A Minor Story

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As the Supreme Court is hearing a PIL related to the detention of minors in Kashmir post-August 5, Umar Mukhtar meets a few boys who returned home after spending weeks in the custody

“When you will beat him please spare the left side of his face,” pleaded Ghulam Mustafa, father of Shahid Mustafa, 14,  to the police officer who arrested him. “A slap can make Shahid disable for life. His eardrum is secreting wax and is on regular medication and needs proper care and hygiene for recovery.”

On August 21, around 4:30 pm, Shahid was picked up by police from his Azad Basti (Natipora) home and bundled into a Rakshak, an armoured personnel carrier. Shahid, a student of ninth standard, was going for the prayers to a nearby mosque, according to his father, when he was arrested.

After August 5, this area in uptown Srinagar witnessed frequent clashes between police and groups of boys. Shahid’s arrest was witnessed by a woman in the neighbourhood, who informed the family. She told them, a boy “wearing a skull cap was bundled in a police vehicle.” It was subsequently learnt that the boy was Shahid.

Police drove him to Chanapora police station. “I tried to resist the arrest but they smashed my head with a gun butt and I fell unconscious,” said Shahid. “Once I regained my senses, I found myself in a crowded lockup, accommodating almost 27 others.” He said the lockup was 10 feet by 8 feet in size with a toilet adjusted in a corner.

Shahid alleged that he was kept there for two days before he was shifted to Bhagat police station. “As I reached there, a senior police officer  showed me a video captured from atop a Rakshak. He was asking me to identify the masked boys in the video,” Shahid said. “If I would have identified anyone, he would have surely picked him up. Later I would be branded as a informer.”

When he refused to reveal identities, Shahid alleged he was beaten with a cable wire. “Every refusal meant a harsher thrashing,” he alleged. “They beat me continuously for almost five minutes. They even thrashed me repeatedly on the left ear and the officer’s security guards pulled my ear too.” Shahid said he is suffering from the hearing disability.

Inside the police station, Shahid alleged, along with other inmates he was asked to clean the cooking mess. “I was also forced to cut the grass in the compound,” alleged Shahid.While cutting the grass; something went into his eye resulting in a severe eye infection.

Finally, when family kept insisting about his innocence and age, he was let free after spending 13 days in the lockup. A signed bond was taken from Mustafa in lieu of his son’s release. “I do not even know what was written on it, I just wanted to get my minor son out somehow.”

“I asked them (police) to tell us his crime for which he was arrested,” said Mustafa. Police claimed of video footage where Shahid can be seen pelting stones on them. “I told them if you will show me the footage, you can then keep my son with you. But they could not.”

For all the 13 days, Shahid’s relatives including his octogenarian grandfather, his mother, and his aunt, who is suffering from cancer, would wait outside the police station to see him.

“All that police wanted to get out of Shahid was to break him,” said Hudabiya, Shahid’s cousin. “The police officer told us that until he will not lower his gazes and stop looking directly into our eyes, we will not let him out.”  She said her cousin actually broke down and cried when he saw his cancer patient aunt pleading before a police officer after coming to the police station from a chemo-therapy session.

CHANGE IN BEHAVIOUR

Seemingly, this has changed Shahid. He now stays aloof and is less social.

“For most of the time, he locks himself up in his room and avoids confronting the family,” said Mustafa. “He cannot get the abuses and humiliation of the lock-up out of his head. I hope he does not do anything untoward.”

The parents are very cautious now for his behaviour. They keep a regular watch on him and try to help him with weekly counselling. Post-release Shahid eats very little. He says “who knows at times I may not get food for days,” said Mustafa. “He is no more interested in his studies. Instead, he reads lots of religious books now.” When this reporter visited Shahid, he was reading Jannat Kasie Mille Gee (How to achieve heaven?)

Shahid is not a lone case. After the abrogation of the special status and the downsizing of the state of Jammu and Kashmir, official figures say nearly 4000 people were arrested including children. On Supreme Court directions, the Juvenile Justice Committee of the High Court of Jammu and Kashmir drafted a list of 144 detainees.

It was a response to public interest litigation (PIL) filed by child rights activist Enakshi Ganguly. She complained about the illegal detention of juveniles, in violation of the juvenile justice law and principles governing human rights.

Taking note of the PIL, Supreme Court asked the Jammu and Kashmir committee comprised four sitting judges of the J&K High Court, Justices Ali Mohammad Magrey (chairman) and Dhiraj Singh Thakur, Sanjeev Kumar and Rashid Ali Dhar to look into the matter. They submitted its report on October 1. Its report was a record of the data it had received from the local police and juvenile justice homes. The report said that 142 of them had already been set free. Almost sixty of the minors who figured in the list were under 15 years of age.

Yasir is one of the 144 listed in the document. Arrested by the Shopian police on August 8, only four days prior to Eid, Naikoo was kept in the police lock up for two days before being moved to Srinagar Central jail and finally to prison in Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh under the Public Safety Act (PSA).

On August 8, a midnight knock woke up Yasir’s family only to find a large number of army and police personnel waiting at his door. He was ordered to come along. “I did what they ordered me to do as resisting meant a beating and unnecessary trouble for my family,” Yasir said. “There were only females at the home that time.”

Yasir is the lone bread earner for his family after his father Bashir Ahmad  died of a brain tumour in 2009. A few days before his arrest, Yasir established a bakery shop in the neighborhood. “I had prepared a lot of bakery and was hopeful of a good Eid business but all is now lost,” Yasir said. “We could not even sell a single loaf of bread.”

Next day, Yasir’s aged mother and her two daughters went to Shopian police station and pleaded for his release. “I told them he is a minor and hardly differentiates between good and bad,” his mother said. She was promised of his freedom but nothing happened. Yasir returned home 80 days later.

“For 71 days, I was locked up in a prison cell measuring just 6 x10 feet with a toilet inside, along with an aged person from Lolab,” Yasir said. “The cell was blindly walled on three sides and only a portion of the front side was open from which a beam of light would tell us if it was a day or the night.”

The only hope to get out of the cell was when a family member would come for the meeting. For all the 71 days, no relative could visit him. “I thought my brother in law would definitely come to see me but he did not,” said Naikoo with teary eyes.

Finally, on August 28, Naikoos’ filed a habeas corpus petition in the High Court, challenging his detention on age grounds. They produced his school certificate, that suggested he was born on March 16, 2005. They also moved an application asking he should be shifted to a juvenile home, instead of jail.

The same day, the court, taking note of the family’s claim that Yasir was a minor, asked state counsel Bashir Ahmad Dar to file a response by September 4. Naikoo was found only 14 years of age. Finally, on October 15, the state counsel informed the court that the detention order has been revoked. He moved home two weeks later, on October 27.

CHANGED POST ARREST

Post-release, Yasir is a quiet person. “Disinterested in daily affairs, he is more interested now in events related to conflict,” one of his relatives told this reporter on the condition of anonymity. “He talks about the plight of the families whose kin are detained in the police stations and prisons.”

In 2012, the erstwhile Jammu and Kashmir assembly had passed an amendment making it illegal to hold minors under the Public Safety Act. Those below the age of 18 are minors as the law of the erstwhile state.

In many cases, the administration mentions the age of minors in detention order at 18 years plus. This puts the onus of proving a minor’s age on the family. In abnormal situations, securing a school certificate is very difficult. Till that happens, these minors stay in jail or police lock-ups?

On November 5, the Supreme Court again asked the four member juvenile justice committee of Jammu and Kashmir High Court to examine afresh allegations of detention of minors by security forces in the state after August 5. A bench headed by Justice N V Ramana asked the committee to place its report as expeditiously as possible and posted the hearing for December 3. The bench said there was a need for examining the allegations afresh as the earlier reports of the committee were not in accordance with the apex court order, due to time constraints.

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