SRINAGAR: A 10th-grade student Afaan, spent a fortnight in a prison in Indian occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IOK), after police booked him under a stringent Public Safety Act (PSA). He was charged with protesting against Indian decision of revoking the special status to the region.
Afaan was lucky enough that prison doors opened just a fortnight later for him, as a court ordered his release, accepting his school document that he was juvenile. He is one of the scores of children, whisked away at midnight by law enforcement officers and sent to prisons. A fortnight in a prison cell has completely changed Afaan, says his father Manzoor Ahmed Ganai.
The Juvenile Justice Committee of the State High Court has confirmed the arrest of 144 juveniles. In a report submitted to the Indian Supreme Court, it said that 108 of them were released on the same day. Other 36 were sent to a Juvenile Home, in Harwan, in the outskirts of Srinagar city.
“Out of those 36 Juveniles, 21 were granted bail and 15 were facing an inquiry,” said the committee in its report. Most of the children including a nine-year-old boy have been charged with rioting, disrupting public order and pelting stones on security personnel.
Quoting Assistant Director General of Police, A K Chowdhary, the report claimed that not a single juvenile was under illegal police custody. The report also refutes charges that children are tortured in the custody.
But the Anadolu Agency has been able to locate families of minors, who claimed that their children were put behind bars illegally, without informing courts and were also tortured.
They said that children, who have been released on court orders are now mental wrecks after spending days in police lock ups, prison cells and court hearings.
“He (Afaan) is very depressed and frightened. His whole body aches and there are visible scars on his back,” Ganai, told Anadolu Agency.
The arrest order had recommended that he be detained for a period of two years, stating that he was leading violent mobs and raising anti-national slogans. The government was also bent to prove him a major. But the court accepted the school certificate which showed that he was born in 2003.
“My son was put in a small cell under harsh conditions with other criminals. The incident has deeply affected his psyche, “ Ganai said. He said that such harsh measures against children was leading them to take extreme steps. “Such treatment will never solve any problem,” he said.
An Indian civil society group, the National Federation of Indian Women, which spent a week travelling in Kashmir, also rejects numbers put out by the judicial committee. The group claims that they found 13,000 children as young as 14, detained since autonomous status of Kashmir was revoked on Aug 5.
Experts predict that the region would pay a heavy price to the acts of detaining and torturing of minors. “It is like a time bomb. Abusing minors is more dangerous than adults. It is a recipe to prepare them for an act of revenge and take refuge in radicalization,” said Advocate Shafkat Nazir.
Umar, 15, from Srinagar city spent 11 days in police custody. “At the police station, I was beaten and abused. I was slapped and kept in the lockup for many days. I was tortured mentally. This has changed my life forever. I don’t know what to do,” he told Anadolu Agency.
Lawyers and civil society groups maintain that in absence of any counselling mechanism, exposing children to torture and detention was putting the whole society at a risk.
“You need someone to counsel these children. They need care and protection as per Juvenile Justice and Child protection Act (2013), but unfortunately, such measures are missing on the ground,” said another advocate Shafkat Hussain.
Gulshan Mushtaq of Sekidafar locality of Srinagar city consigned his books to flames after receiving pellet injures and then detained by police.
During the summer of 2015, Mushtaq, a 7th grade student was caught in a crossfire, when he was playing football.
“We ran away after trouble broke at the far end of the road. A police jeep appeared on the scene and they pumped pellets in my body. I collapsed on the ground. I do not know who took me to the hospital. After gaining consciousness, I realized some 100 pellets had hit me. Even if it was not enough, he was straight away taken to the police station after he recovered,” said Mushtaq.
The bright student has abandoned school and remains in isolation. “It is gone chapter of my life now, there is nothing left for us here in Kashmir,” laments Mushtaq.
The rage and rebellion among teenagers, increases with every arrest of their friends and school mates. “When these children return from detention centers, they relate stories of abuse and torture, adding more flames to the resistance movement,” he added.
A report prepared by the IOK Coalition of Civil society (JKCCS) and the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP), mentions how the detention of children was adding to the chaos.
“The cycle of violence is consuming our young generation. We have no one to look after them. By exposing children to police stations, prisons and court proceedings, juveniles have been pushed to the wall,” said Advocate Hussain.
Police officials express helplessness in dealing with the situation. “We don’t have enough observatory homes to keep children. Whenever a juvenile is arrested, we make sure that he is presented before a judicial magistrate within 24 hours,” says Mudassir Ahmed, a police officer.
He said that there was just one juvenile home in the entire Kashmir region, which was not sufficient to house all the apprehended minors. “The police have to arrest these kids to maintain the law and order, to prevent them from indulging into violence, which has more fatal repercussions,” he argued.