Children in quiet conflict
Reports are rife that over 140 juveniles "in conflict with law" have been arrested in Jammu and Kashmir between August 5 and September 23, the youngest of them being nine years old. Almost all of them were reportedly released either on the same day or after a brief period in observation homes. August 5, 2019, goes down in history as the day the government of India made that bold and dramatic political and abrogated the special status of J&K granted under Article 370. Politically a major move slash down the special privileges of Jammu and Kashmir—or the perception of it—the immediate result of this move has been the control of the Central government in the backdrop of silenced state politics. Beginning with placing under house arrest the mainstream political leaders, the entire region has been reeling under a lockdown ever since. About 46 juveniles were detained in observation homes in Srinagar and Jammu since August 5, following the imposition of restrictions on movement and communication across the state as Article 370 was diluted and the abrogation of the special rights and privileges of the people of Kashmir. Twenty-five juveniles — 21 from Srinagar and four from Jammu — are known to have been bailed out from these homes. The remaining— 15 in Srinagar and six in Jammu — are still lodged there pending enquiry. On the basis of information provided by the DGP and the Mission Director, Jammu and Kashmir Child Protection Society, Jammu and Kashmir High Court Juvenile Justice Committee reported this to the Supreme Court. The Apex court has instated a committee to ascertain the veracity of the reports which have made rounds in foreign and domestic media that the police had illegally picked up and detained children after August 5. The police, as expected, deny the illegal detention of any child. The police chief said that the juveniles were strictly dealt in accordance with the Juvenile Justice Act. The report records the police chief's version that lawful process is followed when investigating agencies establish involvement of minors in stone-pelting, rioting or causing damage to public or private property. The very mention of this set of charges goes contrary to the strictly imposed clampdowns whereby movement from one locality to another has been difficult, the repeated claims of the government that peace is what prevails there, the unfortunate situation that despite schools being open officially, parents do not send their children to school for security reasons, more than hundred children have already been detained. Irrespective of the reason, the psychological impact ingrained thus in the minds of the adolescents is one to have damaging effects in any association the Centre might want to establish with J&K—both, in the backdrop of the conflict lingering for decades and the recent move on making Article 360 inoperative. It is these children who will grow up and become the angry adults tomorrow whose views and opinions and account of experience with the Indian state will influence the thinking of their compatriots. The unrest of 2016 following the elimination of militant commander Burhan Wani brought to highlight the fact that there is a fresh crop of indigenous militants in the valley who natives and are trained in the valley itself. A move like this involving children is indeed unfortunate—the vulnerable suffers of conflict are primarily children and women, they bear the brunt of political decisions but in the times of strictly enforced measures to ensure peace, the traumatic treatment meted out to children of the conflict-scarred place is unjustified.
An explanation in this context from the police refers to how a juvenile in Awantipora was "apprehended in his own interest" lest he should fall "in the company of violent mob and expose himself to moral, physical and psychological danger". This juvenile, the police chief said, was handed over to his parents the same day. In an official statement of the DGP, "No largescale picking up of minors in the jurisdiction of the above places [Awantipora, Pulwama, Pampore, Tral, Khrew] was made and allegations are purely concocted and motivated… The State machinery has been constantly upholding the rule of law and not a single juvenile in conflict of law has been illegally detained." It is also clarified that a child subject to custody is lodged in an observation home on the orders of the Juvenile Justice Board. These observation homes are described as "reformatories" which offer a "conducive atmosphere for counselling and rehabilitation", and a state nodal officer of ADGP rank monitors the juvenile cases. This is in addition to each police station which already has a police officer designated for juvenile cases. Given the turn matters have taken in the wake of abrogation of the special status of India's northern most state, it cannot be emphasised enough that noble intention of the government stand validated only if the people who are directly influenced by the decisions are willing cooperative. While the hearing on these cases is pending, it must be understood and internalised that any imposition of well-meaning intentions against the will of the people will only run counter to its intended purpose.