Juveniles in Kashmir tell traumatic tales of detention

“I can’t forget how I was beaten and abused in the lock-up”

Juveniles in Kashmir tell traumatic tales of detention

RABIA NOOR

May 31 2018

Where is the Juvenile Justice Act: Lawyers

The allegations are baseless. Local police gets all the bad things from everybody: Police Chief

Pacing minors alongside adult criminals can have an adverse effect on their psyche: Experts

In what could be termed as clear violation of Juvenile Justice Act, juveniles in Kashmir are allegedly detained illegally for days together without any trial. While Public Safety Act is a nightmare for juveniles, “illegal” detentions and subsequent trials are believed to have adverse impact on the overall life of these kids.

Lawyers at Jammu and Kashmir High Court as well as Lower Court, Srinagar, allege that local police deliberately detain juveniles in illegal custody for up to two weeks before producing them before the magistrate.

“As per the law, when police arrests any person, he must be produced before the magistrate within 24 hours. The magistrate then decides whether his detention is legal or illegal. However, police here detains a person, irrespective of his age, in illegal custody for 10 to 15 days,” reveals Mir Shafkat Hussain, advocate at J&K High Court.

Detaining juveniles has been prohibited under the prevailing Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2013. The Act is a welfare legislation and its provisions ought to be implemented for care and protection of juveniles. However, the Act is still in the infancy stage in the state.

“J&K lags far behind the rest of the country in terms of implementation of Juvenile Justice Act and its provisions. Detaining a child in police custody is gross violation of this Act as well as of basic human rights,” observes Munizah Gulzar, Chairperson, Child Welfare Committee, Srinagar.

The Juvenile Justice Act, which promotes and safeguards rights of children across the country, is being violated in case of Jammu and Kashmir. As per the Act, if a person merely appears to be below 18, he should be given benefit of doubt.

“But here when an accused claims to be a minor at the time of arrest, police simply denies that and declares him a major. They can at least ask for the age proof,” emphasises Advocate Mir Urfi, who pleads hundreds of juvenile cases in the Lower Court. “In fact, I have seen many cases, wherein even after parents produce the birth certificate, the kids are denied juvenile protection,” she adds.

The lawyers allege that police officials at times do not even inform the parents about the detention of their child. The date of arrest is said to be shown as the day a person is produced before the court of law, while the fact that he has already spent some days in illegal confinement is concealed.

“By the time we file the application before the concerned magistrate and the age of the detainee is ascertained, 10 to 15 days have already elapsed, during which the child is placed in illegal confinement,” says Advocate Hussain.

The children in Kashmir are mostly detained for allegedly indulging in rioting and related offences. Major offences come under Section 147 (rioting), 148 (rioting and armed with deadly weapon), 152 (assaulting or obstructing public servant when suppressing riot) and sometimes 307 (attempt to murder) of Ranbir Penal Code (RPC).

Many juveniles, however, claim that they were not involved in any such offence and were falsely charged. “It was May, 2016. I along with my father and younger brother were going to offer Friday congregational prayers at Jamia Masjid, Srinagar, when suddenly clashes erupted at Nowhatta area,” recalls Sadat, pleading anonymity. “At evening, our house was raided by local police and we—both the brothers—were detained in Nowhatta Police Station under stone pelting charges. I was later shifted to Central Jail for two months, while my brother was released on bail,” he narrates.

Sadat was barely 16 plus when he was arrested for the first time. In July, 2016, when Hizbul Mujahideen commander, Burhan Wani was killed in an encounter, he had already turned 17. During the mass uprising that broke out across the Valley, Sadat was once again detained in Central Jail. Since he was under arrest, he missed his matriculation examination. Nowadays, Sadat is pleading his case at the Lower Court. “I am still in the 10th standard because of these back-to-back trials,” says a dejected Sadat.

Another juvenile, Irfan Ahmad (name changed) of Lal Bazaar, Srinagar, who is facing the trial in Lower Court for past eight months allegedly for pelting stones, too claims that he is an innocent. “I was playing cricket in my area, while some clashes were on at Nowhatta. Some boys who were arrested in this connection had told police that I was involved,” recalls 17-year-old Irfan.

“I was first taken to Lal Bazaar Police Station for a day, wherefrom I was shifted to Nowhata Police Station for three days, Maharaj Gunj Police Station for one day, Safa Kadal Police Station for two days and then to Juvenile Home, Harwan, for three days,” says Irfan, adding that he could not appear in his exams for 12th standard.

The juveniles also accuse the police for torturing them during illegal confinement. “I can’t forget how I was beaten and abused in the lock-up,” says a visibly terrified Irfan.

Experts warn that placing minors alongside adult criminals can have an adverse effect on their psyche, “for they are exposed to a negative environment.”

“A child in tender age cannot be kept in jail, for it has deteriorating impact on his psycho-social development. Placing children in jails connotes to raising a generation of depressed souls,” notes Munizah.

A bigger concern is that when a juvenile stays in a police station, he comes in contact with criminals like drug addicts, burglars, molesters, etc., “which can have a negative impact on his psyche.” “Such children are not scared of being taken to police station anymore,” says Advocate Urfi, adding that there should be separate units for juveniles in police stations as well as courts, so as to protect them from adverse effects of the both.

Advocate Hussain observes that instead of informing his parents, a child is placed along with criminals. “So, there are chances he will learn crime in the jail and become a criminal tomorrow,” he comments.

As per the legal experts, one of the purposes of framing Juvenile Justice Act was to distance children from criminals and protect them from police station environment. “To detain a child in a police station is the failure of this Act.”

There are rehabilitation schemes in place that have been developed as such that delinquents have adequate chance to be equipped with social skills and learning development. “It is essential for their reintegration. Any juvenile, no matter for what reason has been apprehended, should be placed in observation home and not in any jail so as to safeguard his human rights and dignity,” stresses Munizah.

Experts suggest setting up of proper counselling centres for the juveniles. “Even if some juveniles are indulged in some offence, they need to have proper counselling because they are after all kids. They don’t have the proper sense to distinguish between right and wrong, so they need to be told what are the consequences of various offences,” suggests Advocate Urfi.

Not just detention, even trials are believed to have a negative effect on a child’s mind. Currently, 300 to 400 children undergo trials in the Lower Court. Every Tuesday up to 50 cases of juveniles, whose age ranges between six and 18 years, are listed for the trials. Kids are believed to undergo a lot of trauma while appearing for the trials in the court. “Imagine a child not going to school and appearing in the court for trials instead. This definitely affects his mental health,” says Advocate Hussain, and adds, “So, government must think rigorously about it as to why they put these kids to trials.”

Refuting the allegations, Director General of Police (DGP), Shesh Paul Vaid, says, the local police has always been at the receiving end. “The allegations are baseless. Local police gets all the bad things from everybody, while the whole society expects the police to do everything,” he says.

(The story has been done under National Foundation for India (NFI) fellowship.)