SCARRED OR KILLED: THE EVERLASTING TRAUMA FOR KASHMIRI CHILDREN

By Vincent Lyn

Kashmir has been dubbed as “Paradise on Earth”, but no facet of Kashmiri life has been left untouched from the brutal war that India has imposed on it. They are not fought in battlegrounds instead schools and homes of children are on the front line.

The United Nations puts the number of orphans in Jammu Kashmir to be 215,000 children, most of which are the result of violence by the Indian military. Children growing up in such stressful and violent environment yearning for freedom and resisting force, are often dealing with a lot of trauma. This is passed from one generation to the other, so much so that every child born is born as a survivor, having to fight to survive. The brutal violence by the state itself, only aspires them to take matters in their own hands and desire for freedom from India. While the world sees their misery as bystanders, they struggle with mixed feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, courage and desire to take revenge.

The six grave violations against children in armed conflict, identified by U.N Security Council include 1) killing and maiming of children 2) recruitment and use of children as child soldiers 3) sexual violence 4) abduction 5) attacks on schools and hospitals 6) denial of humanitarian access.

The report on the human rights in Kashmir by the office of United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights emphasizes on serious observations focusing on arbitrary arrests and detention of children. While Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act 1978, is the most common used law for detention, it appears under this law especially for those under 18 years of age, often resulting in detention and torture for days, months and even years. This law allows detention without trial which could last for up to two years. This law has been termed as “lawless law” by Amnesty International.

From just 2003 to 2017, at least 318 children were killed, among them 72 girls. The identification of the perpetrators: 144 children were killed by Indian armed forces and state police which is nearly half, 44 percent, of the total number of children killed.

Pertinently, a “peace process” which began in 2003, failed to make any impact and rightfully terms it as a “meaningless exercise”. Instead the years of the “peace process” between 2003–2008 saw the killing of 184 children. This resulted in a strategic shift in dissent. This triggered mass uprisings against Indian rule in 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2016. The uprisings were characterized by unarmed people protesting on streets but the state response to these protests was as violent as ever.

It was during this phase of mass uprisings that newer methods of crowd control came to be introduced by Indian forces. Teargas shells and pellet shotguns resulted in the killed at least16 children — 8 children were killed due to pellet shotguns, and 7 were killed due to injuries by teargas shelling. More than 10,000 civilians were hit by pellets. The youngest victims were five-year- old Bareena and eight-year-old Zafeer who had accompanied their father to buy petrol.

The global face of this brutalization, Insha Mushtaq, a 17 year old girl, continues to live with a disfigured face and is blinded for life. The 2016 violence was aptly called the “world’s first mass blinding” by Kashmiri novelist Mirza Waheed.

Children have mostly been direct targets of state-sponsored violence rather than being caught in confrontation between two belligerents.

In 2010, nine-year-old Sameer Ahmed Rah strolled out to play at his friend’s home. On the way, paramilitary forces stopped him and beat him to death with bamboo sticks.
In 2016 Nasir Shafi an eleven-year-old, was fired upon by police while chasing a group of boys. The next day his body was found hidden in the bushes. His father claimed that Nasir’s body was riddled with 400 pellets, torture marks, and some of his hair had been pulled out.

These are just three incidents of many and they illustrate that children have been treated no different from militants, stone-pelters or unarmed protestors.

Minors who have been detained under the Public Safety Act, termed as the lawless law by Amnesty International, are almost always deliberately kept above 18 years on the dossier prepared by police. This ensures that in the government records, the age of the detainee is always above 18 years of age.” The report further mentions sexual violence against children, both male and female. 143 cases of sexual violence, mostly by armed forces, among whom 17 are minors. Recently a minor Muslim girl was raped by Hindu police personnel in Kathua. The systematic use of rape as a weapon of war in Jammu and Kashmir has become a potent weapon deployed to crush resistance to the state.

Schools continue to be used as military bases, interrogation centers, and military posts, and at least 35 schools were gutted during the 2016 uprising and the the blame was put on “unidentified persons”. In the last year, 38 incidents of violence against students have been recorded.

Recommendations by the U.N include supervised impartial investigations into incidents of violence against children, demilitarization of schools, preventing detention of minors, setting up Juvenile Justice Boards and the adoption of a policy in accordance with the U.N Convention on the Rights of the Child.

According to the report on the human rights in Kashmir by the office of United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, militarization of Kashmir along with frequent blockades and curfews have serious implications on the children right to health and education. Hundreds of children have died due to indirect effects including malnutrition, unhygienic living conditions, poor water and sanitation, insufficient health care along with diseases and preventable illnesses. The breakdown of health care systems especially in unrest, attacks on healthcare professional and ambulances have also contributed to this growing number.

It is important to understand that these violations are also happening in Indian occupied Kashmir and are increasing day by day. In the report “Terrorized: Impact of Violence on the Children of Jammu and Kashmir” it was reported that children are vulnerable and so as a way of terrorizing and gaining control, they may be deliberately targeted. To induce fear and compliance, they are raped, kidnapped and tortured. In Indian occupied Kashmir, deaths, disability and disfigurement due to injuries caused by pellet gun, use of tear gas, bullets and shelling as well as drowning, inhaling shell fumes are common and have been reported in international and national media. Although, it can be assumed that reported cases are only the tip of the iceberg, more than 318 deaths of children have been reported from 2003–2017.

While child emotional abuse, physical abuse and neglect is common and probably not even taken in account, sexual violence, trafficking, forced marriages and conversions is a major child protection issue dominant in areas of conflict. Encouragement from leaders of Indian ruling party, advocating for violence and forced marriages can already be seen on mainstream India media

The blockades, curfews censorship to complete internet blackout, hampering all communication channels implies that whatever information which is coming out of Kashmir is just a fraction of what is happening there. Relaying on little data and information due to complete media censorship, one can only infer the kind of human rights violations that are taking place from previous reports and information.

One of the major challenges during the last three decades of armed conflict is that India still does not recognize the framework of international or non-international armed conflict laws. This kind of brutal state violence perpetuates the cycle of violence in Jammu & Kashmir and can inspire family members of victims to respond with violence. Young children who find their loved ones killed, disappeared, or raped are socialized with a vengeance for their personal loss. For every Kashmiri killed, young ones are born with a strong desire to see the end to this violence — meaning freedom from Indian rule.

Vincent Lyn

CEO/Founder at We Can Save Children

Director of Creative Development at African Views Organization

Economic & Social Council at United Nations

Middle East Correspondent at Wall Street News Agency

Rescue & Recovery Specialist at International Confederation of Police & Security Experts

Founder-We Can Save Children. Director Creative Development-African Views Organization, United Nations. Middle East Correspondent at Wall Street News Agency