Nine-year-old among nearly 150 children briefly held in Indian Kashmir
Police in Indian Kashmir have detained 144 children, including a nine-year-old, since early August when the government revoked the disputed region's special status and imposed a lockdown, according to a court-appointed committee's report.
But all those arrested and lodged in police stations were released on the same day, police told the Jammu and Kashmir High Court's four-member Juvenile Justice Committee, which had been asked by India's Supreme Court to look into allegations of child detentions after a petition filed by two activists last month.
As of 25 September, only two children, both aged 17 years, were lodged in juvenile homes, said the committee's September 26 report, which was reviewed by journalists on Tuesday.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government has maintained an iron grip on Jammu and Kashmir - India's only Muslim-majority state, which is also claimed by Pakistan - since August, deploying thousands of troops, restricting movement and snapping communications.
Local authorities also rounded up thousands, including politicians, leaders of separatist groups and other civil society members to prevent large protests from erupting over the decision to withdraw Kashmir's autonomy.
The detention of children spans the whole of the Kashmir valley, from Sopore in the north to the southern district of Shopian, with a large number from the region's main city of Srinagar, according to the justice committee's report.
Barricades and books in restive Kashmir neighbourhood
Anchar, a densely-populated, working-class area of Srinagar, is a pocket of resistance to India's revocation in early August of the special status of Jammu and Kashmir, the country's only Muslim-majority state. By Danish Siddiqui
Few people step outside Anchar, a neighbourhood ringed by steel barricades and razor wire in Indian Kashmir, where police have imposed a weeks-long region-wide clampdown to stifle protests
As night falls, groups of youths, many wearing masks and armed with stones and tree branches, are huddled around bonfires, sipping tea provided by neighbours. "I am spending the night outdoors so I can protect my family," said Fazil, a 16-year-old student. "There is no fear in me," he added, holding a thick tree branch as he watched the street from a checkpoint
Worshippers gathered in the mosque in Anchar for Friday prayers listen intently to Hayat Ahmed Bhat, a Kashmiri activist, prior to a street demonstration
Seven weeks since the clampdown and a degree of normalcy has returned. Telephone landlines are working again, though mobile and Internet networks remain suspended. Shops open briefly to allow people to restock supplies and traffic is back on Srinagar's streets. In Anchar, however, the situation remains tense
The neighbourhood is a no-go zone for security forces. Entrances to the area are guarded by young people manning barricades made of tree trunks, electricity poles and barbed wire to keep the police out. Laneways have been dug up to block security vehicles
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has said Kashmir's special status, which allowed only residents to buy property and hold government jobs, restricted its development and encouraged a separatist revolt that has killed 40,000 people since 1989. Indian authorities have arrested nearly 4,000 people since the decision
With government services like schools still shut in Anchar, four college students have set up a makeshift school, giving lessons to 200 children for a few hours each day. "The education of students in this locality is suffering because of the turmoil. We won't let our future generations suffer," said Adil, a college student turned teacher
"Bullets and pellets every day": Anchar's female residents has also taken to the streets in recent weeks to protest the revocation of Kashmir's special status and the clampdown by Prime Minister Modi and his ruling Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party
Rubina's 15-year-old son was injured by pellets fired by security forces while he was returning home from Friday prayers. The boy's head is heavily bandaged and he hasn't spoken since the incident, but the family would rather treat him at home than take him to a city hospital, fearing he could be detained by police
"If he has to go out for a change of bandage to the nearby government hospital, he will be accompanied by six or seven women, so they don't snatch him away," Rubina said
More than seven weeks after the crackdown began, there is little sign of an end to the stand-off in this neighbourhood, home to some 15,000 people
Some children are listed as having been taken under preventive detention, while others have been held for various criminal offences, including disturbing public tranquillity.
Among them is nine-year-old Sahil Ahmad Sheikh from Srinagar's Batamaloo area, which has seen regular clashes between locals and security forces, who was detained on 8 August and released on the same date, according to police data provided in the report.
Like Sheikh, most of those arrested by police were freed on the same day, except 17 children who spent longer periods, up to 24 days in one instance.
In a letter to the committee that was included in the report, Kashmir's police chief said that the charges of illegal child detentions had no merit, but children found to be in violation of the law were being "strictly dealt" with.
"The state machinery has been constantly upholding the rule of law and not a single juvenile in conflict with law has been illegally detained," police said.
Children had been lured into violent acts by "being used as shield by some vested interests," police said and some were involved in stone pelting, rioting and causing damage to public and private property, as per their investigation. (Reuters)