Recently a sixth standard student was slapped with charges of sedition (waging a war against the country) and arrested by the Jammu & Kashmir police. 12 year old Faizan, a resident of Eidgah in Srinagar, was accused by police of “participating in the stone pelting and subsequent burning of a police vehicle” on the first day of Eid-ul-Fitr, after Eid prayers near Eidgah, Srinagar.
Violence had broken out right after Eid prayers near Eidgah, after most of the separatist leadership including Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq (who was also supposed to lead the Eid prayers at Eidgah) had been barred from participating in Eid prayers and had been restrained in their homes by the state.
The boy was initially lodged at Safakadal Police station, after which he was ordered to be sent to juvenile home by the remand court in Srinagar. While at the juvenile home, the minor alleged to have been forced to clean toilets and subject to abuse. Soon the local court granted bail to 12 year old Faizan. The minor was booked under Section 307 (attempt to murder), 147 (punishment for rioting), 148 (rioting, armed with deadly weapon), 427 (mischief causing damage) and 435 (mischief by fire or explosive substance with intent to cause damage). Having been virtually declared as ‘an enemy of the state’ by slapping him with sedition charges, when the kid would have hardly even understood what ‘sedition’ meant. These grave charges implicated against this minor did not point as much to the extent of the crime he has been accused by the police to have committed of, as much to the extent of iron hand that the state was ready to wield; age and case irrespective.
This was not the first time that minors had been booked in Kashmir and slapped with serious charges. While Faizan might have been lucky to be released on bail soon after social society outcry, others have not been. As per information given by Indian Home Ministry in response to an RTI filed by Advocate Babar Qadri, 70 % of the 5,504 protesters arrested in 2010 in Kashmir were minors. Most of these minors were not only lodged in adult jails but also in many cases their being minor was refused by the authorities. Since Jammu & Kashmir has no Juvenile Justice Board and Child Welfare Committee, these minors were often treated as adults in jail, sadly in some cases minors were even seen to have been handcuffed while being shifted to courts. In many cases the state has even refused to recognize or accept the authenticity of school certificates, certifying date of birth of these minors. Not only were these minors lodged with and treated as adults, exposing them to abuse, many of them had been charged under section 152 of RPC (Ranbir Penal Code) wherein the competence of bail only lies with the Principal Session Judge (or higher levels), making it extremely difficult for these minors to seek bail.
Kashmir has been passing through decades of conflict, sometimes waning and sometimes peaking; but a continued conflict nonetheless. This conflict has not only ensured that all state accountability systems have been thrown to winds, it has also put in place hollow political systems where in the divide between the common people and the political establishment is ever widening.
The disenchantment on the ground is not only because of non resolution of the Kashmir dispute, but also because of the indifference of the mainstream political class who are responsible for running governance systems, towards the plight of the common people. In spite of understanding the fact that ‘sedition’ and ‘waging a war against the country’ are unexplained and alien terms for these minors who come from bare backgrounds, they were treated by the state as a virtual enemy; state acts often seen as pressure tactics to seemingly ‘punish a larger social group’ and create a forceful deterrence. But did such iron fisted acts really create any deterrence?
Police accusations not withstanding, wheatear the child was actually a part of the protestors or not, the trauma in detention will surely ensure that he becomes a rebel against the state. When the protestor in Maharashtra or Haryana in India protests with a stone in his hand (whatever be his reason), the terms ‘sedition’ ‘waging war against the country’ are not slapped against him, not even when encroachers in the interiors of Dal lake (in the very rare encroachment removal drives by the state departments) fight against the local police, the charges of ‘sedition’ are not even thought of. This is a ridiculous political contrast adopted by state systems! Since the lake encroachers and squatters are a sure voter segment in a ‘major election boycott adopting’ Srinagar, hence they are extended the benefit of political doubt for obvious electoral gains. The other protestors seeking justice and redressal (who may use lesser degree of violent protests that the lake squatter or the Haryana farmers use), are not voters for the mainstream parties hence become an enemy of the state. When the state treats a minor (or even a major) as its enemy, he surely will become an enemy of the state in time.
The failure of political and accountability systems in the state affects everyone, especially the children of Kashmir. Not only have these children grown in unending conflict but most of them have seen first hand incidents of abuse and death at the hands of state forces. At such a tender age such incidents are sure to mould a young mind into denial of the state, into enforcing a redressal via protests. As if the systematic abuse of civilians seen during the conflict in Kashmir was not enough, the state has also been viewed as forcing a denial of justice for all the aggrieved, (among others) be it the killed of 2010 or the families of disappeared. Such continued impunity for the state arms and denial of justice by the state makes the state an alien for the young generation in Kashmir. Also the stifling of opposite political voices by the state apparatus in Kashmir has had its own effect in strengthening protesting voices. When voices are muted by force, the calm becomes a farce and seems to break at the slightest provocation.
Such alienation and stifling only sow’s seeds of mistrust and inculcates a rebellious nature in them. When the state is seen to act like your enemy, you are forced to raise a fist. Of the thousands of minors arrested all these years (70 % of the 5,504 protesters arrested in 2010), all of them must have gone through unexplained trauma at such a tender age while in detention (or torture). After being exposed to such trauma and emotional exploitation behind bars, what would these kids come out as? Surely not ‘refined’ as per state convenience. As in all conflicts, in Kashmir too, the physical, mental and emotional violence to which children are exposed and subject to, forces a huge change in their outlook, changing their world in totality. Conflicts, especially where the state is seen as a party, undermines the very foundations of children’s lives, alienating them and making them politically more aware.
Now there is talk of amending juvenile laws in the state. Such a talk would be only fruitful if the state systems were interested in following and accepting laws. In a situation where even the existing laws are brazenly violated by the same state arms that are supposed to enforce them, how do you expect them to adhere to new juvenile laws even if they were introduced on ‘legislative paper’?
While bodily injuries are easy to treat in a war, it is the mental and the emotional trauma that takes a greater toll on such societies. Unfortunately instead of healing old wounds of the Kashmir conflict, the state is bent upon creating new ones, feeding this conflict in continuity.