A new report that details the extent of violence against children in Jammu and Kashmir suggests that Indian armed forces have directly targeted children.
In the wombs and outside of them, inside homes and on the streets, in the lush green fields of a valley dubbed as "paradise on earth", no facet of Kashmiri life has been left untouched from the brutal war that India has imposed on it.
Children in the Kashmir conflict are the subject of a new report released by the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society under the title "Terrorised: Impact of Violence on the Children of Jammu and Kashmir".
The report details the various ways in which children (defined as ages 1-17) have been victimised over the last 15 years — killings by armed forces, sexual violence, illegal detentions, occupation of schools and violence against students.
From 1989 — when the first armed insurgency against Indian rule broke out — to 2003, the report mentions that among the total 5106 people killed and forcibly disappeared, 392 were children.
During this phase of the armed conflict, the scale of the violence made documentation difficult. Also the penetration of media and social networking was not as incisive as it is now.
However the violence can be gauged by the 2012 Save The Children survey which put the number of orphans in J&K at 215,000. Most of this violence came as an inevitable outcome of the Indian state's offensive against militancy.
Now, from just 2003 to 2017, at least 318 children were killed, among them 72 girls. The report is clear on 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 the report 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 characterised 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.
During the 2016 uprising alone, 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 brutalisation, Insha Mushtaq, a 17 year old girl, continues to live with a disfigured face and is blinded for life. The 2016 vioence 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 carrom (a South Asian tabletop game) at his friend's home. On the way, paramilitary forces stopped him and beat him to death with bamboo sticks. In another incident police fired pellets at Nasir Shafi, an eleven year old, in 2016 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 two incidents of many and they illustrate that children have been treated no different from militants, stonepelters or unarmed protestors.
Minors have also been detained under the Public Safety Act, termed as the lawless law by Amnesty International, which allows a detention of up to two years without trial.
The report says that "the age of detainee, in case of minors, is 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. The Support Group for Justice for Kunan Poshpora Survivors and JKCCS in 2018 compiled cases of 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.
The report ends with several recommendations including UN supervised impartial investigations into incidents of violence against children, demilitarisation of schools, preventing detention of minors, setting up Juvenile Justice Boards and the adoption of a policy in accordance with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
As highlighted in the beginning of the report, "one of the major challenges" during the last three decades of armed conflict is that "India still does not recognise the framework of international or non-international armed conflict laws."
This kind of brutal state violence perpetuates the cycle of violence in J&K and can inspire family members of victims to respond with violence. Young children who find their loved ones killed, disappeared, or raped are socialised 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.
It is India and the global community's responsibility to protect the innocent children of Kashmir so they can live a dignified and peaceful childhood.
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