Kashmir: Childhood Under Threat
By Ashutosh Sharma
09 July, 2013
The children disabled by bloody conflict in Jammu and Kashmir are living without care and consideration—which they rightly deserve from the government and society
To get over obsessive habits is always challenging especially when one has to negotiate with life after losing a body part. Sitting huddled in her mud-house, Syeda Kouser, a class XI student is also trying to come to grips with a new heartbreaking reality. She is scribbling on a notebook with her left hand—which used to be her non-dominant hand. A victim of conflict, Syeda lost her writing hand while fiddling unknowingly with an abandoned explosive device near her house.
The incident happened in July 2009 in her village, Batidhar in Poonch district of Jammu and Kashmir which claimed life of a girl accompanying her. She had to undergo a below elbow amputation of right arm. “Old habits die hard. I am still struggling to perform daily chores with the left hand,”says Syeda pensively.
“I received Rs. 70,000 as compensation from the government, last year,” she says. Nevertheless, in Poonch—which is surrounded by Line of Control (LoC) on three sides, many child victims of conflict are living a scarred life, without care and concern from the government and society. Their present plight is a clear violation of United Nations Convention on the Rights of Children, which is internationally binding.
These children invariably belong to poverty-stricken families residing in conflict- ridden areas. In just Rajouri and Poonch, it is estimated that more than 100 children have been maimed and mutilated by border disturbances and militancy related violence in the last decade. Primarily, they continue to be the victim of half hidden land mines.
Life changed irrevocably for eight years old Yasar Irafat in 2011 who lives in Pukharni, a border village in Nowshera sector in Rajouri district. While playing with other children in a wasteland near their habitation, he also found a stray landmine and started fiddling with it without giving any thought to the consequences. While the explosion claimed his left hand, another child survived with injuries. His poor family has not received any help from the government so far.
But Ashiq Hussain (13) was not that fortunate. The boy would feel quite jubilant while playing cricket in his village, Khardi Kardmara near cross LoC Trade Center. In June 2011, while playfully rummaging through rubble in a stream near his house, the boy unwittingly detonated a stray landmine. Though he survived by a whisker, the blast not only blew off his hands but also damaged his left eye completely.
“Every day, I feel depressed realizing that I am no longer like others,” he says in a choked voice, adding, “It hurts to find myself dependent on others.” The pain of shattered dreams frequently surfaces in his conversation, “I have grown-up seeing Army men, I also wanted to be one in the future.”
His family rues, “We had to borrow huge sum of money for his medical treatment. Without any cash assistance from the government, we can’t clear the debt. ” Their sufferings are made worse by repeated official neglect which is a norm in the area owing to its backwardness.
Even Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan —Government of India's flagship programme for universalization of elementary education with provisions for paying special attention to disabled children, couldn’t address their needs. According to the law there should be alternative schooling facility within one km of every habitation for inclusive education but the reality is different in the mountainous area.
Another amputee, Zahida Parveen (14) of Jandrola village is enrolled in class XI but she has stopped going to school. “Due to lack of road connectivity, it’s impossible for me to walk down to school which is four kms from my home,” says Zahida, helplessness writ large over her somber face. She recalls June 22, 2011 when she unwittingly footed on a landmine while grazing cattle.
Parents of these innocent victims, especially girls, are worried about their social reintegration. Zahida’s mother, Misar Jaan wails, “The mine blast has ruined my daughter’s life. Who will marry her now?” She adds, “We had to borrow money for her treatment and we still owe Rs 1 lakh to our relatives.”
Showkat Hussain (12) of village Murrah sustained critical injuries when militants attacked his family, killing two members some years ago. Showkat walks with a limp now. His father, Mohammad Akram, a labourer regrets, “I don’t have money for his specialized surgery.” Akram himself is partially incapacitated due to bullet injury he sustained in the same attack.
The sudden shelling from the Pakistani side left several people injured in Dallan village on the evening of May 30, 2009. Shahnaaz Akhtar (11) was one among them. “Since her head injury was not properly treated at that time, her eyesight is fast deteriorating,” says her mother, Noor Jahan who lives with her maternal parents after their house got destroyed in the shelling.
Though some NGOs do distribute relief to such children but needs of a dignified life go beyond an artificial limb, a cow or goat, a sewing machine or token money in charity. The compensation amount from central government reaches the victim after many years of bureaucratic hurdles but that too provides temporary relief only.
“The main compensation amount is given by the Ministry of Defence. The amount depends on the nature of disability of a survivor. Also, the government gives a monthly scholarship of Rs 750 to the children orphaned or disabled by the conflict,”says district social welfare officer, Dr Zakir Hussain.
“There is an urgent need for a long term rehabilitation policy so that these children could ably meet disability challenges in their life,” stated former deputy commissioner, Poonch Ajeet Kumar Sahu, maintaining, “It has already been brought into the notice of the government.”
Poverty at home, lack of public infrastructure and government services in the mountainous region and apathy of policy makers have pushed these innocent children maimed and mutilated by bloody conflict into the dark zone of marginalization. They certainly deserve more than a healing touch but without any further delay.
(The writer is a freelance journalist and his e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org)
(The article is a part of series on “Life in Conflict Zone” written under National Media Fellowship instituted by National Foundation for India)
Comments are moderated