‘Sleepless nights, fear, trauma’: Detention of Kashmiri minors continues  

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After a sleepless night, with shivering hands, sitting in the guest room of his modest home in Pulwama district of south Kashmir, sixteen-year-old Mohidin looked pale and scared. 

It was the fourth day since he was released from police custody. Mohidin is not the only one detained like this. Families of several minors in south Kashmir accuse that the children were detained by the government forces in multiple raids on villages. 

The Kashmir Walla exclusively spoke to five such families or their minor sons, including Mohidin, from south Kashmir, who were detained in the last six months. Another minor was also detained in these months.  

Over the years, many reports of detaining minors and keeping them in police custody — without the proven charges — have come up from different parts of Kashmir. The families of these minors have often accused the abuse of power by the government forces in detaining minors on mere suspicion. 

According to a report submitted in the Supreme Court in post-August 2019, 144 juveniles were arrested or detained in the first two months since the abrogation of Jammu and Kashmir’s limited autonomy. 

Earlier in June, a fifteen-year-old boy, Zahoor Dar was among the eight people who were booked under UAPA, an anti-terror law with imprisonment of seven years, for sloganeering at the funeral of a road accident victim in north Kashmir’s Kupwara district. He was under detention for more than ten days. 

Syed Mujtaba, a human rights lawyer based in Srinagar, says that children can’t be kept in lock-up or jail or be kept with an adult accused. “There must be no delay in the transfer of charge to the Child Welfare Police Officer from the nearest police station,” he says.

“The child cannot be handcuffed or chained and must be provided with appropriate medical assistance, along with it he/she must be provided with assistance from the interpreter if he/she finds the language difficult to understand or any other assistance as per child’s requirements.”

But several families and the minors, who were released, accuse such treatment is not often provided during detention. So, most of these minors are released but such detentions continue, sending almost all of them into trauma.  

Trauma, fear, and helplessness 

Ever since he has returned home, Mohidin is scared of everything: mainly nights but mornings also when the government forces cordon off his village. 

He says that he doesn’t trust his village anymore. “If I had a choice, I would leave this place,” he says.

The cordon and search operations are frequent in south Kashmir villages as hundreds of government forces personnel in dozens of armored vehicles make a siege of villages and hamlets to hunt for militants.

When a search operation was launched on the intervening nights of 4 and 5 June this year, it wasn’t for militants. Mohidin’s older brother, Faisal Mir was brought out of his home by “the personnel of army and Special Task Force [STF] of the Jammu and Kashmir police” and was asked to identify the names from a list. 

At 12:00 am on 4 June, the government forces took Mir first, after that their several neighbors. His brother, however, was not on the list but he said, “They received a text, and right after, I was asked who Mohidin was,” said Mir. “I couldn’t believe that it was my younger brother.” 

Mohidin was taken out of his bed. With many others from his area, Mir had to let his own brother be taken away by the government forces.  “One of them hit my foot with his gun butt,” recalled Mohidin. “It still hurts.” 

“I told them that they can’t take our boys just like that without verifying if they’re involved in any stone-throwing or not,” he said, referring to the accusations made by the government forces. 

The search operation had lasted for three hours. In custody, they “were asked questions regarding the stone-throwing incidents in their area”. “I was stressed,” said Mohidin.

“For the first eight days, he was kept at an STF camp, and next eight days he was kept at Pulwama police station,” said Mir, and later for three days, his brother was kept in detention at Juvenile prison in Harwan, Srinagar.

However, keeping the minors in a police station for over 24 hours is in breach of the Jammu and Kashmir Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2013, which requires that minors arrested to be brought before the state’s juvenile court within 24 hours. The court decides whether they should be moved to juvenile facilities because the statute expressly prohibits children from being kept in police custody. 

Speaking on the treatment of the minor detainees, Mujtaba, the lawyer, says meals must be provided to the child. “When the child is interviewed in front of a police officer, his parents can be present and can’t be compelled to confess his guilt. The police officials at the time of apprehension must be in plain clothes. A child cannot be compelled to sign any statement,” adds Mujtaba.

In case the minor is a female, he says, then the female Child Welfare Police officer shall take the minor for apprehension or for production before the Juvenile Justice Board. Furthermore, the minor must be interviewed at the Special Juvenile Police Unit or at child-friendly premises or child-friendly corner at the police station.

When Mohidin was detained at the STF camp, his family was not allowed to meet him for the first few days. “And we thought they had forgotten us,” said Mohidin. “I used to be up till dawn and then I would sleep for hardly an hour.” 

Today, in the comfort of his home and family, nothing has changed in his sleep pattern even. “I am scared of everything now,” he said, adding that he is always at home and spends most of the nights sleepless and wondering about his detention. 

Mohidin, born in March 2005, as per his school records, has not been able to concentrate on his studies since his release. “You can’t trust this place,” he said while looking at his shivering hands. “Anything can happen here.”

Mir, his brother, has seen Mohidin unable to interact, “hardly talking now unlike before [and] has grown [physically] weak.”

Each day and night Mohidin relapses into the trauma of the night of his detention; and then the coming weeks. At the Juvenile prison, where the only window was sealed, Mohidin would sit near the door to see the light of the day. Now at home, he is unable to turn off the lights of his room when he goes to bed.

His family watches him helplessly – seeing him struggling with his changing behavior since the release. The families of these minors, who live with the trauma of detention, have very little awareness of how to deal with this invisible loss of childhood. 

Midnight knocks

In April this year, another minor was arrested by the police from Khanyar area of Srinagar’s downtown and booked under the UAPA allegedly for stone-pelting. 

Quoting his family, Outlook reported that the minor was arrested in the old city and kept in the police station for about two weeks. They told Outlook that the minor was booked under UAPA and later shifted to Srinagar’s Juvenile prison.

After Mohidin was detained, several villages away from his home, another sixteen-year-old boy Amir Rather’s restless parents kept peeking through the windows throughout the night in wait. He didn’t return to them. 

“We don’t know why he was taken,” Aijaz Rather, his father said. 

That night, Rather’s parents woke up to a sudden knock at the door. His grandparents were on the other side. “Do not make noise. Your son has been picked up by the army,” Aijaz recalled being told by his father, half an hour after Amir’s detention.

The Rather family spent the night restless. “Many boys were taken from this area that night,” said Aijaz. “We heard a noise and then realized in the morning what had happened, that who all were taken.”

In another area of that village, the army had launched a cordon earlier that day and the family was told their son had thrown stones, he added. “He was working in the field with his mother at that time. He did not throw stones,” said Aijaz.

The family met him only twice in the first week of his detention. He was initially kept in Pampore Police station and then taken to Juvenile prison in Harwan. His father is a laborer and, he said, could barely afford to visit him every day. 

In their meeting at the prison, he had told his father that he was shown a photo of a stone-thrower but it was not him. “I told them even our clothes don’t match,” he had told father.

“Wasn’t I working in the field the whole day?” he kept asking Farah*, his mother. “What did I do?”

Amir was arrested under 147 (Punishment for rioting), 148 (Rioting, armed with deadly weapon), 149 (Every member of unlawful assembly guilty of offence commit­ted in prosecution of common object), 307 (attempt to murder), 341 (Punishment for wrongful restraint) of India Penal Code (IPC), and also 13 section of Unlawful Activties (Prevention) Act (UAPA).

The Rather family was unaware of what was written in the First Information Report (FIR). “I am illiterate and I don’t understand these things,” said Farah.

For her, he was innocent. “I kept thinking why was he taken,” she said. “He did not do anything and he should have been released.”

That night, he had no idea that he was to get arrested. “I was taken to help in a search operation,” he later told his mother. 

While Rather was yet to be released, on 19 June, the Juvenile prison was echoing with happiness, said Mohidin, who was released on that day. “I was obviously very happy,” said Mohidin.  

“The other boys in the jail started to scream out of happiness when they came to know that I was being released,” said Mohidin. “I was shocked how everyone was happy even though I didn’t know anyone.”

*Names of the characters have been changed on their request to protect their identity.

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