SRINAGAR – Residents of Kashmir and the activists who visited the state after the revocation of its special status have alleged that security forces are picking up children from their home in night raids in across the valley.
Zainab* (name changed), a resident of Baramulla in north Kashmir has said that as many as three children have been “picked up” by security forces from her area, during raids conducted at night.
One of them, Qasim*, is about 10-11 years old, and stayed barely a few blocks away from Zainab.
“They (Qasim’s family) heard someone banging on their door a few days back. It was quite late. They (security personnel) told the family to call Qasim. They pleaded the forces not to take the boy away but they roughed up the father and took Qasim under detention,” Zainab was quoted by The Quint as saying.
This is one of the several instances of minors being detained by security forces in the Valley after the government decided to scrap Jammu and Kashmir’s special status on 5 August. The number of children detained is said to be running into hundreds.
The pattern of raids is similar across Kashmir: a late-night raid, protests by parents, fathers or elder brothers being roughed up, and minors being taken away. But the ordeal of the families begins there.
In the subsequent days, the families are often seen waiting at police stations, pleading the police to provide them some news of their child’s whereabouts.
Night raids by security forces have been a common feature in Kashmir and are not particular to the present crisis. Raids are conducted at night, mainly because it becomes more difficult for the people living in the area to gather and protest the arrests.
Security personnel say that it becomes easier to reach the targetted place without being noticed by locals, and that the likelihood of the person they are looking for being at home is higher.
However, locals say that night raids specifically aimed at minors have become more common than in the last few years.
“It seems that the forces are specifically targetting children. We told them that our son hadn’t done anything, that he never took part in stone pelting. Still, they took him away,” said Hussain*, a resident of Srinagar whose son has been detained.
Raids in south Kashmir are particularly severe. A large number of minors and youths have been picked up by security forces in places like Pampore, Awantipora, Khrew, Tral, and Pulwama, all of which are in the Pulwama district.
“Several boys have been picked up from here. We are afraid to even hear a sound at night. We pray every night for the safety of our children” said a resident of Pampore.
A fact-finding team led by activists Kavita Krishnan and Jean Dreze documented the detention of children by security forces. Here’s an excerpt from their report:
“We met an 11-year-old boy in Pampore who had been held in a police station between 5 August and 11 August. He had been beaten up, and he said there were boys even younger than him in custody, from nearby villages. Hundreds of boys and teens are being picked up from their beds in midnight raids. The only purpose of these raids is to create fear. Women and girls told us of molestation by Armed Forces during these raids.”
They were picked up from their homes or roads in the middle of the night. They are not even stone throwers. They have just been picked up and kept in police stations or army camps, Krishnan said. Their parents are scared because there is no case against them and Kashmir has a history of disappearances in the region, she added.
Even though schools have reopened in the Valley, many parents are reluctant to send their children to school. Schools reopened on 19 August but the attendance is extremely thin as parents prefer keeping their children at home.
“We don’t know what will happen. Our children could get caught in the middle of a protest or a raid. We can’t afford to let them out of sight,” said Sajid, a resident of Bemina in Srinagar.
Locals also say that the detention of older children around them is said to have petrified the younger ones, who are afraid that they will be picked up as well.
Invariably, the families whose children get picked up during night raids go to the police station and plead the authorities to release their child, or, at the very least, provide some information about their well being. However, the police is mostly unresponsive.
In another case from Srinagar city, a non-Kashmiri government official is said to have taunted the parents saying, “No one is a child here. We know what they are up to.”
The administration’s contention is that the raids are being carried out to pick up only the minors who were involved in protests or incidents of stone-pelting.
A study by the Army claimed that 83 percent of youths who took up arms in the last 18 months had a history of stone-pelting. Therefore, the assumption that the security forces are working with is that every young protester is a potential stone-pelter and every stone-pelter is a potential militant.
According to The Quint, only one family from Baramulla said that their child did go out for protests. All other families denied their child’s involvement in stone-pelting.