It wasn’t the goriest day in Saleema’s life alone. It was one of the goriest days for fatherhood as well. Farooq Ahmad Bhat of Kulgam, a police constable, had hurled his 27-day-old boy out of the window after a brawl with his wife Saleema. The baby fluttered for a few moments in the courtyard before breathing his last.
Saleema might have hardly imagined that the joy of the birth of her first child would last for just 27 days. The gory incident has trampled the mother who was yet to name her baby.
With the incident, Kashmir witnessed another reminder of cruelty against children. The brutality of a father towards his own blood left people of the valley awestruck and a case (127/2009 under section 459, 302 RPC) was registered against Bhat in police station Kulgam.
But the incident is not a stray one. More and more cases of child abuse – most of them of grave nature – are being reported from different corners of the valley.
An 8th standard girl from village Mirhama in Kulgam was sexually exploited by one Shabir Ahmad Hajam of neighbouring Narsinghpora village for some time. The girl conceived a child. Instead of punishing the culprit for this exploitation, he was wooed to marry pregnant Waheeda who could possibly be the youngest mother in the area.
In another act of sexual assault, an eight-year-old girl was raped by 17-year-old Ashfaq Ahmad Najar, son of Ashraf Najar of village Repora in Chadoora area. The innocent child has been suffering psychiatric disorders ever since that incident. In Sopore, eight year old Adnan Habib, son of Habib Ullah of Bulagam Sopore was kidnapped by a non-local labourer, Jani, of Kanpur town in Utter Pradesh. Though Adnan was rescued, he has turned into a nervous wreck after the incident.
While cases like these are registered by police, the unreported cases number in hundreds every year. “Child abuse data is impossible to come by in Kashmir as the information rarely reaches the press or other agencies. It also has a cultural context,” says noted psychiatrist Dr Arshad Hussain.
The cultural context that Dr Hussain points to is the difference in definition of child abuse in sub-continent and western countries.
“If a father slaps his child, it is considered right here. But in west, it amounts to physical abuse. The father there can end in lock up,” says Dr Arshad.
In the ambit of children’s rights, activists generally include protection from abuse, exploitation, neglect and violence. In Kashmir sexual violence against children is acknowledged as a violation of rights but there is reluctance to discuss this sensitive issue by the civil society while physical abuse and other violations are not even acknowledged.
“We do receive such (sexual violence) cases but the situation is not grave on that front. Majority of the cases pertain to physical abuse,” says Dr Arshad.
Different people hold different views regarding the rise in child abuse cases in Kashmir. Dr Rouf Mohiudin, Director of a NGO called Koshish, holds conflict responsible for the surging child abuse in Kashmir.
“I will relate it directly as well as indirectly to the conflict. Directly, because there have been instances where children have suffered at the hands of people holding power. Indirectly, because situations that emerged or were created due to conflict paved way for child exploitation,” he opines. For the last two decades, the number of orphans has been swelling every year. “There has been no comprehensive survey of total number of orphans in the valley. However, the estimated orphan population in valley is around 20,000,” says Hilal Ahmad Parray, Director Social Welfare Department. Majority of these orphans have no care taker.
Manzoor Ahmad of Islamabad town is one of these orphans. He has attempted suicide many times. “My father was shot dead by Indian army in 1992 when I was four years old. My mother left me with my maternal grandmother to marry another man,” says Manzoor, while narrating his story. Manzoor says he lived with his grandmother till 1995. “After she died, uncles and aunts started taunting me. When they resorted to violence against me, I left the home to work in a workshop. Mother would occasionally visit me but her husband scolded at me which compelled me to tell my mother to leave me alone,” says Manzoor.
Psycho-emotional violence that includes verbal violence like name-calling and emotional