not unprecedented, the spokesperson said, “ The Lancet regularly covers issues where politics and medicine intersect, since health is an important political issue in every society. National and international attention about the situation in Kashmir is high and ongoing.”

‘Kashmir needs healing’

The editorial defines the move to revoke the autonomous status of Jammu and Kashmir as ‘controversial’ and concludes, “Prime Minister Narendra Modi vows that his decision to revoke autonomy will bring prosperity to Kashmir. But first, the people of Kashmir need healing from the deep wounds of this decades-old conflict, not subjugation to further violence and alienation.” The article elicited a flurry of reactions. Some researchers found it ‘bizarre’ for a scientific journal to comment on Kashmir and even wanted the editorial to be taken down. Others were sanguine and pointed to the journal’s earlier articles on troubled regions like Syria and Gaza, as well. The Lancet spokesperson said that there were “no plans to take down the editorial”.

The Indian Medical Association said in a statement, “ The Lancet had committed a breach of propriety in commenting on this political issue.”

The Lancet editorial points to a key concern in the region, which is that “the protracted exposure to violence has led to a formidable mental health crisis.” Citing a Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) study in two conflict-affected rural districts, the article said, “nearly half of Kashmiris rarely felt safe and of those who had lost a family member to violence, one in five had witnessed the death first hand. Therefore, it is unsurprising that people in the region have increased anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder.”

MSF has run counselling centres in the Valley since 2001. After getting in touch with its operations team, MSF told the correspondent in an emailed response quoting Andreas Koutepas, Chief of Operations with Doctors Without Borders India, The complete communications blackout and severe restrictions on movement have led us to halt our mental health project activities in Kashmir for now. We have had limited contact with our staff, which has prevented us from gathering information about the medical needs of the population on the ground.

“Years of conflict in Jammu and Kashmir have taken a toll on people’s mental health,” he said.