One would imagine the “paradise- on- earth” Kashmir, which has been bleeding for the past nearly three decades and turned into a virtual hell, would not be receptive of the many forms of comedy and humour. Perhaps because about 50,000 people have been killed in the valley during the conflict – a number believed to be the double of that. Perhaps because the atmosphere of perpetual fear and frequent mournings would leave little room for the funny bones to grow. But for the past few years, especially since the people started enjoying intermittent internet access on their mobile phones, humour on social media is only growing.
The young generation of Kashmiri comedians has been producing humour of different genres from sarcasm and satire to dark humour, finding thousands of takers online. Making memes and dub videos or writing witty jokes are no more a part time activity, but a full- fledged job of a talented army of youngsters cashing in on the art of making others laugh. Entertainment brands like Jajeer Talkies, Kaeshir Joke, Comedy Circus of Kashmir have thousands of followers on social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube.
The prosperity of humour in a place of conflict where cases of mental disorders are enormous may seem abnormal. According to a 2016 report by Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) – the last credible mental health survey in Kashmir – 18 lakh adults that comprise 45% of the population suffer from some form of significant mental distress. 93 percent have experienced conflict-related trauma. 50 per cent of women and 37 per cent of men are likely to suffer from depression; 36 per cent of women and 21 per cent of men have a probable anxiety disorder; and 22 percent of women and 18 percent of men suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
“Other than stress, anxiety, and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression is one of the most common psychological disorders we presently have in Kashmir,” says Dr Arshad Hussain, who heads the psychiatry department at Srinagar’s government-run SMHS Hospital. “We have around 7.3% of population suffering from depression disorders, which is very sad.”
“The everyday death and destruction in Kashmir has a direct and an indirect effect on our psyches,” says Naureen Naseer, head of the psychology department at a college in Ganderbal district. “PTSD and depression are the most common mental illnesses in Kashmir; almost every other family here has witnessed traumatic life experiences.”
So what explains the growth of humour business in such a scenario? Psychologists suggest this is normal – people turn to humour for a temporary relief from the stress that the conflict delivers. “Humour is the only mature defence mechanism that humans have used probably from ages to cope up with everything they face,” says Dr Hussain, the psychiatrist. “Social networking, social bonding, altruism, comedy and our belief system are the major coping mechanisms; and humour works wonders in relieving the day today stress.”
Psychologist Ms Naseer explains the biochemistry of it, “A good humour helps in reducing stress hormone cortisol, and increase the release of endorphins, which are happy hormones.”
There is a strong presence of several Kashmiri comedy clubs on social media. New pages that provide humour from political satire to funny takes on Kashmiri culture spring up frequently.
One of the founders of Jajeer Talkies, Ahmad Hussain shares the idea behind their popular comedy portal. “We want our work to provide a relief from everyday stress and the depression which the situations here have caused… much like a getaway from the troubles to bring smile in any possible way to people who have forgotten what it is like to laugh,” says Ahmed.
Jajeer Talkies was also co-founded by Shoaib Shah and Faheem Firdous in 2015. In a span of three years, they have over 30,000 followers on Facebook an overall 70,000 plus followers across social media platforms. The comedy club mostly targets the youth of Kashmir. They organise open mics, where other aspiring comedians also perform, giving them a platform and promoting comedy as an art form in the valley.
“The whole idea behind the club was to make people laugh and it all started with a simple meme that was seen by around 1500 people and our page was an instant hit,” says Jajeer Talkies’ Shoaib. “Facebook was always our number one priority, but during the 2016 unrest our page was deleted, we had around 30k followers; then we had to start from scratch again.”
The producers and the audience of the humour are mostly a generation that has grown up in the conflict and fear. With the situation in the valley only worsening day by day, the stress disorders may only increase in number. As they say, laughter is the best medicine, the humour may be coming in a little handy to deal with a situation as serious as death.