The year that followed Burhan Wani’s killing has seen hundreds of school-going children arrested on charges of stone-pelting; many of them have left studies and become loners
SRINAGAR: Boys with schoolbags on their backs are a strange but common scene at lower court Srinagar. The year that has followed Burhan Wani’s killing has given rise to a new breed of school kids who are seen more at courts and police stations than at schools.
The second half of the year 2016 and the first half of the year 2017 together comprise a year’s span in which an unprecedented number of FIRs have been registered against juveniles, as many as 276. Of these, 90% cases have been registered for stone-pelting incidents.
At lower court Srinagar, 276 cases against juveniles were registered between August 2016 and June 2017. More than 70 of these cases have been disposed of in the court of Chief Judicial Magistrate. The number of juvenile arrests in the age group 8-16 years and cases registered against them of serious crimes have increased by 40% this year as compared to 2016.
Commentators say that most children join protests because of their own bitter experiences. One such case is of a 15-year-old boy from Sekidafar. According to his family, the boy despite being a bright student and good football player now remains most of the time in isolation, having left studies and stopped going to school.
“I was playing with my friends. At about 6:30pm we left for home when suddenly teargas shells were fired by policemen at the other end of the road. We ran quickly to get away through the lane towards the main Eidgah road. While I was crossing the lane, suddenly a police jeep came from nowhere and from 2-3 metres away a policeman fired pellets at me. I collapsed on the ground. I don’t know who took me to hospital. After gaining consciousness I felt severe pain. My back had almost 200 pellets lodged in it. It was hard for me to understand what made the policeman target me,” the boy told Kashmir Reader.
After remaining five days at SMHS hospital, the kid was brought home, but that 13-year-old boy was asking only one question, “Why they fired pellets at me?” He stopped going to school after that.
There are many such cases where kids have left school because they could see no reason or hope. Significantly, the actual problems for the juvenile detainees arise after they are released. Their names are listed in all the police stations and whenever there is anticipation of stone-pelting or anti-state demonstration, or a ‘hartal’ by pro-freedom groups, these juveniles are summoned to police stations and detained till evening.
“You see yourself becoming a problem for your family, neighbourhood, school and your friends. You have no career, no social life, and no hope for future,” said Mir Urfi, an advocate. Human rights activists allege that juveniles are not treated according to the provision of the state’s Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2013 – which prohibits the detention of minors in a police lock-up or jail for more than 24 hours, and directs that special juvenile police units be designated to deal with such cases. It also mandates that Juvenile Justice Boards be set up to try cases involving juveniles.
A 9-year-old boy from Daribal Khanyar was arrested and lodged at Nowhatta police station for three consecutive days. The chief judicial magistrate reprimanded the police station Nowhatta and even issued a robkar against the SHO (station house officer). The kid was freed in open court after no charges were made against him.
“I went to the police myself, after they went to my school to find me,” the kid told Kashmir Reader. “For one night they kept me at Khanyar police station and then I was shifted to police station Nowhatta for three days. They slapped me and abused my father for my taking part in a protest one Friday.”
Renowned activist Parveena Ahangar said that “Illegality is the main issue here. Many a time the police don’t even show on record that they have arrested children.”
“We are living in a conflict zone and the children are affected by it. Most of such children are from poor families, who have witnessed brutalities on many occasions. Their reaction is genuine, even though they might not know whose hands they are playing into,” Ahangar said.
It is not only local teens who have been arrested by police. Two boys from Dehli, who are currently staying at Habbakadal and Khanyar, were arrested for taking part in protests. The parents of the boys work in Kashmir and they have been living here since childhood.
“We didn’t do any stone pelting but were only part of protests when suddenly police at Khanyar Chowk fired teargas shells and pellets on March 2 this year. We ran for cover but the police caught hold of us, along with three other local boys. We tried to convince them that we didn’t pelt stones but they didn’t listen. Instead, they began to shout at us, abused us and beat us,” said the two non-local kids.
Wajid Hussain, an advocate, says that the absence of a juvenile board makes things worse for the arrested kids. “If there would have been a juvenile court, where only the cases of these kids would be heard, things would have been different. More importantly, a reformation cell would have been there to properly guide these kids. Unfortunately, any kid who is arrested is labelled as a chronic stone-pelter. The state has never tried to reform these kids,” Hussain said.
An 8-year-old boy from Rainawari was arrested on charges of hurling a petrol bomb on police in March this year. The case against him was dismissed because the prosecution couldn’t prove the charges. But since his release, the kid has been in trauma, his mother told Kashmir Reader.
“When he was arrested in April this year, we couldn’t believe it. When we reached police station Rainawari, we found him in a state of shock. He was shivering and it is hard for me to explain the kind of pain he was in. After his release, he continuously complains of headache and has become listless. He starts to shiver as soon as he hears a loud noise. I took him to JLNM hospital where doctors did some tests. He is on medication now. He is just an eight-year-old and see what they have done to him,” she said.
Advocate Mir Shafkat Hussain, who handles several cases of illegal detention and physical abuse of juveniles, said, “The police have a free hand in dealing with a juvenile prisoner. The police illegally detain juveniles and keep them behind bars for days together. These young boys are becoming the new face of conflict in Kashmir.”
The state has a lone juvenile home at Harwan to house kids convicted or on trial for crimes. Activists have been asking for more such homes and a friendlier environment, besides education for such kids.
The Bar Association in Srinagar has been consistently demanding that the prosecution should withdraw cases of stone-pelting against juveniles, as it seriously undermines their prospects of education and social well-being. “It has immensely affected their studies and is the reason that has led them to leave their studies. Their parents want to send them outside the state but the pending cases against them mean they have to be physically present here and appear in court for hearings. This gravely affects their rehabilitation process,” said Mohd Ashraf, an advocate.