By Varad Varenya
Kashmir and conflict are synonymous for two decades now, since the arrival of insurgency and gun culture. Every Kashmiri family has suffered in one way or the other. Thousands of lives have been lost – many young children, hundreds disappeared and there are widows, orphans and ‘half-widows’ (the women whose husbands have gone missing). Children born and raised during the turmoil (post 1990) are the most affected in the valley.
Children there have grown in the environment of terror attacks, bomb blasts, shootouts, encounters, strikes etc. Almost every child’s childhood was spent in and around gun. What will be the memorabilia of children of valley? Guns, bombs, shootouts, encounters, and what not!
During past 21 years, according to J&K state government, 43,460 people were killed in Kashmir in which 21,323 are militants, 13,226 civilians killed by militants, 3,642 civilians killed by security forces, 5,369 policemen killed by militants. According to the figures available with the government, there are 27,000 widows and 22000 children orphaned during militancy. But figures of independent sources are higher than those government figures. According to Prof Bashir Ahmad Dabla, Head of the Department of Sociology, University of Kashmir, there are 32,400 widows and 97,000 to 100,000 orphans in the valley. As per Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society, more than 70,000 people have been killed in Kashmir since 1989; around 8,000 people have disappeared; at least 25,000 children have been orphaned.
Apart from terror attacks, strike calls by separatist elements in the valley have an effect on the life in Kashmir and especially the education of children. The separatist elements instigated the protest during summer of 2010 which claimed the lives of over 110 people and many a time security forces negligence was also to be blamed. Stones became the instrument of protest. And worst was the death of children in the anti-state protests. What does a 10-12 year old child know about so called Azaadi? These days we have more of strike calls, shutdown and less of terror activities. Fake encounters have also happened in the valley, which add to the problem and breeds more hatred against the state and security forces in particular.
Meanwhile, whenever there is mention of children who are affected by turmoil, we tend to forget children of an ethnic community of Kashmiri Pandits who are living in exile for more than two decades. Many children left the valley as toddlers due to the conflict in the valley and many were born in an unknown land away from their home – Kashmir. There is a ‘disconnect’ between the child and his/her motherland.
Who is accountable for the affliction of the children of Kashmir? Who is responsible for the deaths, killings of young innocent children? Who is accountable for the children who were forced to live away from their homeland? I would hold everyone responsible – terrorists, politicians, separatists, civil society, and the state administration. Terrorists for killing young innocents and also for the exodus of Kashmiri Pandit children, politicians for caring about their own interests only, civil society for not being effective in preventing such incidents and the state administration for not taking necessary and preventive measures.
And the saga of ‘children of conflict’ always brings conflict in our mind!
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