Orphaned by state and conflict

Rising Kashmir

June 6, 2018

Orphaned by state and conflict

Akmal Hanan

In the last three decades, Kashmir valley has witnessed surge in the number of orphans. Local press carries news reports regularly about sole bread earners losing life to protracted Kashmir conflict. The latest addition in the huge list is an orphan, Qaiser Amin, a resident of old city who was mowed down by forces vehicle in Nowhatta few days back. He left behind two of his sisters who had pinned all their hopes on Qaiser after the demise of their parents.

Qaiser’s case is one among the numerous similar cases where a lone or future bread earner lost his life to conflict. As per a study conducted by Save the Children, the State had around 215,000 orphans in 2014. The numbers in last few years have swelled up further. The study reveals that a good percentage of these orphans have lost their parents or one of them in the conflict. Other studies have also highlighted the psychological trauma these children go through. Different studies have shown that the orphans are subject to higher levels of depression and are prone to exploitation of various kinds. These children who find themselves in a state of hopelessness and fear are also susceptible to taking drugs.

Nothing can replace the home environment for the orphaned children. There are reports about children complaining that orphanages have become prisons to them. Experts say people in orphanages cannot provide emotional support to children like that of their parents at home. There has to be a definitive plan to rehabilitate these children in their own environment if possible before admitting them to orphanages. Several studies have revealed that in Kashmir most of the children suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and are emotionally very vulnerable. In such an environment loss of parents further exposes children to emotional turbulence.

The civil society, socio-religious groups and the government have so far failed to come up with a tangible plan to rehabilitate these children. Despite government’s claims of setting up boarding schools for orphaned children in both Jammu and Kashmir, there has been no visible improvement in the lives of these children in the state. There are few orphanages run by NGOs in Kashmir that have been rendering excellent services in terms of education and quality living to orphans but the enormity of the issue is such that this falls way short of dealing with the problem in totality, and meeting the needs of all orphans and destitute.

There is an urgent need to attend to the issue of growing number of orphans in Kashmir on priority, and in an organized manner. Come Ramadan, we witness fund collection by people who claim to be associated with different Darul Ulooms in Kashmir and outside. One hardly comes across any Darul Uloom in Kashmir while during the remaining eleven months. Though there are certain known religious seminaries operating in Kashmir, but the way Darul Ulooms come up during the month of Ramadan raises many questions over the functioning and the service they are providing to the poor, especially the orphans. The idea is not to paint every fund collector with the same brush, but to underline the need to form an organized institution or institutions both at government as well as societal level to take care of the growing number of orphans in Kashmir. The onus is also on Hurriyat leadership as a party to the Kashmir dispute to take measures and rescue the vulnerable children from falling into destitution due to the Kashmir conflict.

Unless the society sees their own children in orphans, and make them a part of their lives, these children will live with the trauma throughout their lives. Unfortunately, there are not many instances where orphans have been adopted by the local residents and brought up along with their children.

The rehabilitation of these children presents a huge challenge, but there is no other way but to accept the challenge and put in all the efforts, both physical and monetary to build a social welfare system for these kids, so that they don’t feel estranged and emotionally distraught. The Ramadan, especially the last ten days of it, is the opportune time to initiate the good work.

Till we have an organized and structured social welfare system, supported by both the government as well as the community, the best people can do is to ensure that Zakat and other contributions reach the orphans/destitute and no one else.