Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Conflict claim childhood dreams.

Kashmir’s orphanages are full of children who have lost their parents in the violence that continues to torment the Valley. While the orphanages provide shelter to the children, they are not equipped to offer psychological rehabilitation to the innocent victims. The Government should initiate measures to address the victims’ emotional plight.


It has been observed that children born in a conflict era spend their childhood in a hostile environment, growing with the dreadful scenes in which their families and friends have been killed, at times succumbing to injuries and death in front of their eyes. Children born in Kashmir during the conflict period are highly traumatised, suffered from emotional disorder and loss of sleep. As a result some of them have grown up with low moral values, indulged in crime and had poor educational attainment. They had little sense of belonging towards norms and traditional functions. Their day starts with morning prayers or the Niamaz-e-fajar — the learning time in a bright and spacious classroom. There are more than 30 boys here. The youngest ones play while the older ones practice their reading and writing. Their drawings decorate the walls. If it weren’t for the bars on the windows this would be like any other orphanage.

Rukhsana is a teacher — the only teacher here. While she’s happy with the facilities and the materials provided in the classroom, being a mother she admits that orphanages are no place for children. She says, “The children are stressed most of the time and they cannot learn quickly. They have a lot of learning difficulties.” This is the story of the children of Kashmir, living in an orphanage home in one of the Valley’s orphanage in Srinagar. It is home approximately to 30 orphan children who have lost their parents during conflict. They are children’s of missing persons, detainees, broken families and displaced people.

Kashmir has remained in conflict for almost two decades. Before 1989, when separatists began their uprising against India, Kashmir had few orphanages. Srinagar had just one, with fewer than 20 children. But today there are half a dozen large institutions in the city, and even more scattered throughout the Valley. On dozens of occasions armed groups have perpetrated indiscriminate attacks which have affected children.

These conflicts have left behind a legacy of complete turmoil: More than 80,000 people dead and destruction of the land and collapse of the Valley’s infrastructure. Undoubtedly, the bulk of this tragedy was borne by children and women who are the most vulnerable segment of any society and, therefore, the prime victims of this calamity. However, the children have suffered the horrors of kidnapping, sexual abuses and child labour, in addition to appalling humiliation and degradation. Sixteen-year old Yavar Ahmed is one of them, the eldest in the orphan family. Yavar said, “It’s difficult to live here, it’s like a prison. If you have somebody at home it’s better for a child to stay with a family member than in a place which is covered with high walls like a jail. They don’t learn manners here.”

He adds, “Because I have nowhere to visit and have no one to visit me, Eid brings no joy to me; it is like any other day.” Yawar has lived here with his three younger brothers for the last three and a half years. His father was killed in a bomb blast while selling fruit in Kupwara. His mother led the household after his father passed away, the teenager recalled. But she fell by a stray bullet while she was working in the family’s fruit garden. The children then lived with their uncle, until their aunt kicked them out. Their uncle then brought them to the orphanage. Yawar attends sixth grade in the orphanage.

Fourteen-year old Owais, who goes by a single name, has lived in the orphanage for three years, since losing his parents in a gun fight between militants and security personals in Kupwara. “When Eid comes, my classmates who have relatives leave and then I feel lonely and wish that one of my parents had lived, so I could spend Eid with them”, he sighs. “I want the Government and opposition groups to avoid destroying the lives of children like us by depriving children of their parents,” Owais adds with tears in the eye. He wants to become a doctor or a cricketer to help other orphans like him.

Fourteen year old Suhail, who has been in the orphanage for the last five years, tells us that he lost his parents when militants arrived at their home and security personnel cordoned off their house and opened fire, killing his mother and father. He lived with his father’s sister until she passed away from an illness. He then shifted to his cousin sister’s place, but his sister’s husband would abuse her at times. Her sister then brought him to the orphanage. He wants to become a singer like Sonu Nigam. He spends Eid singing and eating with the other boys in the orphanage. “I want to become a singer in the future and to spend the money among my orphan friends and to serve them”, he says. According to a psychologist, “A child should not be admitted to orphanages which are like prisons. Children have not killed their parents or done any crime. They need support of the Government. But the reality is that many of these children have no other place to live or no one to care for them.”

Ezabir Ali is associated with ATHWAS, an organisation that works for orphans and other poor children in and around Srinagar. He says that, at the height of the conflict in the mid-1990’s there were days when up to 100 people — mostly men — were killed. She regrets that the Government did not support the widows during the insurgency in Kashmir — support that could have allowed their children to remain at home.

It is time the State Government initiated steps to conduct a detailed survey of the orphans and orphanages in the State that cater to conflict-affected children and study the impact of conflict on these children to rehabilitate them. Children’s rights must be protected and the right to life, health, medical care, food, education and family support should be provided.


Attack on students

We need to learn something from US universities


In just over a week three students have been attacked in two different educational institutes of Jammu, beating two Junior students, and one Jammu university Scholar at his hostel room. I have lived for 3 years in a University campus , where attacks are not uncommon. A person who has never seen a campus attack cannot possibly imagine how terrible it is. Though developed cities spend relatively more money to pre-empt such attack, none can claim that its campuses are hundred percent safe. That however should not deter local government / administration from trying to reach a consensus on how to ensure campus safety. In the University Counsellors associated with some student’s organization normally, help disturbed students solve their problems. And in case of an attack, they help shocked students overcome their trauma. In Jammu University five men, all of them outsiders have attacked a scholar in the hostel premises. Why? Is there something wrong in our society? No matter how deep-rooted the reasons are, such brutal attacks can only be seen as revenge against society. The authorities should detect the loopholes to ensure campus safety. Frankly speaking, I don't think any institute alone can prevent such attacks. So, what should we do? First, all institutes need more strict regulations to prevent outsiders from entering campuses or even come near them. Second, students and teachers, and especially parents need to obey the regulations. Third, students and teachers need to be trained to cope with such attacks. The emergency drills should be similar to those for fires and earthquakes. I think we can learn something from the US experience in this respect. Based on the Crime Awareness and Campus Security Act of 1990, the US Department of Education helps all Institutes to formulate security regulations and inform students, parents, teachers and all other related people of the security issues and their respective responsibilities. The department supplies printed documents, video lessons and online materials to educate the people on how to prevent, respond to and report campus violence.
It requires all school employees, including bus drivers and teachers, to obtain security clearance from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). And one of its high priorities is to ensure that the act is enforced in all Institutes. The regulations formulated and implemented in a school may differ from that of another because security issues call for a lot of money and time. Students have to pass a security channel - similar to passing the security gauntlet at airports - to enter certain schools. At many day-care centers parents or guardians need to sign in while dropping their children there. Similarly, they have to sign out when they pick up their children. This process avoids disputes over responsibilities in case a security threat arises.