The Children in IOK Tainted chalice of innocence

(Sadia N Qazi, )

“And when all the wars are over, a butterfly will still be beautiful.”
― Ruskin Bond, Scenes from a Writer’s Life

What’s more beautiful than the innocence of childhood? Laced with dreams of wonderland and stories of utopian fantasy, it is a time in life laden with perfection and prettiness of the creative little minds. Everything seems beautiful in the haven of childhood innocence – far away from the brutal realities of life. But this innocence of the children of Kashmir is being snatched at a tender age by the tyrant atrocious cycle of violence whipping the Kashmiris in Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir, for the last seven decades.

Children who grow in active conflict zone like the IOK are deprived of a normal childhood as they are shoved into the harsh actualities of life too soon. As they open their eyes,they are exposed to violence and become aware of the struggle of the Kashmiris for their freedom.There are countless tales of the sufferings of these children. It’s unfathomable to fully comprehend the horror these children experience every day. Every trip to the market comes with an uncertainty if all of the family members will be back safe and sound. Their homes are barged by the paramilitary Indian forces and they witness their elders,fathers and brothers being dragged,beaten, arrested and women of the house disrespected. Going out on the streets,they are unsure of what quandaries await them. Young boys can be questioned and beaten for no reason at all. Young girls can be harassed and be subjected to inappropriate behaviour.

Last year, a viral photo of a toddler posed on the slain body of his grandfather shocked the world. Shooting an elderly man in front of a three-year-old wasn’t enough, adding insult to the injury,he was made to sit on dead body of his grandfatheras the photos were taken and shared. The photo was received with anger and disgust from all around the world. That child will grow up but he would be traumatized for the rest of his life and that viral photo on the internet will haunt him incessantly.

The violations of human rights in IOK by the Indian security forces aremassively determined by their use of pellet guns on theKashmiris. Thousands have been critically injured and dozens died at the barrel of this noxious weapon. Hundreds of people including children are blinded. Some of them even got injured while they were in their home and became victim of stray pellets. Dozens losing their lives and hundreds losing their sight,Amnesty International compiled a 109-page book displaying the ill-fated victims of pellet guns to draw the attention of international community. Asrar Ahmed, an avid student and zealous cricketer was returning home from playing cricket when he was hit whenISF opened fire at a crowd. Hiba Janonly an 18-month-old baby was playing at home when she was hit by a pellet damaging her eye.This happens everyday andchildren become victim of violence.

Violence is not new for Kashmiris. Striving hard, enduring brutalities, they have lost thousands of precious lives. The number of children enduring physical injuries and traumas are in thousands. In August2019 New Delhi revoked the special status of IOK ripping off whatever little autonomous identity the Kashmiris had. Modi’s oppressive action instigated a strong reaction. As a result, the valley was caged into a lockdown and curfew was imposed converting IOK intoa prison. To contain the repercussion, the road connectivity was bunged, internet jammed and all media and news agencies were barred from the valley.During the lockdown a fact finding commission stated that around 13,000 boys were picked up from their homes. The girls and women were reported of sexually molestedduring these raids.

Amid the lockdown, Covid-19 hit badly. The lockdown of one and half years,where the Kashmirissuffered isolation and disconnection,has affected the economy,society and mental health.The shortage of basic necessities and means to buy breadominouslycondensed. Schools are closed since the onslaught of curfew. Partially curfew has been lifted in certain areas,but parents are reluctant to send their kids to school in the time of uncertainty as violent street clashes arefrequent. During the pandemic, theworld adaptedtothe newnormaland schoolsallaround the worldswitchedtoonlinestudiesandvirtualschool. Continuingeducationamidthepandemicwasessential not only to retain children’sengagement withtheir curriculum but also tokeepkidsoccupiedindepressive environment takingcare oftheir mentalhealth as onlinestudies warranted them todevelop routine andexertcapabilities in constructiveandlearning activities.

When the pandemic hit, it was already six months to the lockdown. The UN declared the access to internet a basic human right. Blocking internet to suppress the freedom of speech is a declaration of human rights violation by the Indian government. Therightofeducationis also deniedtothechildrenlivinginIOK as internet hasn’t yet been restored. At few places, broadband services are opened up but the speed is kept so sluggish that neither studentcan engage in online classes, nor canaccess any study materials online. J&K region hasmorethan 2.5 million studentsandaround10,000 schools.Recently, a report compiled by a Delhi-based group of human rights activists and psychiatristspublished in November 2020 cites that commotion began in August lockdowns had an intense effect on children’s lives and their mental health. Quoting health professionals’ assessments that anxiety, panic attacks, suicidal tendencies, and symptoms of post-traumatic stress were growing among children: “There is no school, no routine or structure, no healthy recreation, and no sense of safety or predictability, which are essential for normal growth and emotional development.” A research conducted in 2006 found high levels of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)in a group of 100 children ranging between the ages of 3 and 16. A 2016 study by Institute of Mental Health and Neuroscience and ActionAid projected that more than one in 10 people, including adults, had a mental disorder, ranging from anxiety or depression to PTSD.

Many children suffer anxiety and panic. They cannot go out to playgrounds anymore as it is perilous. They do not have friends any longer as they do not go to school or mingle freely with other children in the neighbourhood. They are being snatched off their childhood. Even if the educators or schools attempt to produce online content, it is impossible to access those online. As the world moves forward with stepping into pioneering interactive virtual platforms, Kashmiri children are left behind.

The entireconception of childhood has suffered a methodicaltransfiguration in the lives of children in IOK. From these children the right for a normal happy childhood is cruellytaken away. They do not enjoy kindergarten or learn happy nursery rhymes while playing with toys. They are not nurtured under the adoringwarm care of their parents in a setting where they sense freedom and safety. Relatively their memories of childhood are filled with horrors inconceivable entailing an environment fraught with fear, endlessgory violence, insecurity and chaos. They no longer have fantasy filled imaginings of butterflies and pirates orbig dreams for a buoyanttomorrow; they just dream of freedom, safety and the security of their loved ones by their side. The chalice of innocence of the children in IOK is contaminated with the poison of blood, violence, death and pain.

(The writer is freelance columnist)

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