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Mental disorders plague Gujarat victims 

Shorapur: Mohammad Basharat, 65, who was forced to flee strife-torn Gujarat to Karnataka, is in a state of shock and sobs when he thinks of his "missing" ones. Meharun Banu, whose 10 family members were killed in the communal violence that has engulfed Gujarat since February, lives alone in a single room provided by the villagers and repeatedly has nightmares about the killings. Basharat and Banu are among more than 300 people who have returned to their hometowns in Gulbarga district, 610 kilometres north of Bangalore, nd are facing post-traumatic stress disorders, experts and psychologists said. 

Barefoot and wearing a torn shirt, Basharat is now living with his elder brother in Shorapur village, home to about 90 people killed in the Hindu-Muslim clashes in Gujarat. "I do not know how I came here," said Basharat, sobbing. "What has happened to my sons? Where re they? Are they dead? I think they are missing."

Neighbours and family members said Basharat often refuses to eat and keeps praying in the mosque the whole day thinking his sons are dead. At times he shuns company and cries loudly. Most of the time he reconstructs, with shaking hands and body chills, the terrible incidents that unfolded before him during the violence. "I was hiding and saw people being burned alive and stabbed repeatedly," he said. 

Banu, who hails from the same village, said she wakes up abruptly at night to disturbing pictures she had witnessed in Naroda Patia village in Ahmedabad. "It is impossible to sleep. The scenes of my relatives screaming for help and rioters rushing into my home come back every time," she said. 

Max Millan, an expert in forced migration with a masters degree from Oxford, said the symptoms shown by Banu and Basharat were common among people who have undergone trauma, especially those forced to flee conflict zones. 

"A person will undergo trauma when there is a severe threat to his life or a grave threat of injury to him or his relatives or when he is witnessing his relatives being tortured or threatened with death," Millan said. "It can have a lasting impact on his mind and hamper his daily life," he said. 

Other Gujaratis who have taken shelter in Shorapur village complain of restlessness, getting upset easily and being irritable all the time. 

"I feel a sharp mental pain when I see relatives of my father. I saw him being cut to pieces, tied to a bed and then set ablaze," said 15-year-old Aneeza. 

"I could not even cry aloud then as we were hiding and had clothes stuffed into our mouths to avoid any noise," she said. 

Srinivasa Murthy, a professor of psychiatry at the National Institute of Mental Health and Sciences in Bangalore, who visited Ahmedabad last month, said the worst damage inflicted on the victims was the loss of community feeling. 

"A feeling of security for the self, self-esteem and support from the community has taken a hard beating," Murthy said. "The greatest loss I would say is the loss of support from the community that these people are going through." 

Murthy said symptoms of "hyper arousal such as being sensitive to rumours, people" and a total withdrawal from life were common. 

He warned that if untreated the victims would have severe psychological problems. "They need good rehabilitation and reconstruction as soon as possible. The more fear one experiences the more the mental vision becomes narrow and one becomes more selfish and less sensitive," Murthy said. "Then the severity of trauma increases. There is an urgent need for social organisations and the government to step in and provide counselling and help," he said. (Sify News, May 15, 2002)

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