Children of conflict It's too much to bear for these tender souls of Kashmir

“Imagine sending your children to a school occupied by soldiers. Imagine that the first person they saw at school was a man with a semi-automatic rifle, not their teacher. They would study near stored weapons, ammunition, and even detained prisoners. You would know that opposing forces might shoot at or bomb the school – now a military target. How could children learn in this atmosphere, and how could they stay safe?” asked an investigation report of Human Rights  Watch, titled  “  Protecting  Yemen’s Students From Attack”.

According to the report,  “that is what happened in Yemen during the 2011-2012 uprising, putting the lives of tens of thousands of students at risk.”

While going through this  part of the report,   I was reminded  of the  days of high violence  in  Kashmir when  such a scene  was a stark  reality in the Valley. The question that confronts now is not that the soldiers have  vacated the  schools and the  guns are out of sight of the school going children, it  is:  didn’t Kashmir lives of thousands of its children in  the past over two decades. And, the related question is that: are our children safe from guns and   ammunition.

Pause for a moment, and the answers that would be delivered would be something like this that  Kashmir risked  lives of  its children three ways,  child soldiers,  guns in reality in their sight not just in books but in reality and the  fear of the gun that has faded away from their lives. The civil society would also  have to answer,  have our children come out of that era and everything is peaceful  around them and they can pursue their studies without any  fear  and can reach their homes safely.  The answer is not a  complete YES as yet.

The children of  Kashmir were like soft toys, who would play in the parks dotted with flowers, the fragrance of which they carried home and they were  the regular visitors, either with their families or school picnics to  different parts of their land.   For them, soldiers were military, which they rarely spotted. They  were children  who loved their land and their teachers  were ideal for them. But when the  school going  children  started saying that they don’t know where “ Lal Chowk is”. It was a student from one of the reputed schools in Sonwar telling a reporter in August 26 and he was a class VII student. The child  or teenager was a student and did not fit into the definition of  a child soldier by any remote stretch of imagination.  There were soldiers deployed outside his schools, convoys of army and paramilitary forces would pass  by the road leading to his school. He was forbidden  by his parents  not to venture out of  his home  after coming back from school. His talent was killed. The world view was hidden from him. It is  just not a story of  one child of Kashmir. Thousands of them had to undergo the same experience.

Even today, on the slightest sense  of trouble, the parents  tell children not to step outside. They have been made prisoners. Curious as the children are, they have started asking questions as to why shouldn’t they  act and  play like the normal children.  There is something wrong. They have seen guns, grenades and  IEDs. They know what an AK-47 is and what is the difference between  a grenade explosion and sonic boom. Is this the culture  or heritage that we have created for them.

The worst part  of this whole  episode is that  the signs of normalcy that  are measured by the arrival of tourists coming from far off places are still “outsiders” for them. That normalcy has not travelled to them, they are still  prisoners of  identity crisis which they have inherited from their parents or may be grandparents.  Time is not far, when they would be asking : “ who are we”.  Before they ask this question, the parents, teachers and  civil society should join hands  and  make Kashmiri children to bloom in  a way rest of the  world is doing.  There is no other option. Of course, the Kashmir situation is what it is. The Valley is still a conflict zone, but  we have   penetrated too much of conflict in their minds, that  it is  having worse consequences than any other infiltration – which in itself as  acquired  many interpretations.

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