Govt. Arresting Children In Kashmir, Says Activist Kavita Krishnan After Fact Finding Mission
Krishnan from the CPI(ML), economist Jean Dreze and Maimoona Mollah of AIDWA spent five days in Kashmir after the government nullified Article 370 in Jammu And Kashmir, and bifurcated the state.
Ten days since Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government shut down all mobile services and the internet in Jammu & Kashmir, making it harder to understand how Kashmiris feel about the state losing its special constitutional status, and effectively choking any dissent, backlash and protests against its demotion to a Union Territory.
Two competing narratives have emerged amidst the communication blackout.
The Modi government, and large sections of the Indian media, claim that Kashmir is calm and Kashmiris are thrilled at the changes.
Meanwhile, reports in other sections of the Indian media and the foreign press, paint a disturbing picture of a people besieged by heavily armed troopers.
Telling is the fact that after days of refuting reports of a large protest in the Soura area of Srinagar, the Modi government has admitted there was one.
HuffPost India spoke with women’s rights activist Kavita Krishnan, who has returned from a five-day fact finding mission from Kashmir, along with economist Jean Dreze, Maimoona Mollah from the All India Democratic Women’s Association, the women’s wing of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), and Vimal Bhai, a social activist.
From August 9-13, Krishnan, who is secretary of the All India Progressive Women’s Association, and a member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist), traveled to Srinagar, Sopore, Bandipora, Anantnag, Shopian and Pampore.
Describing the situation as grim, Krishnan said, “Frankly, it looked like occupied Iraq or occupied Palestine.”
What did you see?
The situation is absolutely grim. Kashmir is under military siege. There are paramilitary forces on every street, outside homes, outside localities. The situation is really quite alarming. There is no scope for anyone to speak, no scope for peaceful protests.
On the day of Eid, there was desolation. No one except tiny children were in festive clothing. They were not allowed to go to the mosque to do their prayers in rural areas. The azaan was not permitted so they just had to do their namaz at home. People feel a complete sense of anger and betrayal. There is helplessness, frustration.
In the Kashmir Valley, we did not meet a single soul who was happy with the decision. They were upset with the media coverage. They said, ‘Everyone is saying that it’s a great thing for Kashmir, but whose wedding is it and who is celebrating? It’s supposed to be our wedding, at least ask us whether we are happy? How come no one is asking us what we think?’ It is seen as an act of humiliation and violence against the people of Kashmir.
What is the curfew like?
I can tell you that there is a complete and total curfew. Even in the street where we were staying which is an upmarket locality of Srinagar, Rajbagh. Even that was under complete curfew on the day of Eid. Across Kashmir, there is a sense that this is an assault and an act of aggression against the people of Kashmir.
The Modi government has said that Kashmir is mostly calm, but there are sporadic protests involving a handful of people. They came out against the BBC’s video footage that suggested there was a large protest in Soura.
Yes, but they are not allowing protests. Protests have been sporadic, I agree. There was one huge protest in Soura near Srinagar. That was correctly reported. It was a very large protest. We met pellet gun victims, who were not protestors, but bystanders there. We met some of those kids. You can’t gag and bind people and say there are no protests.
We met people in villages all over Kashmir, where little kids have been… there is no other word to use… they have been abducted by the police. They have been picked up from their homes in the middle of the night from their beds and they are held indefinitely, illegally, either in army camps or in police stations. They are being beaten up. Their parents have no way of ascertaining whether their children will disappear or be returned. There is no case that is registered, no FIR. I can say that to every village we went, there were arrests that had happened.
You are saying that a class 7 boy was arrested?
Not one. We met one Class 7 boy, who was arrested. He told us that there are others — younger than him — who have been arrested and who are still in custody. It’s total terror.
Why would the authorities be picking up children as young as that?
As an act of intimidation. Their parents assured us that their children have not thrown stones. Their parents said they have been picked up on the way to mosques, from their homes, from their beds at night. That kind of thing. They are making it a point to raid houses in the night and take away young boys in the night. It creates immense fear, especially among the women. The women have whispered to us that they have been molested during such raids. This was the story in every village that we visited. My question is what is the Indian media doing? Why are they not visiting these places? We could visit them.
This is very grave news and serious accusations. Have you brought back proof?
Yes. We have video documentation of family members and of a child who had been released one day before. We do have documentation.
Could you elaborate?
I’ll tell you two things. One video is of a 11-year-old child who was released one day before Eid and he is saying that he was kept in custody from fifth onwards and beaten up, and there were children younger than him in custody. Then, we have video of family members, we are not identifying them because they are scared, but their teenage boy has been picked up in the middle of the night from his bed and he is being kept illegally. They have gone to the thana but they keep taaloing them, saying it is not in our hands, we cannot do anything. They are really afraid because there is no record of their arrest. Tomorrow, if something happens to him or he just vanishes, there is no record that he was arrested at all. We have that on record.
These arrests that you spoke of are are being done by the police or the CRPF (Central Reserve Police Force)?
What we were told was that it is the police as well as army. We did not go to the police stations because we were begged by the people not to. They were in two minds. They want someone to intervene but they fear it could make life worse for their boys. They said, ‘We are hoping against hope that they will be returned safely, but please do not make inquiries right now.’ They are not even sure where they are kept. They are guessing that some of them are in the thaana, some of them are in the army camps which are cheek by jowl to these villages. They are saying an illegal detention, by the police or the army, is a crime. And given Kashmir’s history, it is immensely dangerous. We know that there have been mass graves, mass custodial killings, mass disappearances, in Kashmir.
How did the Kashmiris respond to your fact finding mission?
We received a warm welcome. I can’t tell you how warm and hospitable, and we felt terribly moved by this. People in such terrible circumstances with good reason to be angry against India and Indians, of course, they would be suspicious. They would ask us are we from the government or from the media. They would say that you human rights valas, you have never done anything for us. They did not trust to speak the truth in Delhi. All that was there. But inspite of all of that, out of their meagre supplies, they would ensure that we had a cup of tea. Shopkeepers would go to their stores and get out juice packets. They would welcome us in and give us lunch. We got such a warm welcome everywhere. These are human beings with no anger towards Indian people. The anger is towards the policy of the Modi government. This is something the Indian media should be doing. They should be there on the ground.