Friday, December 17, 2010

Ravaging the future of Kashmir

Today’s children are tomorrow’s adults. If they are denied from their basic rights and privileges, what kind of adults will they become?

Salman Nizami

While the politicians, industrialists, bureaucrats, professional strategists, writers, and journalists are busy in discussing the issue of Kashmir, a profound silent crisis with cataclysmic consequences for Kashmir’s society is in progress. I am speaking about the multiple afflictions imposed on Kashmiri children, with scant attention paid to them by the government.

We are talking about 5.5 million Kashmiri children who are under the age of 18 and constitute 55 per cent of its population. You see them everywhere: in educational institutions with scanty education facilities; wandering aimlessly through the streets; begging; selling Kashmiri handicrafts; selling water bottles, boiled eggs or homemade bread; polishing shoes; cleaning cars; working as domestic helpers; working in shops, mines, at construction sites or on road pavements; repairing bikes; working in tea stalls and restaurants; selling and buying drugs or cigarettes; fighting for or against the government killing; playing in streets and dirty dusty fields; or risking their lives with unscrupulous human traffickers to reach Western countries. They are small, underweight, sickly, slow, and lethargic. This is the future of the ravaged Kashmir. Born to Lose According to Ezabir Ali, who is working with an NGO for child rights, Kashmir is the worst place on the planet for a child to be born or to live in. At conflict since 1947, having spent my childhood here and now visiting as an adult, I agree with Ezabir and others wholeheartedly. The vast majority of the people live/exist in poverty. More than 80% of the people lack safe drinking water and electricity facilities. People in Kashmir live on Rs 50-100 per day. Kashmir has the highest maternal mortality in India. More than a quarter of Kashmiri children die before age of five. Most are delivered at home without the professional assistance. On top of that, there have been curfews, search operations, torture, custodial killings, disappearance and killing of children which done an irreparable damage to their fragile psyche and personality. The conflict in Kashmir has a direct bearing on women community, late marriages have become trend. A huge portion of women have crossed the marriageable age but they failed to find a suitable match of themselves. This has resulted in moral depravity in society. Some 80% of the women are illiterate thus lacking powers and privilege. Education Denied Substandard education or the non-availability of adequate teaching staff and infrastructure is another serious problem Kashmiri children are facing. Sixty percent of the Kashmiris are under 18 and according to the report of Directorate of School Education Kashmir the number of school drop outs in Kashmir division only has been estimated 1.56 lakh. While the total number of students enrolled in schools in Kashmir division is 10.4 lakh, in which 7.58 lakh are enrolled in government schools. Schooling is grossly inadequate, in some schools two teachers are meant to teach 200 students, only few schools have adequate physical facilities; the curriculum is outdated and largely irrelevant; most schools operate in rented building and makeshift tents without heating, electricity or water facilities. There are multiple reasons for poor education system: lack of effective, competent and committed teaching staff; fear and insecurity due to conflict; poverty; the politicization of education; widespread sickness among children and the lack of healthcare. Drug Addiction They smoke it, sniff it, taste it, inject it and temporarily escape into a deceptive world. Be it a way to fight personal crisis, means to wipe the mental scars or just a sign of being cool, the youth in Kashmir have fallen into the trap of drugs, with such cases increasing by 35-40% in the last few years. The epidemic of child drug addiction is driven by conflict, poverty, unemployment, despair, insecurity, torture, and killings. Sexual Slavery Although strictly prohibited by Islam, condemned and frowned upon by culture, and considered a shameful and illegal practice, homosexuality is a fact of life in Kashmir. In the past, sex between men and young boys was unheard off now it is the reality in Kashmir. Due to the conflict, general lawlessness, overall climate of impunity, poverty a large number of orphans and unsupervised children, drug addicts have turned into, “boy play” has become institutionalized, infact, it has turned in a big business, an industry and a status symbol among the strong men. Married, single, homosexual men buy and hire young boys, sometimes as young as ten years old. The boys, dressed as women, dance before men for entertainment and have sex with the “owner.” They are owned and bonded. They can’t leave the “lord,” or refuse dancing or sex. The practice is especially common in Srinagar, Delhi and Mumbai based high profile personalities visit Kashmir for this purpose. Extrajudicial Killings Since 1989, hundred thousands people have been killed. During this year alone 112 civilians have been killed in five months long unrest in Kashmir, many among them are children. Conclusion The way Kashmir society survives and resists is no less than a miracle. Today’s children are tomorrow’s adults. If they are denied what children must have in a civilized world, what kind of adults will they become? What kind of a nation will have form? What will happen to the universal values of honour, dignity and rights? The treatment meted out to Kashmiri people, particularly the young generation, certain questions need to be answered by those who claim to be democratic, pluralistic and progressive?