Conflict-Ridden Innocence: The Grim Reality Of Children In Kashmir

The little girl was hiding behind her mother and looking at the camera nervously as if the camouflaged demons that tore her family apart lived within the frame of the camera. She doesn’t want to answer anything about her father, who died during a search operation. I asked her for one final time, “Ayesha, where’s your abba? You remember anything about him?”

She looked at me after a while with her tiny brown bloodshot eyes and said, “They are lying.  Apzis koth’ katti (A lie doesn’t last for long). My abba isn’t dead. He will return soon from Haj with a lot of gifts.”

This isn’t the only family that’s been torn apart by the violence sponsored by the Indian state. There have been thousands of such incidents over the last seventy years since India illegally occupied a part of Kashmir, which is presently known as the Indian administered Jammu and Kashmir. Conflict in India administered Jammu and Kashmir has claimed a total of 41000 lives in the last 27 years.

The year 2018 was the deadliest year of the last decade in the Indian administered Jammu and Kashmir as state-sponsored violence peaked during the year resulting in the death of 586 people.

Table1 – Total death toll from 2008 to 2018

Children: The Prime Target Of The Conflict

Among 160 civilians who were killed in 2018, around 18 of them were women. The year also witnessed the killing of 31 children (between ages 1–17 years) accounting for 19.49% of the killings of the civilians, which is highest in the last decade.

A report published by the Jammu Kashmir Civil Service Society (JKCSS) on the impact of violence of children found that a total of 318 children have been killed in the last 15 years.

Out of the 318 children dead in the last 15 years, 144 children were killed in actions by the Indian Armed Forces and the Jammu and Kashmir Police, 147 were killed by unidentified gunmen, 15 were killed in cross-firing and shelling across the Line of Control and 12 of them were killed by militants (a rather small number as compared to the killings sponsored by the state).

The ages of the children (victims) clearly indicate that the perpetrators of the violence have not discriminated against and left the children aside. Of the 318 children killed in the last 15 years, 121 children fall in the age group of below 12 years, while 154 children killed are between 13 to 17 years.

A 2012 study by United Kingdom-based charity Save the Children found that Kashmir valley has 215,000 orphans “out of which 37% have lost one or both parents to the prevailing conflict.”

One of the other distinct features of militarized violence by the Indian state in the Indian administered Jammu and Kashmir is the pattern of violence against women. Of the 318 children killed, 72 of them were girls while 227 of them were boys.

The Post-Traumatic Stress Of Abrogating Article 370 And 35(A)

After the abrogation of Article 370 and 35 (A), Kavita Krishnan from the CPI(ML), economist Jean Dreze and Maimoona Mollah of AIDWA spent five days in Kashmir to understand the ground reality and to check which of the two narratives that are emerging in the media is true. The Government claimed the situation to be calm and under control while the foreign media showed disturbing images of pellets being fired at the peaceful protestors. Kavita Krishnan in her fact-finding mission in Kashmir from 9th to 13th August 2019 revealed the situation to be disturbing and “it (the valley) looked like occupied Iraq or occupied Palestine.”

More than 4000 people have been detained in the last one month under the Public Safety Act (PSA), a controversial law that allows the state to imprison someone up to two years without a trial or a charge. A recent article list out the reasons how the PSA board (which is meant to act as a check and balance on Government’s usage of this law for illegal detention) has become an “OK-stamp” for almost all the detention orders.

Among these 4000 people detained under the act, a lot of them are children under 18 years of age. Kavita Krishnan in an interview with Huffington Post, said, “Their parents ( referring to the children) assured us that their children have not thrown stones. Their parents said they have been picked up on the way to mosques, from their homes, from their beds at night. That kind of thing. They are making it a point to raid houses in the night and take away young boys in the night. It creates immense fear, especially among women. The women have whispered to us that they have been molested during such raids. This was the story in every village that we visited.”

According to the report Kashmir Caged, “Hundreds of boys and teens are being picked up from their beds in midnight raids… Parents feared meeting us and telling us about the “arrests” (abductions) of their boys. They are afraid of Public Security Act cases being filed. The other fear is that the boys may be “disappeared”—i.e. killed in custody and dumped in mass graves of which Kashmir has a grim history.”

The data retrieved by Venkatesh Nayak and Dr Shaikh Ghulam Rasool through RTI for Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI), between April 2016 and mid-December 2017, the State Government referred 1,004 detention orders to the Advisory Board. It confirmed 998 orders, a confirmation rate of 99.4%.

To understand the situation better, I filed a Right to Information (RTI) to get the exact number of children detained under PSA since the curfew and the communication blackout in Kashmir. The reply I got from the Human Rights Council of the  Ministry of Home Affairs is shocking. They don’t have a count of the children arrested nor the number of deaths in the detention centers. They don’t even have the count of children killed in the last year (which was considered to be the bloodiest year in the decade of Kashmir). The last time a report was filed was three years back in 2016.

The department provided me with the number of “Juvenile in conflict with law” and “crime against children” from the 2016 data available at the National Crime Records Bureau. According to the data available, 222 crimes have been committed against children, which don’t account for detention under the PSA.  The percentage state share to All India is 0.2% which lower than even states like Uttar Pradesh (15%) or Madhya Pradesh (12.9%).

The data on “Juvenile in conflict with law” is really perturbing. The number of juvenile in conflict with the law has increased almost twice in number from 2014 (104 cases). The 2016 data reports 198 children in conflict with the law and about 4.4% of the crimes are cognizable. Out of these 198 children who are arrested, about 109 children (almost 55%) are arrested for rioting under Section 147-151 and 153A of the IPC. This figure probably points out the number of children who were arrested under the PSA for protesting (a number that’s not clearly mentioned by the Government). 84.7% of the children arrested were held guilty, and there are 76 pending disposal cases at the end of the year 2016.

The Public Safety Act: A Lawless Law

According to Amnesty International, PSA  “grants the authorities sweeping powers, whilst also seriously diminishing any real possibility for detainees to contest the legality of their detention.” The 2011 report “A lawless law” estimated that over the last two decades about 8,000 to 20,000 people have been detained under PSA and a lot of them were children.

An RTI filed by JKCSS shows that around 5597 detainees arrested between 1990 and 2013.

In 2012, the Jammu and Kashmir State Assembly amended PSA to prohibit the detention of people under 18 years of age. However, there were multiple cases of children under 18 years being detained under PSA.

PSA does not provide for a judicial review of detention, and state authorities have been countering orders by the Jammu and Kashmir High Court to release people detained under this law by issuing successive detention orders  The Supreme Court of India has described the system of administrative detention, including PSA, as a “lawless law”. It is time that we do away with this draconian law under which the Government can’t even give an exact figure of the number of children detained.

I looked into the bloodshot eyes of the little girl (Ayesha) for one last time, who have seen more bloodshed than snowfall, more separation than longing and more shadows in the lakes than floating shikaras. I asked her, “You really think your dad will come back?”

She looked at me with her eyes full of hope of seeing her dad soon and replied, “Sheen galli, wandi tczali ti beyi ye bahaar (snow will melt, winter will pass and spring will arrive again).”

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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