This is how we are shamefully losing out on the next generation of Kashmiris

A few years back, I had written an editorial on why Kashmir should be given independence. That article of mine invited a huge debate and a lot of ire from people who felt that I was being unpatriotic. If one just bases one’s responses on emotions, yes, it is hard to accept this independence proposition; but for all practical purposes, we would probably do more good to the region and its people by leaving it free, than by holding on to it forcefully. It is not that the government has not made an attempt, but all its attempts have backfired. As a result of all this, Kashmir has long back lost its charm of being the heaven on earth. Unfortunately, those are its people who have been perpetually at the receiving end and have actually experienced a near hell-like situation in the region. And it is not just that they have been living under constant fear and surveillance, but also that basic freedom has become a thing of the past. From laws that prohibit prepaid cell phones connections to ban on ownership of land, almost all democratic rights have ceased in the region. So much so that every other month, a couple of cases of police or governmental brutality make the headlines; and the very next week get swept under the carpet.

The ban on prepaid cell phones and land acquisition is still fine, owing to the kind of turbulence the region has been experiencing, but the biggest damage has been Kashmir’s juvenile justice law, which is causing unprecedented ramifications for the future. What more, not only is this law against Indian and even international human rights conventions, but is actually against the law of nature too!

There have been innumerable cases. Take, for example, Fazin Rafiq Hakeem, aged less than 15, who was locked up on February 7, 2011 and detained without charges and trial by J&K police. He was arrested outside his house under the charges of being part of a large crowd that threw stones at the police during a protest against the state. However, the police had no evidence to prove the same. In spite of being granted bail on February 12, 2011, by the ruling magistrate, the boy was not released by police officials. Eventually, after huge protests and intervention by various international human watchdogs, he was released on April 5, 2011. In another case in May this year, Murtaza Manzoor, aged 17, was released from prison after the High Court intervened and found his imprisonment to be completely unlawful. He was locked up for more than three months in administrative detention before the High Court came to his rescue. Even Mushtaq Ahmad Sheikh (14 years old), detained without evidence on April 9, 2010 – who was in fact granted bail by the court after 8 days, but was then re-arrested in April 21, 2010 – was released finally on February 10, 2011. Similarly, Harris Rasheed Langoo (15 years old; detained on November 2010 in spite of being granted bail twice) and Omar Maqbool (13 years old; detained on October 27, 2010) faced similar traumatic experiences.

Through 2010 and 2011, there have been reports of scores of children being arrested and detained without any substantial charges (and a few on the pretext of being part of stone throwers during protests), some who were even brutally tortured. As per various media reports, in 2010 alone, more than 320 people – many of them minors and children – have been detained without trial under the Public Safety Act (PSA) in J&K. As mentioned, most of the children have been detained on the ground of being part of stone pelting and rioting. Some estimates put this figure to be closer to 20,000, taking into consideration all detentions since the last two decades.

The Public Safety Act is slapped every other day on minors and children in spite of India’s national juvenile justice laws being in lines with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which prohibits such actions. The UN Convention makes it very clear that no one below 18 years can be arrested under any laws not meant for minors. So much so that even Indian Central Juvenile Justice Act, 2000, states the same. But then, according to the Jammu and Kashmir Juvenile Justice Act 1997, only children below the age of 16 years are to be treated as juveniles. This has given the administration a leeway to arrest anyone aged 16 and 18 and to place them in police lock-ups than in juvenile homes. In some cases, the brutality has gone a step further too. There have been numerous cases where the administration has denied freedom to victims even after bail has been granted by the courts. The Public Safety Act allows a person to be re-detained even after being given a clean chit by the judiciary! The callousness of the administration goes to an extent that one finds not a single juvenile detention centre in the entire 222,236 sq km area of J&K.

Of course, there have been talks to take a relook at this law, amend it and bring it at par with the national law. But then, the talks only happened after Amnesty International recently released a shocker of a report with respect to how the Public Safety Act has been abused with impunity over the last few years. It is so unfortunate that over the past two decades, we have lost a generation under the rule of the gun and how now the Kashmiri youth is being discriminated against and systematically targeted. Political differences are fine – these could be debated and shot down – but to target minors and youth is criminal. It’s not just the administration, but even the political parties who are equally responsible for this crisis. Such has been the impact that there are reports which state that almost 10 percent of the current children in Kashmir would have a deformed adulthood. A study by the Institute of Jammu and Kashmir Affairs indicates that 57.3 percent of children have become fearful, 55.3 percent suffer from depression and 54.25 percent cannot sleep properly in the Kashmir region. What’s more, while before 1989, Kashmir had only one orphanage run by a local NGO and two more run by the Social Welfare Department, the government has recently quoted the number of orphans to have swelled to a staggering 26,355. A few agencies state that even this figure is hugely under-quoted, and that in reality the figure of orphans in Kashmir is more than a hundred thousand!

All in all, what is building up in the region can be summed up in a statement (made by a child who was framed under the very same law) that I read sometime back, and I quote – “I won’t pelt stones; now I want to wear an explosive-laden jacket and blow myself up.”

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