The Juvenile Justice Committee (JJC) of the Jammu and Kashmir High Court comprising Justices Ali Mohammad Magrey, Dhiraj Singh Thakur, Sanjeev Kumar and Rashid Ali Dar has said that 144 minors were detained by the police in Kashmir since 5 August and 142 of them have been released.
The JJC has cited the report submitted by the office of the Director General of Police, Jammu and Kashmir which denied details on the detention of children provided in reports published in Washington Post, The Quint, Scroll.in and Caravan.
The DGP’s report also countered the findings of a fact finding committee led by activists Jean Dreze and Kavita Krishnan. The activists’ report had said:
“We met an 11-year-old boy in Pampore who had been held in a police station between 5 August and 11 August. He had been beaten up, and he said there were boys even younger than him in custody, from nearby villages. Hundreds of boys and teens are being picked up from their beds in midnight raids. The only purpose of these raids is to create fear. Women and girls told us of molestation by Armed Forces during these raids.”
According to the DGP’s version quoted by the JJC, the report on the minor detained in Pampore is not correct.
“This (news) report has been generated with the intention to malign the police and to create a story which may have an element of sensationalism,” the report says.
The report says that the DGP has denied The Quint’s story on detention of a minor in Baramulla and called it a “figment of imagination”.
This is what The Quint had reported on 26 August:
“Nights fill us with dread,” says Zainab* (name changed), a resident of Baramulla in north Kashmir. Zainab is in her late forties, and her children have grown up, but as many as three children have been “picked up” by security forces from her area, during raids conducted at night.
One of them, Qasim*, is about 10-11 years old, and stayed barely a few blocks away from Zainab.
“They (Qasim’s family) heard someone banging on their door a few days back. It was quite late. They (security personnel) told the family to call Qasim. They pleaded with the forces not to take the boy away but they roughed up the father and took Qasim under detention,” Zainab narrates.
This is one of the several instances of minors being detained by security forces in the Valley after the government decided to scrap Jammu and Kashmir’s special status on 5 August. The number of children detained is said to be running into hundreds.
The pattern of raids is similar across Kashmir: a late-night raid, protests by parents, fathers or elder brothers being roughed up, and minors being taken away. But the ordeal of the families begins there...
In the subsequent days, the families are often seen waiting at police stations, pleading with the police to provide them some news of their child’s whereabouts.
Why Night Raids?
Night raids by security forces have been a common feature in Kashmir and are not particular to the present crisis. Raids are conducted at night, mainly because it becomes more difficult for the people living in the area to gather and protest the arrests.
Security personnel say that it becomes easier to reach the targetted place without being noticed by locals, and that the likelihood of the person they are looking for being at home is higher.
However, locals say that night raids specifically aimed at minors have become more common than in the last few years.
“It seems that the forces are specifically targetting children. We told them that our son hadn’t done anything, that he never took part in stone pelting. Still, they took him away,” said Hussain*, a resident of Srinagar whose son has been detained.
Raids in south Kashmir are particularly severe. A large number of minors and youths have been picked up by security forces in places like Pampore, Awantipora, Khrew, Tral, and Pulwama, all of which are in the Pulwama district.
“Several boys have been picked up from here. We are afraid to even hear a sound at night. We pray every night for the safety of our children” said a resident of Pampore.
Most of the inputs from south Kashmir seem to suggest that the local police is playing a comparatively lesser role in raids there than in Srinagar.
Children Afraid to Go to School
Even though schools have reopened in the Valley, many parents are reluctant to send their children to school. Schools reopened on 19 August but the attendance is extremely thin as parents prefer keeping their children at home.
“We don’t know what will happen. Our children could get caught in the middle of a protest or a raid. We can’t afford to let them out of sight,” said Sajid, a resident of Bemina in Srinagar.
Locals also say that the detention of older children around them is said to have petrified the younger ones, who are afraid that they will be picked up as well.
Invariably, the families whose children get picked up during night raids go to the police station and plead with the authorities to release their child, or, at the very least, provide some information about their well being. However, the police is mostly unresponsive.
Abbas*, another resident of Baramulla, whose son was picked up by the police, claims that the police is itself helpless.
“The officer incharge told us, ‘You can at least come here and express your anger. Whom do I show my anger to?’ That’s why I stopped going to the station. Even the police don’t seem to know,” he recounted.
According to Abbas, the police officer told him that the local police wasn’t involved in the raids and that they were conducted mainly by either the Army or the paramilitary personnel.
Whether the police was involved in this particular raid or not could not be independently verified.
In another case from Srinagar city, a non-Kashmiri government official is said to have taunted the parents saying, “No one is a child here. We know what they are up to.”
The administration’s contention is that the raids are being carried out to pick up only the minors who were involved in protests or incidents of stone-pelting.
A study by the Army claimed that 83 percent of youths who took up arms in the last 18 months had a history of stone-pelting. Therefore, the assumption that the security forces are working with is that every young protester is a potential stone-pelter and every stone-pelter is a potential militant.
Among the families and the acquaintances of detained children to whom The Quint spoke for this story, only one family from Baramulla said that their child did go out for protests. All other families denied their child’s involvement in stone-pelting.
With inputs by Vakasha Sachdev.
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