(A boy looks at armed forces’ vehicles during a counter-insurgency operation in Tral area of Pulwama in South Kashmir on June 25, 2020). Picture: Kamran Yousuf/NewsClick
Srinagar: The picture of a four-year-old sitting atop his lifeless grandfather as he lied on the roadside—shot dead—in North Kashmir’s Sopore area is a manifestation of the horrors children in Kashmir have to experience amid the raging conflict.
The toddler’s 65-year-old grandfather Bashir Ahmad Khan was killed along with a Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) trooper after militants reportedly attacked paramilitary forces earlier Wednesday morning. Soon after the incident, the J&K police shared the horrifying picture on social media, claiming to have rescued the child, in an attempt to emphasise the consequences of the militancy and violence in the region.
The police, however, drew ire as many expressed their disapproval over the police using the child’s tragedy under the circumstances and for violating child laws.
Nevertheless, it did point to the trauma children witness as they grow up in restive Kashmir.
This year, despite the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been an escalation in the violence in the region that has witnessed increased militant attacks and encounters between militants and government forces.
According to the Srinagar-based rights group Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS), the union territory of Jammu and Kashmir witnessed as many as 229 killings in the first six months due to conflict-related violence; of these, 32 were civilians’. This includes at least three children and two women who were killed while dozens were left injured.
Earlier on June 25, four-year-old Nihaan Bhat was killed in a “cross-firing” following a militant attack in South Kashmir’s Bijbehara area. Nihaan was accompanying his father Mohammad Yaseen Bhat when he was killed.
Three decades have passed since the armed insurgency erupted in Kashmir in 1989; tens of thousands have died including women and children in violence and in many of these cases, the violence was carried out by the government forces. Between 2003-18, according to a JKCCS report called ‘Terrorized: Impact of Violence on the Children of Jammu and Kashmir’, as many as 318 children have been killed and none of the perpetrators have been brought to justice.
It has been a decade since 17-year-old Tufail Mattoo was killed on June 11, 2010, after allegedly getting hit by J&K Police’s teargas shell. The killers were never charged despite his father Mohammad Ashraf Mattoo’s years-long legal battle. “Every Kashmiri has a woeful story to tell. I stand vindicated; I exposed them and they are the losers because they can’t face the facts, which makes them unable to deliver justice,” Mattoo told NewsClick on his son’s 10th death anniversary.
According to the police, around 120 militants have been killed in Kashmir valley in the first half of the year 2020—a majority of them locals and 11 foreigners, believed to be from Pakistan. The operation against militants has often resulted in the destruction of homes near the encounter sites. Earlier on May 19, during an operation in Srinagar’s Downtown area, nearly two dozen homes were destroyed, leaving the families without any shelter.
Scores of homes have been destroyed across Kashmir during these operations leaving families including women and children homeless.
Human Rights defender Khurram Parvez said there are two main aspects of conflict and violence on children in Kashmir. “The first is that the children have been victimised themselves. Secondly, the children are witnessing the violence like what happened in the Sopore incident and both have a devastating impact on them,” Parvez said.
Khurram said it is not normal for any society where children are exposed to violence.
“It compels children to think about their identity, politics, and other issues. There are implications where violence then becomes normal and acceptable,” he said
The award-winning activist added that today, the challenges have compounded in the age of the internet and the parents are unaware of how to respond to these challenges.
Many children in the region have also been left maimed for life, hundreds have been left blinded after being hit by pellet shotguns. A large number of Kashmiri youths including children lost eyesight in at least one or both eyes during the 2016 protests that erupted after the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani. Many children suffered pellet gun injuries this year and among them are children who are looking at a dark future.
Mental health experts in Kashmir have said time and again that conflict in the region has led to catastrophic consequences affecting the lives of the people in the region—especially the children.
Dr Shoib works as a consultant neuropsychiatrist at Srinagar's Jawahar Lal Nehru Memorial (JLNM) Hospital. He said that early psychological trauma of any kind has long-lasting effects on the psyche.
“In extreme cases, patients may develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and there has been an increase in depression and PTSD because of long-term violence and other psychological disorders in the past 20 years,” Dr Shoib told NewsClick.
It is due to persistent trauma in the Valley, Dr Shoib says, we see increased aggression among our youth. “It doesn’t affect only individuals, but the whole society is involved. There is no doubt that turbulence has affected every aspect of life in Jammu and Kashmir,” he added.
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