Kashmir – once a paradise. Now, a land full of agitations, atrocities, corruption, unethical politics, terrorism, and what not. Kashmir has been burning for decades. It is stuck in a turmoil between two nuclear giants India and Pakistan. It is like a volcano which is going to erupt today or tomorrow. The violence keeps on increasing every day in the valley and the youth finds itself in the middle of this turmoil.
What does the youth of Kashmir think of the present conditions? For them, at this moment, they just need freedom. They have seen so much of violence, they have seen so much of bloodshed, killings, politics that they just demand freedom now. Freedom from India, freedom from Pakistan, freedom from terrorism, violence, politics, killings, religion, everything. The youth today in the valley is agitated. All this violence and bloodshed has made them go rogue. The Indian political system has dragged Kashmir with fake promises from 1947 to AK 47!
It is said that one’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter. The case is the same in the valley. For many people in Kashmir, especially the youth, militants like Burhan Wani are seen as leaders. For them, they are rebels who dared to speak against the oppressive regime of the Indian government, dared to challenge the Indian armed forces for the freedom of their homeland.
“If you reply with bullets for our peaceful protests, what else can we do other than picking up a gun against you?” These were the words of a Kashmiri youth when I asked him why and how is the gun a solution for freedom? According to the youth, Indian policies in and for Kashmir are oppressive and unjust.
The ultimate victims of this violence are the Kashmiri children and youth. Dr Altaf Hussain, a retired professor of paediatrics says, “Children have suffered physically, emotionally, psychologically and intellectually because of this violence in the valley.” A child is meant to play, do silly things, explore his creativity and curiosity when he is eight years old.
However, the reality was completely different for Sameer Ahmed Rah, an eight-year-old innocent boy from Batmaloo region in Srinagar, during the 2010 civil agitations. While there was a face-off going on between some CRPF troopers and locals, Sameer stepped out of the house to go to play, where he was allegedly beaten up by the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) troopers with lathis so badly that he died. How was an eight-year-old a threat to the CRPF troopers? Why did he lose his life?
Tufail Mattoo, a 17-year-old, was allegedly killed due to tear gas shelling by the armed forces while he was returning back from his tuition. Amir, an eight-year-old, flash bang grenade survivor, says, “I was out for my tuitions and I had to buy some milk when suddenly something banged in front of me, tear gas grenade or something. It exploded and its splinters hit my face and I fell down. When I opened my eyes I was in the hospital. My whole face and hands got burned. Now, whenever I try to read something I get severe headaches as a consequence of that incident.” Ifra Shakour, a class 8 student was studying at home when protests broke out on the streets and security forces were called. Ifra stepped out of her house to check on her brother and bring him in. The security forces allegedly fired pellets which went into her eyes and made her lose her sight and also her dream of becoming a doctor.
Many juveniles are arrested under the Public Safety Act (PSA) and kept in jails. The valley continues to suffer under the draconian PSA (1978). This act allows the government to detain people for up to six months without trial, for security purposes. According to the 2011 Amnesty report, the estimated number of detainees under this act in the previous two decades had been between 8000-20000. Its most vulnerable victims have been adolescent boys. Even though minors can no longer be detained under this law, they continue to be arrested. Juveniles are kept in jails instead of remand homes which is against the law. Shafaqat Hussain, a lawyer specialising in PSA cases, states that “when the forces arrest, they keep the law aside and use their own might and rules.”
The children and the youth have not always been the target of the armed forces. Sometimes, they have been the target of militants too. Siblings Shakir Mohammed Reshi and Bilal Mohammed Reshi, in August 2015, were playing cricket in a playfield, when they spotted a strange thing and started fiddling with it, the strange thing exploded resulting in the death of the siblings. The strange thing was that a road side bomb, targeted for armed forces. Between 1990 to 2014, 50 children have died in explosions and shellings, 83 injured and 27 left with disability. We as a nation really need to sit down and think where we are heading. We are abducting the childhood of thousands of children!
Children and the youth are not only targets of the violence. They are also the target of drugs. Drug addiction is a new problem. Terrorist groups need money to fund their actions and most of the funds are collected by these radical groups through selling drugs. According to the United Nations International Drug Control Programme survey conducted in 2008, 65-70% of the student community were taking drugs. It wasn’t just males, 26% of females in Kashmir were also doing so. When the kids are unable to pay for the drugs they are told to do something which would create unrest in the region like pelting stones. Ahmed Sohail was 11 years old when a drug peddler got him addicted to drugs and then paid him with a variety of drugs for pelting stones.
Most of the schools are occupied by the armed forces for their bunkers or by terrorist groups as their hideouts. Children find it very difficult to get themselves educated because now the new schools are far away from their homes. For girl children, it is even more difficult, if a militant finds them going to school they would harass the girl. Girls are also victims by the armed forces. For children in other countries or even in other cities, it is A for Apple, B for Ball, C for Cat. For Kashmiri children, it is A for Army, B for Bullets, C for Crackdowns! Though the Army has opened up army schools for children and youth clubs. They are trained in different domains like hospitality, nursing, hotel management, marketing, sales, etc, but the parents are scared to send their children out of their houses now, thinking they would become victim of violence like Sameer, Tufail, Ifra or Ahmed. No parent wants to lose his/her child to the violence.
Children have seen so much of bloodshed, violence, guns, bombs, riots, protests, crackdowns, that it has hampered with their mental, emotional and psychological conditions! Though India is a member of UN and UN has a policy to keep the children of war zones safe, it has always turned a blind eye in the issue of Kashmir. Children have lost their childhood, their innocence, due to the violence. They will be continued to be victimised until peace returns in the valley.
Susain Shah, a class 7 student says that we don’t have the joy of living here anymore. There’s a fear within us always. We want to enjoy our childhood like other children too!
“Iss duniya ke sabse bade jaahil ne kahaa thaa,
Ki ishq aur jung mein sab jaaiz hai,
Kyunki aisa hai toh phir,
Border par sipahiyon ke sir kaatne wale bhi jaaiz hai,
Jawan ladkiyo pe acid fekne wale aashiq bhi jaaiz hai,
aur maasoom baccho ki hattyaa karne waale bhi!”