Children of Armed Conflict

M Sami Bhat
July 11, 2018 OPINION 151 Views
Children of Armed Conflict

A catastrophic by-product of ongoing conflicts in the world is a lost generation of unschooled children. These children find themselves, through no fault of their own, not only displaced but lacking the opportunity for proper schooling and thus, denied a chance to learn and develop the necessary skills to become fully functional members of society. This lost generation is the tragedy of our time. A simple number so often sanitizes the terrible reality of death. When you consider that every single one of those lost has a network of family, friends and loved ones whose lives have also been changed forever, the impact is suddenly amplified. Around the world, millions of children are the unheard voices of war. And the horrors they witness today will inform the adults they become tomorrow. Will they grow up to be the next leaders, teachers, freedom fighters or rebels? Lives of children of conflict are blighted by growing up in conflict zones.
Kashmir, the region of Jammu & Kashmir is now often engulfed in deathly silence, with tangled coils of concertina wire blocking its arteries. Forces in battle gear man the streets in this historically contested Himalayan valley of fabled beauty. Once in a while the silence is broken as armored vehicles whiz past. Kashmir has been seething since early 1990. Life across the Muslim-majority valley has been completely disrupted by killings, curfews and protest strikes since some of the biggest anti-India demonstrations in three years erupted in summers’ of 2008, 2010 & 2016. Around 400, mostly teenage school going protesters, have been killed by security forces in near daily pro-freedom demonstrations fuelling anger across the disputed Himalayan region. India blames Pakistan-based militants for the ongoing Kashmir protests but Kashmiris say the protests are spontaneous. Who are these young people organizing freedom rallies and have discovered the power of mass protests that have dumbfounded the entire government? Fed up of the armed conflict, instead of focusing on studies, they assemble in hundreds — and in some cases thousands, shouting, “Go India go back”, “We want freedom” and take to the streets, pelting stones at police and paramilitary forces. On Facebook, YouTube and other social networking sites, they are spreading creative ideas for civil disobedience to challenge Indian rule. They are Kashmir’s new generation of separatists fed up of armed conflict, a new generation that has grown up in the shadow of the two-decade-old violence between forces and separatist guerrillas that has killed tens of thousands of people. After 2008, the fresh wave of unrest started on June 11, 2010 when a 17-year-old student returning from his tuitions died after being hit by a teargas shell fired by police during a pro-freedom demonstration in Srinagar. Then around 120 youth, mostly school going, got killed by government forces during protests fuelling anti-India anger in Kashmir, a region where sentiments against New Delhi’s rule run deep.
Daily protests by thousands of Kashmiris in the past years highlight how a younger generation who know little but strife are taking the lead and guiding a separatist movement that had tentatively talked peace with New Delhi. Several failed rounds of peace talks between moderate separatists and New Delhi and a rise in killings blamed on security forces has further alienated these young people of Kashmir. As a routine, most of the Kashmir gets locked down to quell protests, separatist leaders and hundreds of protesters get arrested and the police raids homes without warrants. But anti-India protests mainly driven by youth still continue across the scenic region. Rebel violence has significantly declined in Kashmir but still because of the conflict, the stones are occupying the children instead of pen and paper. Two decades of military crackdown have transformed Kashmir into a powder keg of bitter memories.
Although protests over various issues take place periodically across India, only in Kashmir have India used pellet guns, going back to at least 2010, after that year’s bloody summer, in which more than a hundred protesters were shot dead. They’ve been in wide use particularly since July 2016, when Burhan Wani—a popular, social media–savvy militant separatist leader in his 20s—was killed in a gun battle with government forces. Burhan’s death brought Kashmiris out into the streets and precipitated a months-long general strike. The state imposed curfews and censorship and used violence to quell the unrest, killing dozens and maiming thousands, mostly teenagers. A bloody summer of protest in Kashmir was met with a ruthless response from Indian security forces, who fired hundreds of thousands of metal pellets into crowds of civilians, leaving hundreds blinded thereby compelling international media to call it a “World’s First Mass Blinding”.
The report by Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society examines the situation of children in the ongoing conflict in Jammu and Kashmir during the last fifteen years – i.e. 2003 to 2017. The report lays bare that there are no legal and normative processes or practices protecting children’s rights in Jammu and Kashmir as hundreds of minors have been booked under the repressive Public Safety Act (PSA), with total disregard to the fact of their being children.
As highlighted in the beginning of the report, “one of the major challenges” during the last three decades of armed conflict is that “India still does not recognize the framework of international or non-international armed conflict laws.” This kind of brutal state violence perpetuates the cycle of violence in J&K and can inspire family members of victims to respond with violence. Young children who find their loved ones killed, disappeared, or raped are socialized with a vengeance for their personal loss. For every Kashmiri killed, young ones are born with a strong desire to see the end to this violence — meaning freedom from occupation.
In addition, children in conflict zones like Kashmir face severe trauma through the loss of family members to violence. Humanitarian efforts tend to focus on physical needs such as food and shelter, but there is less emphasis on dealing with the long-term effects of psychological trauma on children. The lack of education, coupled with a sense of despair and hopelessness creates the perfect conditions for the radicalization of such children.
UNICEF recently estimated that over 80% of the victims of today’s warfare are women and children. Civilian populations are deliberately targeted; “ethnic cleansing” and massacres are almost common place; populations are held hostage and under siege; even international economic sanctions are used as weapons in the struggles. Like in Kashmir, millions of children and young people worldwide are affected by armed conflict. They are confronted with physical harm, violence, danger, exploitation, fear and loss. Many children are forced to flee. Some witness the death of loved ones. Some are forced to pull the trigger themselves. Communities are ripped apart and can no longer provide a secure environment for children. Adults are busy surviving, parents have little time for their children. Schools and playgrounds are damaged or taken over by armed groups. The rights, safety and lives of millions of children are threatened by the brutality of armed conflict. Even after the guns are silent, children still feel the effects of war. Many children are displaced due to armed conflict, and those who return to their homes are often left as the heads of their households. Some children have permanent disabilities as a result of oppression, while many more suffer the psychological trauma of abduction, detention, sexual violence, and the brutal murder of family members. During conflict, children and young people’s rights are violated on a massive scale. As a consequence of conflict, children and young people can lose their confidence, their trust in others and their trust in the future. They often become anxious, depressed and withdrawn, or rebellious and aggressive.
While, as usual, New Delhi just as part of a time buying process frequently comes out with different narratives with respect to the conflict, Kashmiris have already added another chapter to their unforgiving memory: post 2016, every year is the “year of killing youth.” In the wombs and outside of them, inside homes and on the streets, in the lush green fields of a valley dubbed as “paradise on earth”, no facet of Kashmiri life has been left untouched from the war that this conflict has imposed on it.
Writer is a M.Tech ECE, MBA Finance

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