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Monday, 7 August, 2000, 16:11 GMT 17:11 UK
Kashmir's orphaned thousands
Boatman on Dal Lake
The endless violence has taken its toll on the people
By Jill McGivering in Srinagar

In a charity hostel in Srinagar, young Kashmiri boys pray together.

All of them are orphans, their parents killed in the political violence of the last decade.

They are just a handful of an estimated 100,000 children orphaned by the crisis - many of them forced to fend for themselves as child labourers.

A soldier on alert in Srinagar
Kashmiris are used to living under the shadow of the gun
Abdul Rashiel Hanjoora, the general secretary of the Jammu and Kashmir Yateem trust which runs this hostel, says the children are deeply traumatised.

"It is true that the children, due to this turmoil, are really frightened and have some psychological problems also.

"They have seen their parents killed in front of them, so they feel very threatened," he says.

Living in fear

They are not the only ones scarred by the violence.

Dr Girija Dhar chairs the recently formed state commission for women.

She says many women who have spent a decade living with constant anxiety are now clinically depressed.

Women at the Grand Mosque, Srinagar
Women live in constant anxiety
"When any family member leaves the house, the whole family is worried. Is he going to come back, will he be killed in crossfiring? Will he be kidnapped... or taken away by the security forces or the police?"

"The anxiety preys on the mind and causes a lot of emotional turmoil," she says.

Her husband, Dr Naseer Ahmad Shah, is a well known doctor here who sees patients from all walks of life.

He senses a general exhaustion - people emotionally worn out by years of uncertainty and eager to move on.

"People definitely want change, they are tired of uncertainty, they want peace," he said.


But talks or no talks, Mohammed Jaseem Butt is still digging graves, ready for the next casualties.

If they just talk quietly amongst themselves like this, I don't think anything will come of it

Mohammed Jaseem Butt
He is a volunteer worker at an Islamic cemetery exclusively for the pro-separatist dead.

He has been digging two or three graves every day for the past few years. He agrees that people want peace but does not expect to be out of work soon.

"If they involved Pakistan and the other militant leaders, then something positive might happen," Mr Mohammed says.

"But if they just talk quietly amongst themselves like this, I don't think anything will come of it. The Hizbul Mujahadeen alone can't decide the fate of the whole of Kashmir," he says.

The violence has taken its toll on people here - inflicting damage which will take many years to repair.

For the children orphaned by the conflict, football is much more real than peace - this conflict started long before they were born.

The BBC's Jill McGivering
The ceasefire has raised hope of a solution
See also:

05 Aug 00 | South Asia
Kashmir talks move on
05 Aug 00 | South Asia
Analysis: Chance for peace in Kashmir?
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