Juvenile culling?

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The most vulnerable section of the demography in a conflict situation is women. But children also have their share of miseries. A human rights watchdog in Srinagar released its first report on the state of children in conflict last week and it lists 318 children killings in 15 years, reports Saima Bhat

Image: Abid Bhat

At least 318 children, in the 1-17 age group, were killed in last fifteen years (2003 to 2017) and no one among the culprits was booked for the crime, Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS) reveals in its latest report Terrorized: Impact of Violence on the Children of Jammu and Kashmir (2018).

Among the victims include the youngest child Javed Ahmad Dar, 9, from Ladoora, Rohama (Baramulla) who disappeared in custody. Javed disappeared in November 1991 and so far there is no information about him.

These children killings constitute 6.95 percent of the total 4571 civilian killings in the same period (2003 – 2017), the report says. The overall death toll had risen to at least 16,436 killings, including alleged militants numbering at least 8537 killings. The data of the report is based on the daily newspaper reports and the field works conducted by JKCCS researchers.

The study suggests the pattern of children killings suggest the victims were direct targets of violence.

The killings included at least 144 children who were killed by armed forces and state police. Of them, 110 were shot dead in different incidents of violence, and not less than eight children died due to injuries inflicted from pellet shot-guns fired by police and CRPF. Twenty-seven children had died due to drowning, either caused due to the ‘negligence’ of armed forces in Wular lake tragedy or being chased by government forces during protests, when victims found no way of escape and jumped into water bodies, resulting in their death.

Every year since 2003, the report says, on an average 26 children were killed in various violence-related incidents triggered by the conflict.

While giving the exact number of causalities, the report while quoting another report of Public Commission on Human Rights (PCHR), 2005, State of Human Rights(1990 – 2005), Chapter 12 (Massacres), suggest in the year 1990 alone, at least 12 incidents of mass violence were reported in which the killing of at least 421 civilians including children were reported. A 2012 study by the United Kingdom-based charity Save the Children Fund, has reported that Kashmir has 215,000 orphans ‘out of which 37 percent have lost one or both parents to the prevailing conflict’.

JKCCS had also carried out a survey on the impact of violence in the twin north Kashmir districts of Baramulla and Bandipora, published as Dead But Not Forgotten in 2006. The survey had found that among the total 5106 number of people killed and forcibly disappeared since armed conflict in 1989 to 2005 – 392 were children. The number of children killed in these two districts from 1989 to 2006 account for nearly eight percent of the total people killed. And the dead included 43 females.

The report also suggests that the killings included the victims of enforced disappearances by armed forces during the three-decade long armed conflict. Not less than 36 children, ten among them alleged militants, disappeared in army’s custody. In another incident that happened during the intervened night of August 3-4, 1998, 11 children in the 4-15 age group were among the 19 people shot dead in their homes at Sailan village, Surankote of district Poonch by Special Police Officials (SPOs), police and the army. The victims included five women.

Various investigations by SHRC later found that eleven children were not only shot dead at point-blank range but their bodies were also dismembered.

In another incident, four persons including two minors were killed by 33-Rashtriya Rifles while they were playing cricket in Dodhipora, Handwara on February 22, 2006. The judicial enquiry into the incident, ordered by the then state government, reportedly never concluded.

Eleven years after in 2017, the status report filed by the Superintendent of Police (SP) Handwara before the High Court stated that four officers of 33-RR were identified by Captain Nitin Dutta alias Rambo. Post-retirement, Subedar Barkha Raj, one of the accused, is living somewhere in Nepal. Even after twelve years, the case is still pending in High Court.

In another incident 24 members of the minority Hindu community were massacred by unidentified gunmen on the intervening night of March 22-23, 2003 at Nadimarg, Shopian. The victims included two infant boys aged two. And for the last more than a decade, no one has been held guilty of the crime.

On June 1999, fifteen persons, including six children, of one family were killed in their home in Mohra Bachai, Surankote Pooch in the Jammu region by SPO’s, police and armed forces.

In the first three months of 2018, the killing of the minor girl wasn’t the lone killing. Not less than five minors were killed including a 17-year-old who was killed near an encounter site in Chaigund Shopian in January, another 10 year old was killed due to the explosion of a littered shell at the same place and two children who were killed at LoC due to cross-border shelling.

After the decline in militancy in the mid 2000s, mass protests erupted in 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2016 against the killings and for resolution of Kashmir dispute. In these years, at least 548 people were killed and they included 16 children. Eight children were killed due to pellet shotguns, 7 were killed due to injuries by tear smoke shelling and one child reportedly died due to asphyxiation caused by Pelargonic Acid Vanillylamide (PAVA) shell, which is chilly based munitions.

Other than direct killings, torture has killed not less than seven children in this period. Reportedly all the deaths were caused after victims were brutally tortured in custody of armed forces and police. And in the same period not less than 4 children were beaten to death by armed forces as well.

The creation of Ikhwan, the counter-insurgency militia, by the government in 1993, too contributed to the minor killings and the report suggests they had killed at least 47 children in this time period.

The report also holds militants responsible for the killing of children. At least 12 children have been killed in the last fifteen years due to militant actions. Most of these killings have taken place due to explosions of explosive devices like grenade blasts and Improvised Explosive Device (IED).

The explosive devices frequently used by Indian armed forces led to the killing of 110 children. Most of these killings were because of explosions of various kinds like by grenade blasts, IEDs, landmines or due to the littered shells left by armed forces at encounter sites. At least nine children became victims of explosions caused by littered shells as they were fiddling with it.

The violent skirmishes at Line of Control (LOC) between India and Pakistan also have added to the cost of the locals, including the human as well as property loss. Fifteen children were killed in cross LoC shelling between the rival armies and some of these children have died because of the explosion caused by littered shells, which these children were fiddling with.

Of all the 318 children killings, 121 children were below 12 years of age while 154 children were in the 13-17 age group. Infants (up to 2 years of age) too have become victims of violence as 13 infants have been killed. The youngest victim was 10 months old baby Irfan who was killed in 2010, when his mother was caught between police and protestors in Dangiwacha, Baramulla.

Out of these children, 72 were girls, which accounts for 22.64 percent of the total children killed. While one teenage girl was raped and murdered by armed forces in 2009 in Shopian, another 16-year-old girl from Bandipora committed suicide after being raped by an Ikhwani, the report says.

And it included, 227 male children and the rest, 91 of the children’s gender have not been ascertained as they were not reported at the time of the killings. The majority of the cases where gender could not be identified belong to years before 2008.

Fayaz Ahmad Rah (father) carrying his son’s body for funeral procession in Srinagar’s Batamalloo, file pic 2010.

On examining the killings further, 67.29 percent (214) of the total children killings were reported from Kashmir while as 30.18 (96) percent belonged to Jammu division and rest of the eight killings’ location have not been ascertained.

The north Kashmir districts of Bandipora, Baramulla and Kupwara jointly had 110 killings, while the four south Kashmir districts of Kulgam, Islamabad, Shopian and Pulwama had 59 killings. The central Kashmir districts of Srinagar, Budgam and Ganderbal recorded 45 killings. Kupwara recorded the highest number of killings with 53, followed by Baramulla, which recorded 41 killings, and Srinagar, which witnessed 27 killings. The least killings of children in Kashmir division were recorded in Ganderbal with 3 killings in these fifteen years.

In the Jammu division, which recorded 96 killings of children, the districts of erstwhile Poonch and Doda, recorded the highest number of killings of children in the last fifteen years with Poonch recording 26 killings followed by Doda with 21 killings.

The report has mentioned an independent survey of the exact number of schools and educational institutions occupied by armed forces. The report published in 2006 by the State of Human Rights in Jammu and Kashmir: 1990 to 2005 by Public Commission on Human Rights (PCHR), had reported that at least 46 schools and educational establishments were occupied by armed forces at that time.

The report claims the direct impact of these occupied school buildings has increased the dropout rate of school going children. The report State of Human Rights in Jammu and Kashmir (1990 – 2005) maintained that the ‘there has been an alarming increase in the dropout rate of the school going children mostly of 1st to 7th standard students.’ The report further said, “…the dropout rate for Kashmir during the conflict recorded 57.41 percent for primary level students, 48 percent at the middle level and 25 percent at the matriculation and above level. In the year 1989, an estimated drop-out rate for Jammu and Kashmir records 55.11 percent for 1st to 7th standard, while as during the conflict the state average increased slightly (58.16percent) but for Kashmir valley, it was 57.41percent”. The dropout rate of school going and college going children has reportedly improved since then but the frequent incidents of violence have an adverse impact on the educational scenario in Jammu and Kashmir.

The attack on students constitutes an attack on education and incidents such as soldiers’ assault on students of Pulwama Degree College, which precipitated into a large-scale one-month long student protest in the valley, reflect that the student community has unquestionably suffered in the ongoing armed conflict. From June 2017 to March 2018, not less than 38 incidents of violence against students were recorded and these incidents include the state-imposed closure of schools, the report adds.

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