The extent of suffering of Kashmiri children and youth under the occupation is shocking and unreported. We need to shed light on the shattering consequences of the occupation upon them; psychologically, emotionally, physically, and economically. It is important to note here that this occupation is itself unethical, unjustifiable, and inhumane; it denies Kashmir the right to self-determination which is the most basic right of any nation. Although, Kashmir is occupied by three nations, namely India, China and Pakistan, mass human rights abuses are taking place in Indian occupied Kashmir (IoK). A recent report “alleged Perpetrators – Stories of Impunity in Jammu and Kashmir” is 356 pages long and states over 200 cases of human rights abuses and lists the names of over 500 army personnel, police, and paramilitary forces who have carried out acts of violence, torture, extrajudicial killings, abductions and rape against civilians.
Adults, who are living under occupation, for example, can remember a time when their land was not occupied, how different things were then, and how they were able to lead their lives normally. However, children who are born into such a dangerous environment, do not know any better, for them this difficult life is all they know, they do not know of a life and time when their land was not occupied. It seems inevitable in such circumstances that the psychological and emotional development of children and young people is negatively affected. This is very much the case for Kashmiri children and adolescents; they are denied the right of peace and safety due to the occupation. Instead, young Kashmiris are suffering from severe psychological pressures; they are subject to torture, psychological coercion and constant humiliation.
The Declaration of the Rights of the Child (D-14) and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) are the most important international declarations and conventions on the rights of children. Importantly the first Article of the Declaration of the Rights of the Child states: “The child shall enjoy all the rights set forth in this Declaration. Every child, without any exception whatsoever, shall be entitled to these rights, without distinction or discrimination on account of race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status, whether of himself or of his family.”
Included in these rights is the right of special protection for the child, to be given opportunities and facilities both by law and other avenues, to enable the child to develop mentally, physically, and socially in a healthy manner and in environments of dignity and freedom. But we see in the current social and political climate in Kashmir even the most basic rights of the children and youth are disregarded by those in power, namely, the Indian government, army, police, and paramilitary forces. AWikiLeaks cable showed that India has systematically used torture to extract confessions and has allowed its armed forces to resort to brutal human rights abuses like extrajudicial executions and disappearances to instill fear. Human rights organisations have raised this disturbing fact and continuously asked for a stop to such human rights violations but the New Delhi government has carried on condoning such acts of violence as the cable revealed
On 21st April 1948 the United Nations Security Council put forward Resolution 47 calling for a referendum to be implemented, where Kashmiris can decide their own future, but sadly this has never happened. After 65 years of occupation, Kashmiris have become tired of waiting for the implementation of the plebiscite that was promised. Pro-freedom protests by youths started in 2008 where stones were used against the occupying force’s military might, thus, these youths were referred to as ‘stone-pelters’. Many of them who took part in the protests against the injustice and repression were arrested and even those who did not take part were arrested too, and often they have been treated as adults. Boys detained between the ages of 16-18 are not treated as juvenile offenders, a tactic used by the forces is to arrest these youth and claim that they do not have any juveniles in detention. However, rights activists state that holding underage individuals in adult prisons violates the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which India is signed up to. These youths are held under the draconian law of the Public Safety Act (PSA), this allows officers to detain an individual for long periods of time without a trial and they can recommend a minimum 2 year prison term. This technique of preventative detention has been used to detain approximately 20,000 without a trial in Kashmir; it has been condemned by both the UN and Human Rights Watch.
Everyone should be entitled to the basic right of freedom. Still, the Indian occupying forces continuously arrest children and adolescents, regardless if they take part in pro-freedom protests or not, a majority if not all of these children and adolescents are detained without any kind of trial. Adding to the loss of their future and education, children that are imprisoned are tortured and assaulted in various ways that affects them both psychologically and physically. Eventually when these children are released from prison they face many difficulties, such as, physical and mental health problems, fear being re-detained, unable to pursue education, unemployment, and there is a void in social and psychological stability for them.
Eid Gah March in 2010, which attracted hundreds of thousands of Kashmiris to call for the right to self determination of Kashmir. Picture: Showkat Shafi
The occupation has been a powerful tool in breaking the spirit of Kashmiri children and adolescents through arbitrary measures including physical mistreatment, restrictions in road movement forced upon them daily, being subject to torture, injury, enforced disappearances, destruction of property. In addition to this they suffer from suppression and poverty due to severe curfews and closures. Kashmiri children and adolescents can only feel real safety when they can live freely without the fear of being killed by occupying forces. This type of uncertainty discourages them from making any future plans, and is both painful and humiliating. In the Channel 4 documentary, Kashmir’s Torture Trail, one of the youths talks about how he feels their lives have no value and how he doesn’t plan what he will do tomorrow as he doesn’t know if he will live to see tomorrow. This youth also lost his brother, who was twelve at the time, when he was hit by a tear gas canister at the back of his head whilst he was playing chess with his friends. Stories like this are not rare in Kashmir; many have been through such difficult experiences.
The Indian government has continuously failed to act on the truths that have been exposed regarding oppression in the state. Hence, child protection laws are not taken seriously in Kashmir, and this is indeed a very worrying fact. With the present situation in Kashmir we need to go back to basics, the Indian government needs to implement the child protection laws it is a signatory of. It also needs to take responsibility in ensuring that Kashmiri children and adolescents are safe and not at risk of torture, intimidation, enforced disappearances or detained without charge.
Generally, adolescents make plans for their future. However, this is not an easy task for young Kashmiris; they very much feel uncertain about how their future will be like, their self-image and view of the world is shaken by the traumatic experiences they have endured. Simply put, this brutal occupation is costing Kashmiris so much that many are paying the price with their lives. Though, regardless of these difficult circumstances they remain hopeful and dream of a free Kashmir; free from occupation, terror, subjugation and repression.
Kashmir is a place where humanity stumbled, it is very tragic that the world is outraged when certain children from certain countries are killed or injured but not when the same thing happens elsewhere in a different country. I hope soon we will see a day when Kashmir will be free, and the children and young people there will enjoy the liberties and freedoms that other children and youth around the world enjoy.
This is dedicated to all those children and youth who have lost their lives under this occupation. Their memories live on. It is also dedicated to the Kashmiri children and youth of today as they courageously continue to struggle against the oppressors.